by Ivo Henfling
City planning and public works departments in Costa Rica are not as well organized as you are used to. Actually I don’t think the locals have ever heard of city planning and therefore planning their public works.
The not planning of a city is part of the Latin mindset: live the day, don’t plan for tomorrow. This has to do, to my opinion with living in the tropics where there are no harsh winters; the reason it is not necessary to stash anything away for the winter. But that is only half of it.
The other half is the way a city in Costa Rica expands. In most countries, land is owned by the government. In Costa Rica, only the canyons around the rivers as the national parks belong to the government. Everything else is privately owned.
Do not only expect potholes here and there. We’ve had our share of bridges that nobody seems to be able to get fixed. The platina bridge is a famous sample but I’ll write another time about that one. I once wrote a blog about the off ramp of Highway 27 to Atenas and it took them 3 years to fix it. The provincial roads suffer most as they always seem to fall in between budgets. It is not unusual to see road signs in the wrong places or missing or even used to show there is a pothole. You’ll find lamp posts in the middle of the street because of bad planning between the road builder and the power company and you will also see road signs placed by the Ministry of Transportation that make absolutely no sense to a normal person.
This privately owned land is bought up by developers, large and small. They get the permission to subdivide the land but have to build the roads and infrastructure to the specifications the city gives them. Unfortunately there is very little control over the quality of this infrastructure. In case the developer subdivides the property into building lots, he builds the infrastructure, turns this over to the municipality, sells the lots and goes on his way to another project. Each lot owner will build his house on the lot and by the time the subdivision is totally finished, the infrastructure is destroyed. The repair of this infrastructure will take years as it is now the responsibility of the local municipality.
Like in most other countries, the state builds the roads connecting the different subdivisions or between cities and in Costa Rica it is Conavi, a state owned organization in charge of maintenance of all the main roads and highways. Some municipalities maintain their road system pretty good but it is Conavi who is always behind on the rest of the infrastructure.
Because a city develops in bits and pieces, there is no logic and no organization in this growth. Only the city of San Jose has a city planning department and they are always short on budget and personnel. Other cities and towns in Costa Rica have an Engineering department but they have their hands full with construction permitting and there is no time or any interest in any city planning. Many cities have a zoning plan, but the rules are broken all the time, it comes with the territory.
For all the above reasons, you will see some incredible situations as shown in the photos, taken from “Solo en Costa Rica” a Facebook page but if you are planning to move to Costa Rica you better get used to them. Oh, and don’t count on property prices being lower because of the lack of organization because that is not going to happen, though it should.
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