Kaid Benfield, Special Counsel for Urban Solutions, Washington, DC
The physical beauty and many cultural and commercial institutions of Medellin, the second-largest city in Colombia, mask its well-earned reputation for violence. The city’s troubles were and, to a somewhat lesser degree, remain real, but there are encouraging signs that the city is turning around. The reasons are many and complex, but impressive investment by the city in its infrastructure – including its transportation systems – is part of the story. Once dubbed the most dangerous city in the world, earlier this year Medellin was named the international “innovative city of the year” for its remarkable progress.
Indeed, as recently as 20 years ago Medellin was known for extreme violence, fueled by drug wars between the notorious Medellin Cartel, its rivals, and the state. While killings and other crime subsided somewhat after the death of Cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar in the 1990s, many districts are still “ruled” by armed criminal gangs not unlike the outlaw militias that control many of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Even recently, crime has been on the upswing. In 2009, according to the city’s Wikipedia entry, there were about 110 violent deaths per 100 people in Medellin, “2.5 times the average homicide rate in Colombia and 20 times the average homicide rate in the United States for that same year.”