San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Breathes Life Into ‘High Risk’ Districts

The ground is dry and covered in cracked concrete in the Parque la Libertad. Small, one-story annex buildings are collapsing under an invasion of weeds and foliage. Dominating the center of the park are three long structures with high, tin roofs and concrete slab floors – the remnants of the old cement factory that occupied the area in previous years.

But all that is about to change. Take one glance at the plans to renovate the expansive terrain and build a community park between the towns of Desamparados, south of San José, and Tres Ríos, east of the city, and the image that appears is one of new life for the close to 80-acre site and the surrounding communities.

The park will be unlike any other in the Central Valley, said Dora María Sequeira, director of the Parque la Libertad Foundation.

“Almost all (the existing parks) are recreation areas, that are for sports,” she said.

“Only this one has the aspects of education and training, the environment, the arts.” What Sequeira is referring to are the community training and education programs that will be readily available to the nearly 400,000 residents in the park’s surrounding area. There will be four main focuses: the arts, the environment, urban development and community training in a variety of subjects.

“The project surfaced as an idea to invest in the community, where – by means of sports, by means of the arts, by means  of recreation – we can better the quality of life for the people from this zone,” Sequeira said.

The school of music has been operating since the beginning of the year and already has 300 students, mostly from Desamparados. Still awaiting space and funding are an arts center, a children’s library, a health center and a botanical garden – all of which will have educational programs for both children and adults.

The park is one of two such projects that have been developed to the brink of construction. The other is the Parque  Metropolitano del Noreste, between the northeastern towns of Coronado and Moravia. Three more parks are on the  horizon. The overall park plan calls for the development of 16 new parks by 2030, and several of these would dwarf the current giant, Parque La Sabana at the western edge of San José, and be twice the size of Parque la Libertad.

The overall plan, developed by the Regional and Urban Planning in the Greater Metropolitan Area (PRU-GAM), calls for much more than adding parks. It’s an all-encompassing initiative to beautify the over-congested Central Valley, where 57 percent of the population lives, according to PRU-GAM Director Eduardo Brenes.

If the project is fully implemented, the Central Valley will offer 10 square meters of public green space per resident, Brenes said.

Different government agencies have jumped on the band wagon and provided their support. The Labor Ministry is funding the Parque Metropolitano del Noreste. The Culture Ministry, along with help from a number of other ministries and the United Nations, is spearheading the funding needed for the Parque la Libertad to become a reality.

In February, the Culture Ministry announced an architectural competition to award the design contract for the park, which drew more than 50 competitors. On August 7, out of 19 finalists, the winners were announced and awarded the contract for their environmentally focused plan that utilizes the preexisting shell structures.

Three young architects who founded the firm Sanjosereves won the contract with what they called “a very simple concept.” “It’s very exciting that a public space we’re designing is going to be used by so many people,” said Diego van der Laat, one of the architects.

The design is focused on a central circuit – some parts for running or biking, others also accessible to cars – which weaves in and out of itself, connecting all sections of the surrounding communities, the architects said. The interconnectedness is to facilitate community interaction, not create it.

“Really, the activities are what are going to open up the park to the community and draw them in,” said Ana Patricia Arias, another of the architects.

In five years, the project should begin to look like a park. In 10 years, the reforestation and construction – which will be done piecemeal – should be complete, and the park will be fully operational.


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