[18] Medellin – The Most Innovative City

Medellin is for sure Colombia’s worldwide most famous city, unfortunately for its dark side. But this is about to change, since Medellin is determined to show its brightest side: innovation!

For my Dutch and Flemish speaking readers, the article got published in various media, with among others IPS, MO and De Morgen.

Medellin, where to begin?

Not even 20 years ago, Medellin in particular, and Colombia in general, had a very particular image that reduced the country to the terrain of one of its main industries. However not legal, and with lots of dark sides, it seemed to be the only side of the country that was set in the pictures internationally.

The City has Chosen

Nowadays, things seemed to be changed. The death of one of the main figures of the industry helped a lot, however concerning Medellin in particular, it should be appointed that his death might have been not more than one radar in the chain of change the city has faced since then.


The city changed, because it has chosen to change. And with city I mean both the city council and politicians as the citizens and civic society. ‘Medellin con vos’ and ‘la cultura metro sos vos’ are but few of the slogans spread out in the city, summarizing the success of the city’s transformation: ‘Medellin with you’ and ‘You are the culture of the metro’.


Today Medellin profiles itself as an innovative city. Its metro system, the only one of Colombia, won international recognition as most innovative urban transport system. And nowadays the city claims to become the most innovative city of Latin America by 2021.


I’m walking through Ruta N, a small neighbourhood in the centre of Medellin, nearby the historic centre. Ruta N stands for innovation and corporation, as the building itself claims with its various slogans, as well as the names of the various companies in the offices of one of the Ruta N towers. The tower hosts companies from various continents and from various sectors, especially innovative and modern ones, with all impressive stories which I loved to hear.

Another example of the innovative power of Medellin is the Thermal District in the old city centre, the first of its kind in whole Latin America. Fed by natural gas and electricity – of which nationally 70% is provided by hydro-energy – the plant provides cooling for several buildings. Such a central system does not only save energy, but materials as well, since not every housing/working unit needs a separate cooling system.

We cannot do it alone

After various interviews with different actors, from companies to the municipality, I start understanding how Medellin could turn 180 degrees for the better. It is a combination of what I’ve seen in all cities I’ve visited and interviewed the past years regarding sustainable city development.

It all starts with a vision, mostly a local government or governor who had a clear view for the city’s future; followed by the knowledge that he or she cannot do it alone. Cooperation and interaction pave the road towards innovation and implementation of the vision.


[I’ve got this theory in detail, but that would take me too far for now, however, I’m happy to share with those who are interested.]


In the meantime, let’s continue the journey.

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