The impact of universities on society: Working on neighborhood commons in San José, Costa Rica

The impact of universities on society: Working on neighborhood commons in San José, Costa Rica

Versión en español a continuación

As part of the LabGov research and extension program for Costa Rica, the Architecture students of the Universidad Latina continue to apply the concepts of common goods to the city, collaborating with the community of the Cedros neighborhood, in San Pedro de Montes de Oca, an area of the capital of Costa Rica, San José.

The process that was carried out in the first months of 2018 began with the realization of an analysis of the community, followed by the setting of objectives and schedule of activities to be carried out as a laboratory and as workshops. The project could be carried out thanks to the help of the community and also of the Scouts group in the area. Starting the investigation, surveys and talks were conducted in order to have more accurate information to project the needs. The best option was to involve the community around the coexistence space that belongs to it and is part of their daily routine: the neighborhood park and the community hall.

As a result of the activities carried out, certain problems were determined in the community, specifically in the sector near the Community Hall and the School of Cedars, which, indeed, as had been observed in the first stage, are the areas most used by the neighbors.

Based on the LabGov methodology, the research group applied the Co-city protocol: knowing, mapping, practicing, prototyping, testing and modeling. In order to achieve a shared city, it was proposed from the beginning to promote in the community the appropriation of public space through specific interventions and achievable with short-term actions that did not come exclusively from the group of researchers, but from the members of the community itself. In this way it was concluded to carry out an intervention with urban furniture, since fundamentally public areas only lend themselves to certain defined uses (field/court sports and indoor congregation activities) and lack comfortable and simple facilities to sit, rest and socialize in the outdoors.


An initial challenge, before starting any project, was to make the community aware of what the common goods are. And how this information could be transmitted in a way that was co-constructed among all.

The commons are resources and networks that sustain life, and although their legal possession may be of a certain group or community, or an individual, they are used by all and of all is the benefit.

Taking into account that every resource becomes common through a process of work and regulation, we wanted to focus on finding and recognizing the Common Goods with the Cedros Community, as well as later introducing a set of new goods to take care of and reproduce: the urban furniture produced with recycled pallets as the main material, which were implemented according to the needs of the community.

The common goods, in addition to achieving citizen participation and creating urban awareness, also help to create an environment of collaboration and equality: as it is related in Peter Linebaugh’s book about “El Manifiesto de la Carta Magna” and the Forest Charter, for a long time, humanity has sought to create a more equitable society, through documents created so that common goods are preserved and protected. Based on these texts it has been shown how this legacy has remained over the years and it is our obligation as citizens to watch over the common goods, since being shared brings benefits for all. Likewise, not only should they be preserved, but improved with the help of a community structure that, in mutual agreement, fosters good communication and teamwork. With this, goods can be renewed over time and could be used by our society and inherited by future generations [1].

On the other hand, as clarified in the book “La Carta de los Comunes”, common goods are not only translated into public space or, in the case of our intervention, in urban furniture, but they go much further, contemplating the goods to which we all have access in our daily life, such as water, air and other natural elements. It is from these fundamental commons that awareness must arise for responsible use. In other words, we cannot limit ourselves to taking care of the benches of our park, if our rivers and seas are full of garbage. For this reason we have sought ways to encourage the recognition of different types of common goods by the young population of the community, involving them in the first person in the care of these goods; so that in a broader way they focus on taking care not only of the community’s assets, but also beyond, an heritage such as water [2].


The decision about the prototype to be proposed was taken after making several field visits and noting that the large green areas had a space dedicated to a small playground and a court. However these are not used due to various problems, among them, the easiest solution was to solve the absence of adequate equipment for living areas. Therefore, it was decided to create functional and modular furniture that could later be replicated by people, remaining as a prototype model that the community could build alone, when it needed more furniture. Trying to create a quiet, cozy and safe space to share with the children, this also required garbage dumps, to have a space free of waste and at the same time educate the recycling.


Within the activities programmed to achieve this project, the workshop was aimed at young people between the ages of 9 and 16. This got a very positive response from them after working on the book quoted above from the “La Carta de los Comunes” [2]. With this, they were able to understand the importance of greater participation and allowed to spring up in them a sincere interest for the care of our goods.


In the development of this project, a positive response was observed from the members of the community to get involved in decision-making. This was proven in the workshops held, such as the furniture-manufacturing workshop, in which the young people were willing to collaborate and thus they were even more incentivized to preserve these goods, since they were involved in the design process as well as manufacturing, manifesting feelings of appropriation on his part.

