Medellín, Colombia

Read our report on Medellín Te Estamos Grabando Research Sprint

General facts: Medellín, a city of complex contradictions, is our first pop-up location. Once given the moniker the "world's most dangerous city," Medellín has a fraught relationship with security, safety, and crime that disproportionately affects its youth. On the other hand it's a city of dazzling urban innovation, which has been recognized internationally for its innovation and use of creative urbanist interventions to further economic opportunity and accessibility. Medellín is often looked to as a global success story not solely because of how it managed to dramatically lower its crime rate over the course of a couple decades, but also because it used innovative technologies to do so. Most famously, the building of the gondola system MetroCable, which offers the poorest neighborhoods in the city easy access to downtown, is an example of how dedicated access to opportunity zones can lessen crime and improve quality of life in low-income areas.

Population2.5 million, (51.2% female, 48.8% male); 3 million metro area
Average income$7,793 USD per year
InequalityPoverty and lack of opportunity, particularly for young people, is one of the largest drivers of inequality in Medellín. 12% of citizens live in poverty (figure is pre-Covid), and 65% of citizens are employed informally. 20% are unemployed. 26% of youth (aged 14-28) in Medellín are neither working nor studying. While 80% of households have access to a cellphone, only 50% have internet.
DiversityThe vast majority of citizens identify as mestizo. 10% of Medellinenses are Afro-Colombian, and a small percent (0.5%) are Indigenous.
Current governmentDaniel Quintero Calle, Mayor (2020-2024)

Social contract and the city

  • Medellín has a long history with narco-trafficking and organized crime related to the drug trade, and even earned the title of being the “most dangerous city in the world” in the late 1980’s. Since the disbanding of the Medellín Cartel in the 90’s, the homicide rate has decreased by 95%.
  • However, Medellín still experiences crime and security issues. Theft, sexual assault, homicide, assault, and family violence are the five most common types of crime in Medellín. In general, instances of violent crime in the city are mostly related to “organized crime structures in dispute for territorial control.” 
  • Street gangs: The city has an estimated 350 street gangs (approx. 5,000 members total), or combos. These gangs keep their ranks filled with young men and teenage boys from poorer neighborhoods. Crime location is also heavily tied to economic class in Medellín-- meaning that lower-income neighborhoods are far more likely to experience higher violent crime rates than wealthy ones. On the other hand, wealthy neighborhoods like Laureles and El Poblado are hotspots for robbery. (These neighborhoods rank second and third, respectively, for prevalence of robbery, La Candelaria being the first.