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Developing countries are experiencing urbanization at a much faster rate than cities in North America, and funds for planning efforts are generally scarce. On the outskirts of the Costa Rican capital San José, however, in a town called Curridabat, Mayor Édgar Mora Altamirano and the local government have become unusually engaged in citybuilding and creating community. The result is a forward-thinking initiative to harness sprawl and revitalize lackluster architecture in a growing community that desperately needs it.
Demonstrating how paramount quality leadership is to proactive change, the mayor of Curridabat has recognized how important it is to think in the long-term, and to involve the community in the redesign process. In addition to hosting public workshops geared toward generating ideas for future growth, the design team has collaborated with and educated the local planning department so that the renovations can be maintained and expanded upon in the years to come.
Its initial growth largely due to coffee plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries, Curridabat gained municipal independence in 1930 and has since abandoned any signs of colonial architecture within its four main districts. However, the “Law of the Indies” street grid is still evident in its central district, and has provided a valuable lesson in the restructuring of the surrounding three.
As with many New Urbanist projects, the reimagining of Curridabat has focused primarily on increasing walkability and usability, while decreasing the congestion that has resulted from aimless suburban growth. In order to respect the prevalence of private spaces that function as both homes and businesses in Costa Rica, many multi-use designs will be implemented that will allow for a flexibility of uses. “With exceptional graphic clarity,” Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk believes, “it reinforces neighborhood structure and transect components with specific local interventions,” a form for crating dense, walkable urbanism out of an auto-dominant design which she hails as “prototypical.”
Once underutilized and thought of as inconvenient eyesores, natural ravines running through the town have been reworked into parks and other public spaces in proposals. Several major roads will be transformed into safer corridors or boulevards, with expanded sidewalks and bicycle paths (ciclovías) connecting all neighborhoods. This will be in keeping with Costa Rica’s reputation for being environmentally friendly while at the same time attending to its rapidly evolving urban needs.
Curridabat will be the first municipality to officially implement Form-Based Code and regulations, as well as transect-based zoning, in all of Costa Rica. According to urban architect Cristóbal Valdez, the Curridabat plan “could be setting the pace for a Latin-American adoption of the CNU Charter Principles.”
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