This type of activities developed together with the neighbors, generate a tangible impact on the communities, since that attitude arouses the interest of other nearby communities, making it replicate and have an impact at the country level, and at a global level as part of the LabGov program, which aims to be a network of local efforts as the ultimate goal of these actions.

As an added value, in the case of this urban laboratory in the Community of Cedros, it was intended from the beginning to strengthen and promote self-management and not the resolution of a specific problem by external actors. Therefore, the necessary tools were provided for any citizen to be able to repeat or adapt the models proposed in this prototype, through an open technical manual and editable 3D files, accessible to anyone who requires it, within the framework of the Creative Commons concept.

It is very important for urban life to achieve coexistence among its citizens through the use of public spaces that the city offers us. However, the urban space by itself does not work, because it needs to be thought for and by the citizens, used and cared for by them in a continuous and organic way. For this reason, academic interventions are not an achievement but a stimulus to revitalize these spaces as social nodes.

In Costa Rica, despite the renowned democratic culture, people still need to be empowered on the subject of civic rights and duties, and to become active and participatory members of the city’s spaces [3]. This is achieved through the management, methodologies and tools of citizen participation, which give a reason of real use to those spaces. The development of this management was done in coordination between the Creative Campus of the Latina University of Costa Rica, the Cedros Integral Development Association of Montes de Oca and Plataforma de Integración Ciudadana, thanks to the participation of the community and organized groups as the Guides and Scouts of Costa Rica.

The LabGov program of Costa Rica seeks to involve the students of urban design courses in a process of research and extension in order to experience and understand processes of innovation in urban design, not limited to the drawing stage but to processes of co-design management. This not only in order to achieve a broad citizen participation and create an urban awareness of care and maintenance of the urban commons, but also to understand the students as qualitative researchers and community stakeholders, which can – and should – be involved in social projects.


1 Linebaugh, P. (2013). El Manifiesto de la Carta Magna, Comunes y libertades para el pueblo. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.

2 (2011). La Carta de los Comunes, Para el cuidado y disfrute de lo que todos es. Madrid: Traficantes de Sueños.

3 PNUD. 2013. Informe Nacional sobre Desarrollo Humano 2013, Aprendiendo a vivir juntos: Convivencia y desarrollo humano en Costa Rica. San José, C.R.: Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo – PNUD Costa Rica, p. 233-235.




Como parte del programa de investigación y extensión LabGov para Costa Rica, los estudiantes de Arquitectura de la Universidad Latina continúan aplicando los conceptos de bienes comunes a la ciudad, colaborando con la comunidad del barrio Cedros, en San Pedro de Montes de Oca, una área de la capital de Costa Rica, San José.

El proceso que se llevó a cabo en los primeros meses del 2018 comenzó con la realización de un análisis de la comunidad, seguido por el planteamiento de objetivos y cronograma de actividades a llevar a cabo como laboratorio y como talleres. El proyecto pudo realizarse gracias a la ayuda de la comunidad y también del grupo Scouts de la zona. Dando comienzo a la investigación se realizaron encuestas y charlas con el fin de tener información más acertada para proyectar las necesidades. La mejor opción era involucrar a la comunidad alrededor del espacio de convivencia que le pertenece y es parte de su rutina diaria: el parque barrial y el salón comunal.

Como resultado de las actividades realizadas, se determinaron ciertos problemas en la comunidad, específicamente en el sector cercano al Salón Comunal y a la Escuela de Cedros, que, efectivamente como se había observado en la primera etapa, son las zonas más utilizadas por los vecinos.

Basándose en la metodología del LabGov el grupo de investigación aplicó el protocolo Co-ciudad: saber, mapear, practicar, prototipar, probar y modelar. Con el fin de lograr una ciudad compartida, se planteó desde el inicio promover en la comunidad la apropiación del espacio público por medio de intervenciones puntuales y alcanzables con acciones a corto plazo que no vinieran exclusivamente del grupo de investigadores, sino de los miembros de la comunidad misma. De esta manera se concluyó realizar una intervención con mobiliario urbano, ya que fundamentalmente las áreas públicas no se prestan más que a ciertos usos definidos (deportes en cancha y actividades de congregación bajo techo) y carecen de instalaciones comodas y simples para sentarse, estar, descansar y relacionarse en los exteriores.


