In April, 2014, Medellin hosted the Seventh World Urban Forum. By all accounts a huge success, the forum brought international attention to the city. How did Medellin merit the honor of hosting this event? Why was Medellin selected to host the Seventh World Urban Forum?
Medellin’s journey to the Urban Forum really began in the 1980s. Best known at that time as the headquarters of Pablo Escobar’s drug cartel, Medellin was the most dangerous city in the world. At the turn of the century, national and city officials made a concerted effort to turn things around.
In addition to cracking down on crime, Medellin invested large amounts of time, effort, and money into revitalization. Medellin now boasts a world class transportation system. This system links wealthier and more disadvantaged areas of the city together through innovative measures such as the only metro system in Colombia, using cable booths to take people up hills, and building escalators into mountainsides to connect the disparate populations in these locations.
Medellin created and beautified public spaces. From the Plaza de Las Esculturas, where Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero donated over 20 outdoor sculptures, to the Parque de Los Pies Descalzos, or Barefoot Park. Located between the Plaza Mayor Convention Center, where the Urban Forum was held, and the Empresas Publicas Medellin(EPM) building, the park is also very close to the La Alpujarra government center. This outdoor space was designed for people to experience the feeling of wading through a country stream, and relax in the middle of the city.
Medellin also invested in state of the art libraries in disenfranchised areas. For example, Forbes Magazine reports that one of the most well known of these, the Parque Biblioteca España, was constructed in what was once the most violent neighborhood in the most dangerous city in the world, Santo Domingo.
Now, the neighborhood is known as a shining example of urban revitalization, hosting this tourist destination. A hub of local activity as well, the biblioteca also hosts community gatherings, free classes, and internet access. This technology has led to recognition by the Gates Foundation for using technology for community development.
Other improvements included the construction or renovation of museums, gardens, and a planetarium.
As a result of these impressive changes, Medellin has been thrust into the international spotlight. In 2013, Medellin won the Most Innovative City award. This year Medellin was recognized as the best place to retire in the world, as well as being selected to host the World Urban Forum.
Held at Plaza Mayor, this year’s theme, Urban Equity in Development – Cities for Life, embodies the spirit of the new Medellin. This city is a prime example of the way that urban design can be used to bolster community and equality.
At its close, the Seventh World Urban Forum had hosted a record setting 22,000 participants, proving that Medellin had earned the privilege and recognition of hosting this prestigious event.