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How Cali, Colombia Learned from Bogotá's and Medellín's Mistakes

In previous posts I have written about two cities in Colombia that have experienced tremendous changes and have excellent perspectives for a promising future in the context of the new development of Colombia. Time Magazine has coined this the 'Colombian Comeback.'

But yet another city in Colombia is taking part in this comeback, and it has been highly ignored in the international media. After four decades of stagnation, violence, drug cartels and social conflict, Colombia's second-largest city, Cali, has made a more modest approach to urban planning; from the recovery of the river to the improvement of the transportation system.

Cali had the opportunity to witness the rise of Bogotá and Medellín and learned from their success but also from their mistakes:

The "MetroCali" public system is proven as much more efficient in terms of mobility and sustainability than its counterpart in the country's capital, precisely for not being so ambitious in its coverage.

While Bogotá's city-wide system remains incomplete and beset by delays, Cali has, over the past five years, managed to reach 100% of the metropolitan area. Not by over-expanding one type of transport like the Bus Rapid Transit of Bogotá, but complementing a more reduced BRT line with special buses serving the stations, buses which are able to reach even the more periphery districts of the city.

Cali's Bus Rapid Transit, Colombia

Cali was also more efficient in its educational plans and investments in innovation, but with a different focus from the IT-oriented Medellín. For Cali the answer has always been the Pacific Ocean, and now the energy of the city's administration is focused on creating a new epicenter of commerce focused on the Asia-Pacific region.

The final goal is to become a financial center and base for every transaction made between Latin America and Asia.

Also, culturally, Cali has not exploded in public libraries and museums like many cities with similar transformation but has focused on recovering and empowering its original cultural buildings and institutions, like the 'Museo de la Tertulia' or the 'Casa de las Artes,' very old and traditional institutions of the city, again a choice that has proven sustainable.

'Tertulia' museum, Cali, Colombia

Somewhat crowning this process of transformation, Cali has been declared one of the focus cities for the "Pacific Alliance," a recently formed trade bloc. The bloc includes Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru, Latin America's new 'tigers,' – which had surpassed the growth of neighboring countries like Argentina and Venezuela – all of whom aspire to Western levels of development in the next decade.

Do you think a more 'modest' approach to urban renewal is the key for true environmental and economical sustainability? Is there any city in your country with similar approaches?

Credits: Images by Luis Lozano-Paredes and linked to sources. Data linked to sources.