Sweet City: Defeating the City-Nature Antagonism

Curridabat, San Jose

The first city in Costa Rica to adopt form-based coding has created a citywide plan to connect urban neighborhoods to nature. Sweet City is the next phase of a Charter Award-winning plan of 2014.

The majority of Curridabat’s 72,500 citizens live among public spaces dominated by asphalt— inhibiting biodiversity, negatively impacting the visual landscape, and adding to the stress of dayto-day living. Sweet City mitigates that impact through investment in green infrastructure.

New urbanist interventions like shared streets, mixed uses, sidewalks, and public spaces are combined with park improvements, wetlands, and projects to improve biodiversity.

“Small things bring forth the big ones. Butterflies know that. So do native bees and hummingbirds, which keep adding value to the planet each time they extract nectar and transport pollen,” says Mayor Edgar Mora. “As the cities of the world have entered a new century, they can transform to host the biodiversity that until now we’ve kept outside” of settled areas.

Sweet City Curridabat Children Planting
Children help to plant some greenery.

The $45 million Sweet City project creates and revitalizes 63 new and existing parks in 21 city neighborhoods. Eight corridors link neighborhoods and parks. Mixed-use development is planned in infill and old industrial sites, including 2,700 residential units, 1.3 million square feet of retail, and 715,000 square feet of office space.

The primary goal of the neighborhood plans is to integrate nature into urban places—while also incorporating new urbanist principles like mixed use, human-scale public space, and pedestrian-friendly streets and corridors.

Multimodal thoroughfares, which the city calls “inclusive streets,” are being remade for more diverse use.

Within neighborhoods, a broad range of housing types and price levels can bring people of diverse ages, races, and incomes into daily interaction, strengthening the personal and civic bonds essential to an authentic community.

Sweet City’s vision is to break down the traditional antagonism between city and nature, and in doing so, enrich the experience of both for all residents, down to the smallest pollinator.

Top photo: A walkway is planned near a pond.

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