Effective and direct participation of people in aspects that affect them is essential for building democratic and inclusion-oriented societies. Medellín has understood this challenge and met it through several mechanisms that are a model throughout Colombia. Thanks in part to those actions, today, Medellín has become one of the most innovative cities of the world, despite the difficulties it has had to overcome.
I will briefly describe the highlights of Medellín’s current development process, from its important infrastructure breakthroughs for social inclusion to the start-up of significant social programs targeted to improve the lives of the most vulnerable groups of people, including older adults.
Our massive transportation system has been consolidated into a transport axis, with clean energy, a great outlook for growth and coordination with other means of transport, and above all, with several means of accessibility for people with reduced mobility. This important city icon, which has been in place for 17 years and has been linked to three transport lines by aerial cable and to one medium-capacity bus line, is just about to include the new city electric trolley, and it is considering another bus system driven by electric power.
Medellín aims to remain a leader in effective accessibility possibilities for mobility in its environmentally-friendly public transport system. This is one of the reasons the Urban Land Institute named Medellín, along with Tel Aviv and New York, as the world’s most innovative city.
Medellín’s quality of life stands out nationwide, especially for its exceptional rates of utility coverage and quality. Empresas Públicas de Medellín is Colombia’s second largest public company, and it is in charge of providing high-quality domestic utility services to more than 97 percent of city homes.
The city development aims for social inclusion, and at the same time, connects our companies by means of the cluster strategy, which consists of putting together efforts through collective alliances and interaction with the state. This strategy, formally expressed by a Municipal Agreement of Medellín City Council, consists of six clusters: Electric Power; Textile/Garment Manufacturing, Design, and Fashion; Building; Business Tourism, Fairs and Conventions; Medical and Dental Services; and Information Technologies and Communication. The city is also characterized by its effort to increase the number of places for education and knowledge. Thus, public schools have been built and refurbished, higher education has been strengthened through our three public universities, and library parks have been built for social integration around knowledge and culture.
An inclusion-oriented, accessible, and environmentally-friendly city has been built, supported by significant infrastructure works that are still being consolidated. However, beyond the creation of areas for improvement in the quality of life of all the people of Medellín, we aim to make citizens the center of each of these transformations.
Most of the municipal budget is assigned to social investment, and we have drawn up several programs targeted at including and taking care of the most vulnerable people based on social equity criteria. We are committed to medium-term and long-term transformations to allow all citizens to have the same opportunities for a decent life.
Medellín is characterized by growing participation levels both in traditional mechanisms and public policies and programs that directly affect several population and interest groups. Several forms of organized participation, in which community action groups, youth, and older adults are highlighted, have been consolidated in programs of local planning and community assignment of a percentage of the city budget.
Older adults can belong to two types of organizations: Clubes de Vida and Cabildos Mayores. Clubes de Vida are associations at which older adults share common interests, especially those related to spending their free time. Cabildos Mayores are organizations established through the direct election of members by older adults, which advocate for their interests before government entities and budget planning and allocation processes for each city community.
Recognizing Older Adults
The importance of these participation schemes is based on the fact that the city transformation processes count on their contributions. From an institutional perspective, Medellín values and recognizes its older citizens as special targets for equity-oriented policies. Even though city hall has social programs focused on taking care of vulnerable older people and care programs to ensure food security, the commitment goes further. Social equity has become a cornerstone of our public policies. We have been focusing on building a city whose infrastructure, utilities, and state policies are devoted to providing equal opportunities for development, specially social development, for all citizens. That is why we have made efforts to ensure that every government office has a cross-sectional approach that allows it to meet the needs of each population group.
The aging population has its own public policy, Política Pública de Envejecimiento y Vejez (Aging and Elderly Public Policy), adopted by the Medellín City Council in 2012. It is a public administration mandate with a view to ensuring a decent aging process and conditions for older adults by coordinating the government offices’ work for inclusion, assistance, and engagement.
Likewise, the Medellín City Council adopted the Tiquete del Adulto Mayor (Elderly Ticket), which offers economic support for travel in urban transport service buses in order to provide older people more opportunities for social inclusion.
We believe in the importance of seeking the development of our city by fostering the active and permanent participation of older people, while working toward making it more accessible and friendly for them. We have many challenges, and perhaps the most important one still is to close our worrying socio-economic gap. However, we are convinced that this will be much more feasible if we can consolidate many more social inclusion areas.
Bernardo Alejandro Guerra Hoyos
Currently the president of the Medellín City Council, he is a physician, with a postgraduate degree in Public Health Management and Senior Management, Master in Political Sciences.
Dr. Guerra began his political career as a representative in the Asamblea de Antioquia (Antioquia Assembly) (1994–2001). He served as senator of the Republic in 2002–06. He was a member of the Comisión Séptima de Asuntos Sociales (Seventh Commission of Social Affairs), Comisión de Ordenamiento Territorial (Land Use Planning Commission), and Comisión de Ética (Ethics Commission).
As president of the Medellín City Council, he has headed debates and projects that have contributed to the development and transformation of Medellín, the capital city of Antioquia.