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Medellín’s Cable Car Miracle

Summary:
When most people think of Medellín horror stories come to mind. The presence of the infamous Medellín cartel of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, an image of a Robin Hood style city with Escobar inflicting his own sense of justice over its citizens, the homicide rate of 266 murders per 100,000 residents of 1991. For many, with the exception of Narcos fans on Netflix, Medellín will have all but fallen off the map. This is a shame because Medellín has made great leaps forward and is now a great example of progress.This development is thanks, in part, to the city’s cable cars. Medellín is mountainous, much of the crime took place in more remote areas so in 2004, overseen by the mayor Sergio Fajardo, a project began to connect these hard to reach areas with the city centre. The theory behind the

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When most people think of Medellín horror stories come to mind. The presence of the infamous Medellín cartel of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, an image of a Robin Hood style city with Escobar inflicting his own sense of justice over its citizens, the homicide rate of 266 murders per 100,000 residents of 1991. For many, with the exception of Narcos fans on Netflix, Medellín will have all but fallen off the map. This is a shame because Medellín has made great leaps forward and is now a great example of progress.

This development is thanks, in part, to the city’s cable cars. Medellín is mountainous, much of the crime took place in more remote areas so in 2004, overseen by the mayor Sergio Fajardo, a project began to connect these hard to reach areas with the city centre. The theory behind the project was to promote movement between areas and to encourage firms to set up shop in cheaper parts of Medellín.

This meant adults now had viable routes into the city enabling them to take up jobs that would have otherwise been off limits, preventing them from having to resort to crime for a livelihood. A 2014 report found that employment opportunities have doubled for the Metrocable users. The project also enabled students to travel into the city and receive better education. They were no longer isolated in an area in which crime was more profitable than all else. It meant that gangs were starved of their cash and their workforces. No more lawless areas in once-lawless Medellín.

The results have been spectacular. Since 2004 the murder rate in Medellín has fallen drastically, reaching its lowest point at 19 murders per 100,000 residents in 2017 compared to 266 per 100,000 residents in 1991. As an article from Virgin explains, other improvements such as better air quality and increased tourism have also been enjoyed. The article also cites a study which found that when comparing areas with a cable car to those without: ‘the decline in the homicide rate was 66 per cent greater in intervention areas, and resident reports of violence decreased 75 per cent more’. Although we can’t chalk all of this up to just a cable car, it is important to recognise that this movement towards lower crime rates and other improvements in the area coincided with the introduction of the cable car. For many the cable car is representative of the progress that Medellín has undergone and has encouraged further investment. 

The cable car is connected to the metro meaning that it doesn't just leave them at the bottom of the mountain and ensures that the cable car serves routes that people wish to travel. Financed by both the municipality and the publicly-owned Metro de Medellín, the cable car offers a combined ticket with the metro to make onward travel all the more feasible. The first cable car cost around $24m and the second another $47m. But in a country where the economic impact of conflict, terrorism, homicides and sexual assaults still costs around $4,700 per person per year a thirty dollar per person investment by Medellin’s citizens a decade ago seem a prudent crosssubsidy from Medellín’s metro company.

As the areas grow richer and more interconnected, the subsidy can be removed without shutting the area’s people out of economic activity, while crime stays lower forever.

The cable car helped Medellín by both improving social mobility and by inspiring faith in the area and in the government. As Alvarez Correa, a Medellín tour guide put it the cable car serves as ‘a symbol of resurrection or a symbol of hope’. Where formerly the gangs were well unified, the cable car has unified Medellín’s citizens.

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