San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Postal Service Plans New Street Addresses

ANYONE who has been in Costa Ricafor any length of time probably has hearddirections that sound like this: 100 metrosnorte y 50 metros este del Banco Centralde Costa Rica. Longtime residents knowthis means a block north and half a blockeast of the Central Bank building in downtownSan José.They may also sound something likethis: 200 metros sur y 75 metros oeste delantiguo higuerón – referring to a famousformer landmark, in this case an old figtree in San Pedro, east of San José, thathasn’t existed in years.How Ticos find anything here mayescape the understanding of anyone fromNorth America or Europe, where streetaddresses are quite orderly in comparison.“There’s got to be a better way,” losttravelers may mutter in frustration.THERE is, agrees Geovanni Campos,director of distribution for Correos deCosta Rica S.A., the company that managesthe country’s Postal Service. In thenext few years, he says, Costa Rica willundergo a radical change in the way streetaddresses are given.Postal officials are nearly a third of theway into an ambitious $1 million project toassign new street addresses to every houseand commercial building in the country, hesaid.The new address system will allow thecountry “to advance from a traditionalCosta Rican system of signs to a system ofcodes,” Campos explained.Revolutionizing street addresses won’tjust benefit those in charge of deliveringthe mail, Campos pointed out.“It will facilitate things for everyone…bus drivers, students going to another student’shouse to study, pizza deliverers.Many people will benefit. Tourists will findit much easier to get around,” Campossaid, adding that the Postal Service hasreceived nothing but support from its commercialclients for the new plan.DHL Express & Logistics, whichdelivers packages to homes and businessesaround the country, is among the project’sbeneficiaries.“It will definitely help us a lot. It’s achallenge to find our customers’ housesand business establishments,” said DHLGeneral Manager Fernando Cruz. “In fact,Costa Rica is one of the few cases worldwidewhere no real benchmark exists.”“Sometimes packages arrive addressedwith reference points that no longer exist,such as the antigua Farmacia Solera. Well,that pharmacy hasn’t existed for 10 years!”Cruz exclaimed. “It’s a challenge othercountries don’t face.”Though occasionally the company isunable to decipher and locate an addressand must send a package to its “undeliverable”pile, it is successful most of the time.“Fortunately, we have great driverswho know the streets very well,” Cruzsaid. He added he couldn’t comment furtheron the new address system because hedoesn’t know that much about it.OTHERS may feel a sense of déjà vuwhen hearing about the benefits of the newaddress project, because such a plan hasbeen announced before.According to Campos, the new plan iscompletely different from one announced inearly 2001 by Ricardo Toledo, former managerof the postal system and current presidentialcandidate for the Social ChristianUnity Party (PUSC). At the time, Toledoestimated the new address system, whichwould use Global Positioning System(GPS) equipment and rely on house numbers,streets and avenues, would take roughlyone year to complete (TT, Dec. 21, 2001).A pilot program in Santo Domingo deHeredia, north of San José – the remnantsof which are still visible in myriad smallnumbered signs above the doors of residencesand businesses – has been discardedin favor of the new plan, which Campossaid is based on a study conducted byJavier Gil, a postal expert from Spain.Campos said the new project, launchedin 2003, “facilitates a more detailed andthorough coverage of the country’s roadnetwork than the previous plan.”LIKE the old plan, the new project isbased on technical criteria for numberingthe country’s road network and identifyingeach unidad de entrega, meaning everyhouse, business or suite in an office building,with a unique code.Campos admitted Costa Ricans areused to their system of describing locationsby landmarks and distances, and thatchanging the traditional way would “taketime and effort.” He said younger generationswould likely have the least troubleadapting to the change.The new addresses will consist of a 19-digit code that includes numerical informationabout the street on which the buildingis located, the road that intersects thatstreet and a number specific to each buildingthat represents the distance, in meters,between the building and the intersection.Though the official code will include19 digits, people won’t have to rememberall of them, Campos said. Actual addresseswill range from two to four digits (representingthe number of meters to the nearestintersection). A person will be able to say,for example: I live at house No. 25 on Ave.8, near Calle 15.A team of 37 postal workers is in theprocess of going door to door, assigning acode to every building, Campos said.“We have completed 350,000 locationsin the highest-priority areas, San José andHeredia, of the estimated one millionthroughout the national territory,” Campossaid, adding that Alajuela, northwest ofSan José, and Cartago, east of the capital,are next on the list.The goal is to finish the entire codeassignation in the next three years. Afterthat, the National Directions Commission,formed by decree in 1998 to plan and overseethe new street-address system, isexpected to coordinate efforts between thePostal Service, the Ministry of PublicWorks and Transport (MOPT) and municipalgovernments, said Campos, who leadsthe commission.Under the plan, the installation ofofficial signs with each location’s uniquecode would be the responsibility of eachof the country’s 81 municipal governmentsafter the national postal census hasbeen completed.

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