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Medellín wins prestigious city award

Medellín’s transformation from a violent haven for drug cartels into an urban innovator offers lessons for other cities. (Luis Echeverri Urrea /

Medellín’s improbable transformation from a crime-ridden haven for drug cartels into a bold urban innovator has earned it one of the world’s most prestigious urbanism awards. The Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize announced that Colombia’s second largest city is its 2016 prize laureate.

Making the accomplishment even more remarkable is the fact that the evolution occurred over just two decades, the award jury noted. Among the city’s most creative initiatives are the world’s first cable-car mass transit system and outdoor escalators. Both are designed to improve mobility in hilly neighborhoods.

Medellín also is notable because it offers lessons for other metropolises in Latin America, Africa and Asia struggling with violence and unchecked urban sprawl, the prize committee explains.

Medellín joins an exclusive club of visionaries — Suzhou, China; New York City; and Bilbao, Spain — that took the top honors for the biennial prize, which debuted in 2010. Lee Kuan Yew was the first prime minister of Singapore, an Asian city-state heralded as a design and planning trailblazer.

For more on Medellín’s revival, see Citiscope’s four-part series:

  1. Fast growth in a verdant valley
  2. Reclaiming the city from violence
  3. Reforms hand Colombia mayors and cities more power
  4. The road to most innovative city
Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize

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