Colombian city a model of progress

Twenty years ago, it was a city with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, and caught in the grip of a powerful drug cartel.

"The city of Medellin was living a long and dark night of pain and violence," said Mr Anibal Gaviria Correa, who was the mayor of the Colombian city from 2012 to last year.

Yet today, its homicide rate has fallen by 95 per cent and extreme poverty is down by 66 per cent, said the former mayor.

Mr Correa was in Singapore yesterday to speak at the announcement of the award of the Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize (LKYWCP) to the city of Medellin. The award will be presented on July 11 at the World Cities Summit here.

Medellin's leaders introduced the world's first mass transit cable car system that helped to connect poor communities in mountainous suburbs to the rest of the city.

This was one innovative urban solution that got Colombia's second-largest city a special mention in the 2014 LKYWCP.

The authorities also implemented a number of other measures to improve social equity. These included legalising structurally sound informal housing units, which reduced the need for relocation programmes and made the inhabitants feel welcome in the larger community, the jury citation said.

Mr Correa also drew parallels between Medellin and Singapore - both cities went the extra mile to improve people's quality of life. Citing Medellin's ongoing project to clean up the city's polluted river, he likened it to the Singapore River clean-up initiated by founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1977.

The city's Mayor Federico Guitierez Zuluaga, in a statement, said Medellin - with a population of 2.2 million - is a "spectacular city that has come a long way but also has a long way to go".

The LKYWCP is jointly organised by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and the Centre for Liveable Cities, and sponsored by Keppel Corporation. The biennial award began in 2010 and honours outstanding contributions towards the creation of vibrant, liveable and sustainable urban communities, said URA in a statement.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Colombian city a model of progress'. Print Edition | Subscribe