San Jose: Transit as an Urban Generator

Video © Gensler

Team members

  1. Andrés Lara
  2. Maria Saenz
  3. Ronald Calvo
  4. Cristina Arrea
  5. Esteban Herrera
  6. Roberto Lugari

The “Work In the City” project is about visualizing the future of our cities. In the Costa Rica Great Metropolitan Area, the typical commute to work has become almost unbearable for those you don’t own a car, and for those who have a car more time consuming and expensive.

The phenomena of traveling from home to work is part of a everyday human ritual that generates massive parallel movement of flows and activities that require highways, roads and infrastructure to make it happen effectively. With the introduction of cars in our era the urban scenarios have definitely shifted toward a less friendly space for pedestrians. The pictures of San Jose’s urban past depict a city of shared surfaces and pedestrian environments where public transport, landscape and people coexisted harmoniously. In contrast, today’s image of the city is completely dominated by vehicular traffic, and pollution, thus creating environments that repel people.

Costa Rica plans to be the first carbon neutral country by 2021, but in order to achieve this goal we must start by setting different priorities for urban space and try to recover from the past those urban qualities.

Due to transportation, about 75% of the energy consumption still relies on petroleum. This is relevant because the current growing and high impact carbon emission are due mostly to the transportation sector. The poor infrastructure and fragmented structure of the main urban areas is the consequence of 35 years of lack of vision and planning. This has not only diminished quality of life for its habitants but has unnecessarily saturated the city. Even though Costa Rica has over 90% of production of electric clean energy like wind, hydro and geothermic, the fast growing demand is starting to shrink this percentage, becoming more and more dependent of fossil fuels.

Can you imagine that the current urban plan for the mayor metropolitan area still hasn’t been updated since the 82’?

Even though government has been trying to find different alternatives & financial support to modernize the main airports, ports, highways & transportation systems, the social and political pressures makes these kinds of projects a very difficult task. While Costa Rica fights with its own legal system and struggles to find a fast way execute and approve plans, a long list of projects are still waiting to be done.

In recent years the peripheral areas of the center of San Jose has seen a significant urban development of office buildings, retail centers and residential areas, while the center has become old, expensive and less attractive for new investments. The time that people require to travel relatively short distances between home and work has become a real issue, making our country less competitive within the region.

For example, in an organization like Gensler, people must travel around 3000 +km per day to get to the office and back using fossil fuel. That’s equivalent of driving to Mexico City every day. That is like driving around the world once every month. Over 50% of the employees travel more than 40 min to get to work, even though they live inside a 10 km radius away from the office. As an office we spend over 2500 hours a month commuting, which means over $40,000 USD each month just to move and this doesn’t include the cost of parking for every employee that owns a car.

Costa Rica has made efforts to get closer to this objective, as is the only country that has successfully grown its forest coverage over the past 10 years. But there is an obvious lack of coherence between the current objective for carbon neutrality and the way we are planning the city. The transportation sector is now one of the most relevant issues that stand in our way to reduce our carbon emissions.

We must identify the areas for all these future transportation projects, because they have an incredible potential to change the future role of infrastructure for Costa Rica. These new connector lines give us the possibility to rethink the urban space and the relationship between transportation, landscape and people through a much more ambitious and far reaching project.

While we wait for the city to improve the current transportation systems for the Great Metropolitan Area, we can only recommend that new office and residential developments be clustered around these future transportation connectors, to help reduce eventually the transportation footprint between office and home. As well we have identified different important strategies that should be considered to improve pedestrian mobility around the city:

  • RETHINK THE URBAN BLOCK: E-W traffic avenues + N/S shaded pedestrian streets with underground parking.
  • Embed CLEAN ENERGY SYSTEMS in buildings and transportation. This would help create a new and better image for the city.
  • Design COMPLETE STREETS to encourage multi-modal transportation.
  • Build a MULTI-LAYARED URBAN ENVIROMENTS to trigger interaction.
  • ELIMINATE THRU-TRAFFIC and give the city back to the people.
  • Introduce high density ICONIC ACTIVITY HUBS.
  • RECONQUER THE GROUND+ROOF to live the city in 3D.
  • UNFOLD THE CITY to create new layers of experience.
  • MULTI-LEVEL STREETS - new connections above ground.
  • HIGH DENSITY MIXED USE DISTRICTS to coincide with primary transportation hubs - new activity magnets in the city.
  • Provide LINEAR PUBLIC SPACES above key mass/transit tram lines.