Safety in Colombia Week, Day 3! Today we are focusing on the side of Colombia most people don’t expect to see: the new image which is being cultivated by cities like Bogotá and Medellín as centres of culture and diversity, far from the stereotypical image of bombs and kidnappings which many people still unfortunately have.
When people think of Bogotá, their perceptions are usually influenced by several factors: Hollywood films such as Mr. & Mrs. Smith have incorrectly taught people to expect not only an urban jungle, but an actual jungle, soundtracked by gunshots and tropical bird-calls, whilst sensationalist news outlets often pain the picture of a crime-ridden metropolis where the only time you spend outside is the mad rush between airport taxi and hotel entrance. The same goes for Medellín: Pablo Escobar, drugs cartels, etc. etc.
What most people wouldn’t expect to find in Colombia’s capital would be a beautiful, sprawling urban park (larger in fact that New York’s Central Park), or an area almost entirely devoted to a plethora of restaurants from around the world (France, Spain…Serbia?!). Those heading to Medellín often expect nothing but surgically-enhanced girls and gun-crime; what they find are progressive architectural projects and a metro that makes the London Underground look like a mule-train!
As we pointed out earlier in Safety Week, Colombia is changing. Bogotá recently hosted one of the largest International Theatre Festivals in the world, and currently taking place are an International Book Fair and the Festival of European Cinema. In between attending these festivals, visitors can take a stroll in the aforementioned Parque Simon Bolivar, have lunch in an independent French bakery, sample cocktails in a high-end cocktail bar, and finish off the evening with dinner in Zona G(ourmet). This might seem unthinkable in a city that was formerly seen as one of the worlds most dangerous but Bogotá is busy creating a new image for itself as a city of culture: festivals, concerts, galleries and restaurants.
Medellín has tried to face up to its former problems by attempting to bring the city together: this means cable-car systems and an outdoor escalator running some 400m uphill, linking the slums to the rest of the city. Then there is the España library-park, architect Giancarlo Mazzanti’s dramatic design which, set as it is in one of Medellín’s poorest barrios, aims to symbolise the city’s new image as a metropolis of culture, not crime. These projects mark a move away from typical thinking regarding the poor neighbourhoods. Where once they were seen as a blight on Medellín, in need of removing, now they are being incorporated into the life of the city. Escobar’s old stomping ground is evolving into a diverse and dynamic city, with world-class architecture and reliable public transport.
In short, both cities are challenging popular perceptions. Still sadly seen as incredibly unsafe around the world, both Bogotá and Medellín are full of unexpected culture and variety. Paul McCartney recently rocked Bogotá, and pretty soon Madonna will be performing in Medellín. People are beginning to wake up to the fact that Colombia’s formerly no-go metropolises are open for business and thriving.