Making Better Use of Costa Rica’s Public Space
By Teo Mezger
DateApril 17, 2017
Public space – parks, plazas, streets and more – is the most precious public resource a city has. The quality of a city’s public space is also an important indicator of the quality of its democracy. While Costa Rica is often considered one Latin America’s more robust democracies, the fact that its inhabitants have limited access to public space is a clear indicator that there is significant room for improvement. Costa Rica’s climate traditions underline the fact that we are people that we like to be in the street to see and to converse with others. Nowadays, these meeting points are, or private, as are theaters, shopping centers, clubs, or forced situations, such as crossing the Paseo Colón to make connections between buses.
Public transport is an example of full democracy. This is where many people of different origins and social classes come together daily in great numbers. If a bus carries 60 people and a car carries one, then by definition of Article 33 of Costa Rica’s constitution, this bus must have 60 times more right to space in the road than the vehicle. This is not enforced. This failure to enforce the constitution is an issue of social justice, but more simply, a poor use of a valuable public resource. Cities are home to many people who all need to get around. Urban land is finite. Public transit is the most effective way to move many people. Urban mobility is a public good. It should not have compete with private transport for public space that it rightfully has access to. Costa Rica regularly ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world. However, congestion in our capital, San Jose, is the worst in Latin America. Residents here spend 15 days a year in traffic jams (locally known as presas). To support our democracy and sustain our high quality of life, it’s time to put public transit first.