San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

VIDEO: San José a little brighter after busy weekend for ChepeCletas

Like many old cities, San José has its cheerleaders. It may be old, it may be dog-eared, but youthful organizations are working to make the Costa Rican capital livable again – not just a place to subsist and work, but to really enjoy some pura vida

Among them, the ChepeCletas team was particularly active this weekend. Best known as a bike advocacy group, ChepeCletas has teamed up with civic visionaries Pausa Urbana (among others) to paint portraits on the ugly metal security gates along Avenida Central.

Organizers noticed that when the storefronts close each night, their steel doors make the pedestrian street seem foreboding. “It’s like a tunnel, a dark tunnel,” said ChepeCletas representative José Pablo Ávila. Unlike the illegal graffiti that vandalizes much of San José, these murals were sprayed by professional artists. Not only did store owners give permission to use their security doors as canvases, but artists even received payment for their work.

For a full block, starting at the Central Market, the walls became a nearly uninterrupted gallery space. Artists arrived on Saturday night and continued their work throughout Sunday. 

Sunday morning was drizzly and cold, but ChepeCletas convened again, this time for World Car-Free Day. Scores of cyclists gathered in Central Park, where music blasted from speakers and participants huddled under shelters. When the ride began, San José police guided the massive entourage on a winding journey through the city, halting traffic and directing riders through intersections. 

The ChepeCletas team hopes that people will “leave their cars at home, take a break, [and] enjoy the city that belong[s] to everyone.”

World Car-Free Day was established in 1994 by the British Environmental Transport Association, and the event takes place annually on Sept. 22. Some sources estimate that more than 100 million people have participated in the event in at least 1,500 cities around the globe.

Learn more about ChepeCletas and Pausa Urbana by visiting their Facebook pages.

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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