Altair Guimarães

From Drug Wars to Cable Cars: Medellin's Rise

In the 1990s Medellin, Colombia was known as the murder capital of the world. Home to Colombia's most notorious drug lord, Pablo Escobar, it has long been synonymous with violence. 

In the last two decades, however, the city has turned itself around and is now the model for urban regeneration. Tourism has greatly increased from the dark days of violence and people have new hope for this intriguing and vibrant city. New initiatives. such as cable cars, outdoor escalators, and libraries now reach out into what were once the most dangerous slums. Half of Medellin's population is said to live there.

Escalators and cable cars have made a huge difference in a city where locals say in the 90s "you couldn't go from one neighborhood to another without getting killed." Cable cars now allow people who live in the slums in the hills to access downtown in as little as 15 minutes. With increased access, residents are hiking in the hills above the city and even having picnics.

The United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals call for all slums to be upgraded by 2030. While it seems that Medellin is making headway in this regard with increased transportation methods and access to learning centers, critics say the only people benefited are those living near the escalators and cable cars. They say these initiatives are dividing the neighborhoods. Also, some say the money to build this transportation and the library should have been used for more pressing matters, such as health, jobs, decent housing, and education. Some believe the gangs continue dominating neighborhoods and extorting locals without police interference. However, even the critics of the recent changes in Medellin admit that despite problems, community members are working together more easily and help one another more since their past days of horror.


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