A better balance for Barranquilla: How the city is tackling inequality

About the Affordable Cities blog series and #BetterUrbanHousing
People living in cities across the world are facing the effects of the housing affordability and cost-of-living crisis. OECD Champion Mayors recently endorsed the new “OECD Brussels Blueprint for Affordable cities and Housing for All” at the Brussels Urban Summit where they shared innovative solutions to tackle these challenges and drive more inclusive economic growth. They continue to drive efforts that shape a more affordable, equitable and resilient urban future. www.oecd-inclusive.com/champion-mayors/

Barranquilla, Colombia is making a name for itself through its urban transformation. Recently the city received the WRI Ross Center Prize for Cities, putting a spotlight on our “Todos al Parque” green space project as an example of urban transformative change.

The effects are palpable. Today 93% of households in Barranquilla have access to green public spaces across its 188 neighbourhoods. The emblematic Gran Malecón, a 5-km linear park on the Magdalena River, has helped Barranquilla embrace its emblematic river once again. As Colombia’s most important economic, historic and cultural waterway this project returned a sense of pride and belonging to its residents.

A little can go a long way

This tangible urban revolution has been propelled by a powerful social revolution. Nearly two decades ago, Barranquilla was one of Colombia’s most unequal cities. Today, it has the lowest level of inequality among Colombia’s largest cities.

Barranquilla has managed to halve its poverty rate in less than ten years, from 43% in 2008 to 20% in 2019. Despite a city budget of less than USD 1,000 per capita, the city has improved health care services, education and public spaces, and developed powerful new social inclusion and employment initiatives.

Today, Barranquilla is ready to show the world that “a little can go a long way.”

How do citizens perceive Barranquilla’s transformation?

Percentage of people who consider themselves poor
Source: Barranquilla como vamos, 2019
Using tools and data

A key component has been the development and use of digital tools to identify the city’s most vulnerable neighborhoods and city blocks. “Ciudadano Único”, a digital tool that combines six databases to determine the needs of inhabitants and connect them to the city’s social programmes, played a key role during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Newer tools such as the “Marcador de Inclusión Urbana,” developed in co-operation with UN-Habitat, are now helping Barranquilla improve its management of the Venezuelan migration phenomenon, guaranteeing newcomers access to the city’s services in education, health and employment. Coupled with community-based strategies such as “Así Vivo Mi Barrio”, a space for opinion, discussion and co-creation at the neighborhood scale, we are continuously finding new ways to engage residents, helping us pinpoint critical needs more effectively.

Transforming places

Signature programmes like ”Todos al Parque”, ”Barrios a la Obra” and ”Mejoramiento de Vivienda” have contributed to tripling the surface area of effective public space per inhabitant in 10 years. Increasing from from 0.86m2 in 2011 to 2.8m2 per person in 2021, these projects have improved the living conditions for citizens in the city’s most vulnerable areas.

“Barrios a la Obra”, our street paving program that started in 2008 continues to this day. Over 350km of urban roads, particularly in Barranquilla’s poorest neighborhoods have been paved. This, in turn, has improved citizens’ access to basic public services, such as health and education, thanks to improvements in connectivity.

From 2007-21, Barranquilla invested heavily in new hospital facilities and infrastructure, boosting accessibility to health services, from just 4% of its population in 2007, to 72% in 2021. Most city blocks now have a health center less than 1km away.

Supporting skills and jobs…

The city has also made a significant commitment to improve the quality of its educational services and infrastructure. There’s now a 91% satisfaction rate among parents. The quality of public schools has improved considerably, and now boasts 25 schools in the highest quality categories (A, A+), compared to just two in 2007.

The programme “Soy Bilingue” meant Barranquilla became a pioneer with the first public strategy for bilingual education in public schools. This impacted more than 90,000 students and 2,000 teachers since the beginning of 2020. Working alongside the British Council, we will become Latin America’s first 100% bilingual city. 180,000 primary and secondary school students and 1,450 teachers from all public institutions stand to benefit in the next 8 years through this programme.

Meanwhile, Barranquilla’s “Centro de Oportunidades”, launched in 2011, provides funding and training to entrepreneurs and small-business owners, labor intermediation, guidance and support to job seekers and job training.

The ever-growing Centre has been successful in helping vulnerable residents start and expand their businesses, creating jobs and stimulating economic growth in the city. In 2020, despite the pandemic, the programme helped create more than 3,500 jobs in the city, contributing to a decrease in ​​Barranquilla’s unemployment rate, the lowest in the Colombian Caribbean region.

… and reaching out to those most in need

We are keen to extend a helping hand to our vulnerable residents. The “Elderly Citizen” project supports our elderly residents, including health services and recreational activities. The programme has succeeded in improving the quality of life for 36,000 elders in Barranquilla, nearly twice the amount reached in 2008.

Similarly, Barranquilla has implemented programmes to support people with disabilities. This included job training and placement services that have benefitted more than 5,000 people. Our doors remain open to migrants and refugees who wish to contribute to the city’s development, as evidenced by the number of Venezuelan migrants who have arrived in our city in recent years, representing 10% of our population.

Revealing the good news

As Barranquilla celebrates its 210th anniversary, the achievements and progress this young city has made over the past 15 years today make it a more inclusive place to live and an example of social transformation in the region. Challenges remain, but Barranquilla is prouder than ever to finally share its story with the rest of the world.

About the OECD Champion Mayors Initiative
Created in 2016, the OECD Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth Initiative is a global coalition of mayors who meet on a regular basis to share their experience in the pursuit of inclusive growth in cities. Since its inception, over 100 different mayors from around the world have joined the Initiative, contributing their voice to the global debate, and making major strides in their cities toward youth empowerment, sustainable climate policy and support for SMEs. The Champion Mayors will meet at the Brussels Urban Summit on 13 June to drive change on improving housing affordability and cost of living for residents in their cities.

Mayor of Barranquilla | + posts

Jaime Pumarejo was elected Mayor of Barranquilla in October 2019 and started his mandate in January 2020. He previously served as Secretary of Economic Development for the Atlántico state and as Counselor for Competitiveness and City Manager in Barranquilla. He was President of Puerta de Oro Caribbean Events Center. In 2017, he was appointed Minister of Housing of Colombia. Prior to his political career, he was selected by the multinational Ingersoll Rand to be part of its Leadership Development Program, where he held positions in the United States and Singapore. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Management at Purdue University, with a minor in management of information systems. He has a master’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in finance from IE Business School, Madrid. Mr. Pumarejo is an advocate for the socioeconomic inclusion of migrants and a proponent of high-impact public investments and large-scale urban regeneration projects. One of his flagship initiatives is to transform Barranquilla into a “BiodiverCity,” aiming to restore the city’s ecosystem by placing people at the center. 

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