Medellin is the second largest city in Colombia and was the most violent city in the world in the 1980s and early 1990s, mainly fuelled by drug-related violence. It still isn’t much better now.
- In 2009, an average of 9 people were murdered every day.
- The homicide rate is 110 per 100,000 people, that is about 20 times as much as in the US.
- With a nominal GDP per capita of 7,100 $ in 2010, Colombia is not exactly rich.
- Inequality as well as income and wealth disparity are enormous. A Gini coefficient of 0.58 makes Colombia one of the world’s most unequal societies.
- 45 % of Colombians live in poverty.
These data are much worse in Comuna 13, Medellin’s poorest and most dangerous district.
If you were the city of Medellin, what would you invest in? Security? Economic infrastructure? Education? Jobs? No, there is something that poor people need much more urgently: escalators.
Escalators? That’s right. Because poor people might have seen escalators in a shopping mall and become jealous. Ok, the official reason is to provide a shorter way of transport up a steep hill for 12,000 inhabitants of Comuna 13. So far, they had to walk the 350 steps.
The costs for the project? 10 billion Colombian Pesos = 4 million Euro. That is 333 Euro per resident, with which they could surely finance something better to improve their lives. Probably not even all 12,000 residents need or want to walk up this hill every day anyway. Alternatively, it is 11,400 Euro per step saved.
Why I think this is a bad idea:
- As with any publicly financed project, it does not only have benefits (shorter commute for those residents who need to go up the hill) but it at least has the disadvantage of these 4 million Euro missing somewhere else.
- The electricity bill will also consume money that could be spent otherwise.
- The escalators were produced in China. The money could have been spent in Colombia instead, possibly even directly in Comuna 13.
- The escalators won’t run around the clock. The city hasn’t decided yet on the final operating hours.
- Rain will damage the escalators. Medellin has the climate of a tropical rainforest.
- Escalators are more prone to vandalism than steps.
But my main criticism is this:
- Riding escalators makes people lazy, fat and unhealthy.
Already 40 % of Colombians are overweight. Giving them incentives to stop walking up a few steps will only make this worse. Maybe a McDonald’s or a Burger King will be the next project right next to the escalators, so that Colombians can enjoy a burger and a coke while riding up and down the hill.