First, it has a metro. A metro! This is the first metro we have seen since...ummm...Mexico City, I believe. That's a whole lot of mileage without seeing one. And unlike Mexico City, the metro in Medellin is not dirty and rather orderly. There are military officials who make sure you put your ticket in the turnstile correctly, others who watch the platforms, and in return, the people are actually curteous and let people off the train before getting on it (do you hear that, Chicago?!).
"Look, Boss, the train, the train!"
Of course, since metros only really run well on flat-ish land and Medellin is set in a big valley, there was the problem of all the people who lived on the slopes of the valley not having the same access to public transport. No problem, they just connected the metro to a ski lift. No joke. Without paying any more money, a passenger can ride up the slopes of the valley.
The ski-lift-metro thingy
Second, there is a concerned effort to have people live a better life. Next to the highway signs that tell you which exit to take, there are signs that say things such as "Play sports, it's healthy!" It's a little Orwelian, but it's better than nothing. There also seems to be a concerned effort to integrate art in the daily life of people. All over the central area and dispersed throughout the whole city are tonnes of statues from a local artist Botero as well as many other large monuments. In fact, there is a law that decrees that a work of art must accompany any new large building. That's one way to keep the city looking classy!
Third, and my favorite, are the guys that I will call the "Jaywalking Police". These guys stand at busy intersections with signs that say "Bien Hecho" ("Good Job") and "Mal Hecho" ("Wrong"). They wear anything from hip-looking-Justin-Timberlake-wanna-be suits, to floppy sun hats, to a full robot outfit (no kidding). Their job is to basically prevent pedestrians from getting flattened by oncoming cars because this apperently happened too often in the past. Accordingly, if you cross the street when you are supposed to they flash you a "Bien Hecho" sign and tell you that you are a good boy/girl. If, however, you cross when you are not supposed to, they will show you the "Mal Hecho" sign and also yell "Mal Hecho!" at you. So, yes, they are kind of like crossing guards for grown ups, except a little cooler.
I'm not sure what the long-term effects of all this public spending, but it does seem to show that the government is trying to look out after its citizens. I know that public transport systems usually have a positive effect on the economy and lives of the citizens that use it, but I'm not so sure about large public art pieces and "Jaywalk Police", even though I like both. Does anyone out there have any evidence that public art has a net positive effect on a community? What would you do if a guy in a robot outfit told you "Wrong!" as you crossed the street?