Back in 2002, the city of Medellín, Colombia, was known as the murder capital of the world. Almost a third of the city’s deaths were homicides, a rate of 185 per 100,000 people. During the 80s and 90s, drug cartels had made the city – Colombia’s second largest, and home to around three million people - almost a no-go area, and a byword for violence and bloodshed.
But nearly two decades later, the rate of murder and violence has dropped drastically, and Medellín is a much nicer place to live. What made the difference? One major factor is Metrocable: the cable car.
Why a cable car?
Medellín is a city built on and around incredibly steep hills. The richer areas are at the top, while the poorer areas are at the bottom. Before the cable car, it was very difficult for those on lower incomes to move around the city easily.
They couldn’t easily access better jobs, or city amenities, or educational facilities. The terrain is so steep that even buses couldn’t access it efficiently. Residents in the Santo Domingo neighbourhood, for example, spent up to two and a half hours each way getting to work.
Whose idea was it?
The city’s elected mayor and Medellín City Council came up with the project and saw it through. It wasn’t the first cable car system in South America, but it was the first city in the world to use cable cars as part of a city’s transport system.
Their aims were to improve residents’ access to jobs, as well as encouraging new businesses to set up in poorer areas. But they found over time that Metrocable was changing the city in other ways, too.
What effect did it have?
The first cable car line opened in the Santo Domingo neighbourhood in 2004. Since then, four more lines have been opened. The effect of the cable car – and the surrounding interventions – has been astounding.
A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology compared neighbourhoods where there’s a cable car station, and those where it didn’t reach. It found that the decline in the homicide rate was 66 per cent greater in intervention areas, and resident reports of violence decreased 75 per cent more.
Tourism has increased, with 735,000 visitors in 2017. And the air quality has improved, too.
What else helped Medellín?
The city authorities also improved the areas which the cable car opened up. They provided more lighting for public spaces, new pedestrian bridges, school buildings and police stations.
Have other places learned from Medellín?
Many other cities have looked to Medellín for inspiration, including Rio de Janeiro, Caracas, La Paz, Manizales, Cali, Bogotá, and Mexico City.
Has the cable car solved all the city’s problems?
No: no single project can do that. There’s still a huge problem with warring drug gangs in the most deprived neighbourhoods, for example.
But the cable car is still a great example of what can be achieved when a city decides to take practical action to improve the lives of its residents – and how that can bring unexpected benefits.