Medellín’s War on Drugs, No Guns Required


| November-December 2009


If the city of Medellín carries any association, it’s likely that of violence: Throughout the 1990s, Colombia’s second-largest metropolis was posting yearly murder rates in the thousands. Infamous drug cartels terrorized neighborhoods, and nationalist paramilitaries engaged in urban battle with revolutionary guerrillas.

Today Medellín is setting an entirely different sort of example. According to Momentum (May-Aug. 2009), the municipality’s murder rate has dropped 90 percent in a decade, and instead of being a poster city for public dysfunction, it’s an exemplar of civic rehabilitation. The transformation took root in 2002, when newly elected President Álvaro Uribe began demobi­lizing paramilitaries and marshaling resources to quell fighting. It flowered in 2004 under new Medellín Mayor Sergio Fajardo’s simple philosophy: Immediately supplement every reduction in violence with a concrete community improvement.

The son of an architect, mathematician-turned-politician Fajardo “grasped how important good design can be in creating a more optimistic, sustainable, socially just city,” the publication, produced by the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment, reports. “In keeping with the mantra ‘to the poorest people, the most beautiful buildings,’ some of the city’s most impoverished and brutalized neighborhoods became homes to top-notch new schools and housing (as well as new police stations).”

The city also built “library parks,” hybrid spaces complete with public computer stations. Biblioteca Parque España sits atop a hillside in Santo Domingo Savio, formerly one of the region’s most dangerous neighborhoods. It serves as both a beacon of civic pride and a functional space for community activities.



Fajardo also oversaw the development of an aerial tramway that connected the isolated neighborhood to the city’s established transit system, “breaking real and psychological barriers to overcoming poverty and despair.” Social programs and support for small businesses complemented these developments.

It’s a success story built on a simple ethos that ought to have developed countries taking a look in the mirror, Momentum observes. In New Orleans, home to about 300,000 people, there were 179 murders in 2008, which is on par with Medellín’s worst years. At the same time, support for infrastructure repair has been sporadic, at best. Imagine if Fajardo were in charge.














Pay Now Save $5!

Utne Summer 2016Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!




Facebook Instagram Twitter flipboard


Copyright 2018, All Rights Reserved
Ogden Publications, Inc., 1503 SW 42nd St., Topeka, Kansas 66609-1265