Smart Cities: Medellín, Colombia

With new green spaces, an innovative transportation system, and vibrant markets, Medellín is undergoing a cultural renaissance.

Medellín is Colombia’s second largest city and has been creatively shaking off the damage left from the eighties’ drug wars in a cultural renaissance. Medellín’s improvements started with a sophisticated transit system praised worldwide, which features rapid buses, railways, and soaring gondolas that service mountainside neighborhoods. In 2014, the city launched Distrito de Innovación to foster innovation and the growth of tech, health, and energy industries. And in August 2016, the city debuted the first phase of a beltway project, Parques del Río, meant to reclaim Medellín’s river through green spaces and trails built over existing highways. Locals recognize Medellín isn’t a perfect city. It’s a city in progress, and that’s exactly why they love it.

Market Days

Last fall, Mercado del Río opened as the first food hall in the country. The space honors the city’s ferrocarril (or railroad) heritage through its design, as well as the rising artisan movement in its lineup of coffee slingers, sushi makers, and paella mixers. In an effort to democratize dining out, the market regulates what vendors charge, and beer and wine are sold at prices akin to supermarkets ($1 glasses of wine). La Chagra, in the El Poblado district, highlights the flavors of the Amazon and the traditions of the jungle’s indigenous culture, from Amazonian fruits and veggies to a sauce made using leaf-cutter ants.

Small Hotels with Big Ideas

Centrally located Patio del Mundo offers seven individually decorated rooms, each themed to a different dreamy destination, in a refurbished house with a lush backyard garden. Designed by a local architect, Terra Biohotel was built top to bottom on the notion of preservation and sustainability. The 41-room inn features a micro-perforated wall that cools the 10-story building by using mountain winds from the north, as well as room layouts configured to receive as much natural light as possible, with many building materials sourced close to home.

Local Art, Active Adventures

Museo de Arte Moderno showcases the best of the country’s modern art. Its recent eight million dollar expansion now houses the museum’s permanent collection, featuring artists such as local pioneer Débora Arango. For a hyperlocal perspective, the Comuna 13 Graffiti Tour tells the story of the formerly dangerous commune’s tragedies and victories through the street art of the people who live there. And multiple times a week, Medellín closes sections of its hilly roads so that walkers, joggers, and cyclists can enjoy the terrain sans vehicles.

Coffee and Crafts

Nobody goes to Colombia without bringing back coffee. Started more than 40 years ago, family-owned Café Pergamino works with 500 regional growers to supply beans to craft roasters in other countries, as well as their own three stores. The country’s fashion scene doesn’t get much credit, but it’s exalted at Makeno, an El Poblado district boutique stocked with pieces made by regional designers. And in the small community of Sabaneta, 20 minutes south, vendors peddle religious icons and tchotchkes with local flair.