I bet you won't find Mayor Sergio Fajardo, of Medellin, Colombia tearing down a pedestrian mall to make way for car and jeepney traffic. No, he's as non-conformist (read: visionary) as they come.
The NYT featured the good Mayor and the turnaround city of Medellin, showcasing Fajardo's simple but radical idea:
“Our most beautiful buildings,” said Mr. Fajardo, 51, “must be in our poorest areas.”That's radical enough itself, but remember we're talking about Medellin, Colombia -described as the "World's Deadliest City" in the early 1990s. Then, the home of the infamous Cali Cartel and the global cocaine syndicate.
With that simple idea, Mr. Fajardo hired renowned architects to design an assemblage of luxurious libraries and other public buildings in this city’s most desperate slums.
He's building five new libraries right in the heart of the poorest sections of the city. He put in the Metrocable (an overhead cablecar system) in Santo Domingo Savio, one of the biggest slums in the city. The cable car system leads you to the Parque Biblioteca España, a civic complex that includes a library, auditorium, Internet rooms, day care center and an art gallery (Can you imagine a museum in the heart of Payatas?)
This city of about two million people had 29 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006, down from 381 per 100,000 when killings peaked in 1991.
Elected in 2003 as an independent, and riding a growing economy and this decline in violent crime, Mr. Fajardo has turned the city into a showcase for new educational and architectural projects.He increased city spending on education, bringing it to 40 percent of Medellín’s annual budget of $900 million, while also raising spending on public transportation and microlending projects for small businesses.
To be sure, the bold moves haven't been a panacea. The city still faces serious problems. The drug syndicates are still there, and, as NYT reports, the street kids in Plaza Botero (pictured above) still sniff glue and beg in the streets. BUT, the radical reinvestments are changing the way the city (and its citizens) views itself.
What risks are we prepared to take?
And yet Mr. Fajardo’s transformation of Medellín has captivated the city and, increasingly, other parts of Colombia. His approval ratings stand at more than 80 percent, making him the country’s most popular mayor and leading him to be widely mentioned as a potential presidential candidate after his term ends this year.
“He is carrying out a redistribution of wealth without a discourse of rage,” said Héctor Abad Faciolince, a prominent novelist and political commentator here. “If Medellín cannot take these risks, then what place can?”
P.S. -Read Mayor Fajardo's letter to National Geographic protesting NatGeo's photo essay on crime in the Medellin and listing the achievements of the city under his leadership.