Medellín has won a prestigious award given out every two years by Singapore to a global city that has made “outstanding achievements” towards sustainable living.
The nation’s Centre for Liveable Cities and urban redevelopment authority announced in March that its Lee Kuan Yew World City 2016 prize would go to Medellín, and today it will become official at a ceremony in Singapore. In addition to handing the award to Medellín Mayor Federico Guitierez Zuluaga, the city will receive $300,000 USD.
“Medellín’s transformation has been extraordinary,” said Kishore Mahbubani, chairman of the prize’s nominating committee. “It has gone from being one of the world’s most dangerous cities into a livable and innovative city. Its success gives hope to many cities in developing countries, where the next wave of massive urbanization will take place. Medellín can become a Mecca of learning for them.”
Colombia’s second largest city is the fourth winner of the biennial Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize, which was named for the first prime minister of Singapore. The three previous winners are Bilbao (2010), New York (2012), and Suzhou, China (2014).
This marks yet another major recognition of progress for a city that was once the murder capital of the world and is still more known as the home of Pablo Escobar than anything else. While Medellín’s on-the-ground revolution has been incremental and obvious to those in the city, winning the 2012 “City of the Year Award” from Citi Group and the Wall Street Journal was a major milestone in terms of the wider world realizing the magnitude of the transformation.
This also isn’t the first time that Singapore has honored Medellín. The city was also among its honorees in 2014, receiving a “special mention” for a widely praised cable car system and other “creative and non-conventional urban solutions.” This Metrocable gondola systems is often cited as fundamental to enfranchising Medellín’s poorest.
Living high on the hillside, they were once isolated from the rest of the city. But the modern, well-engineered cable car has allowed even those in the highest sections of the city’s poorest barrio to quickly access the areas of the community that most take for granted. Now, going to work an eight- or 10-hour shift on the other side of town doesn’t need to conclude with an hour-long walk up a mountain in a city that is already 5,000 feet high. Going to fill out crucial paperwork at a government office isn’t a grueling task. Access to the banking, educational, and community resources across the city is now accessible in a way that it never was before to a population that needs it the most.
Medellín Mayor Federico Guitierez Zuluaga was thankful for the award. But reflecting the attitude that has helped his city make so much progress already, he is looking at it as more of a challenge to do more than a sign that Medellín has achieved success.
“This is an important recognition that we feel proud of for our city,” said Federico Guitierez Zuluaga. “We thank you for the encouragement to continue working for our city, a spectacular city that has come a long way but also has a long way to go.”
Photo: Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia, continues to be recognized for its transformation. (Credit: Jared Wade)