La decisión acerca del prototipo que se quería proponer fue tomada luego de realizar varias visitas de campo y notar que las amplias zonas verdes, contaban con un espacio dedicado a un pequeño parque infantil y una cancha, sin embargo no son aprovechados debido a diversos problemas, entre ellos, el de más fácil solución, era resolver la ausencia de un equipo adecuado para zonas de estar. Por lo tanto, se decidió crear un mobiliario funcional y modular que pudiera posteriormente ser replicado por las personas, quedando como un prototipo modelo que la comunidad pudiera construir sola, quando esta necesitara más mobiliario. Tratando de crear un espacio tranquilo, acogedor y seguro para compartir con los niños, se requerían también basureros, para contar con un espacio libre de desechos y que al mismo tiempo educara al reciclaje.


Un desafío inicial, antes de comenzar cualquier proyecto, era hacer que la comunidad conociera cuáles son los bienes comunes. Y, sobre todo, cómo podría transmitirse esta información de una manera que fuera co-construida entre todos.

Los bienes comunes son recursos y redes que sostienen la vida, y aunque su posesión legal puede ser de un cierto grupo o comunidad, o de un individuo, son utilizados por todos y de todos es el beneficio.

Tomando en cuenta de que todo recurso se convierte en común a través de un proceso de trabajo y reglamentación, se quiso dar enfoque en buscar y reconocer los Bienes Comunes con la Comunidad de Cedros, así como posteriormente introducir un conjunto de nuevos bienes que cuidar y reproducir: el mobiliario urbano producido con pallets reciclados como material principal, los cuales fueron implementados según las necesidades de la comunidad.

Los bienes comunes, además de lograr una participación ciudadana y crear conciencia urbana, también ayudan a crear un ambiente de colaboración e igualdad: como se relata en el libro del Peter Linebaugh acerca de “Manifiesto de la Carta Magna” y la Carta del Bosque, ya hace mucho tiempo la humanidad ha buscado generar una sociedad más equitativa, a través de documentos creados para que los bienes comunes fueran preservados y protegidos. Con base en estos textos se ha mostrado como ese legado ha permanecido a través de los años y es nuestra obligación como ciudadanos velar por los bienes comunes, ya que siendo compartidos traen beneficios para todos. De igual manera no sólo se deben de preservar, sino mejorar con ayuda de una estructura comunitaria que, estando en mutuo acuerdo, fomente una buena comunicación y trabajo en equipo. Con ello los bienes pueden ir renovándose con el tiempo y podrían ser utilizados por nuestra sociedad y heredados por las generaciones futuras (Linebaugh, 2008).

Por otro lado, como se aclara en el libro “La carta de los Comunes”, los bienes comunes no solo se traducen en espacio público o, en el caso de nuestra intervención, en mobiliario urbano, si no que van mucho más allá, contemplando los bienes a los que todos tenemos acceso en nuestra vida cotidiana, como lo son el agua, el aire y demás elementos naturales. Es de estos bienes comunes fundamentales que debe surgir la concientización para su uso responsable. Es decir no podemos limitarnos a cuidar las bancas de nuestro parque, si nuestros ríos y mares están llenos de basura. Por esta razón hemos buscado la manera de incentivar el reconocimiento de diferentes tipos de bienes comunes por parte de la población joven de la comunidad, involucrandoles en primera persona en el cuido de estos bienes; para que de una manera más amplia se enfocaran en cuidar no sólo los bienes de la comunidad, si no más allá, un bien de la humanidad como lo es el agua (, 2011).


Dentro de las actividades programadas para lograr este proyecto, el taller fue dirigido a jóvenes de edades entre los 9 y los 16 años. Esto obtuvo una respuesta muy positiva por parte de ellos luego de trabajar en el libro citado anteriormente de la “Carta de los Comunes”. Con esto se logró que ellos entendieran la importancia de una mayor participación y permitió que brotara en ellos, un interés sincero por el cuido de nuestros bienes.


En el desarrollo de este proyecto se observó una respuesta positiva de los miembros de la comunidad para involucrarse en la toma de decisiones. Esto se comprobó en los talleres realizados, como el taller de la fabricación del mobiliario, en el que los jóvenes se mostraron anuentes a colaborar y así se logró aun más incentivar el interés por preservar estos bienes, pues estuvieron involucrados en el proceso tanto de diseño así como el de manufactura, manifestando sentimientos de apropiación de su parte.

Este tipo de actividades desarrolladas en conjunto con los vecinos, generan un impacto tangible en las comunidades, ya que esa actitud suscita interés de otras comunidades cercanas, haciendo que se replique y pueda tener un impacto a nivel de país, y a nivel mundial como parte del programa LabGov, el cual plantea ser una red de esfuerzos locales como el objetivo final de estas acciones.

 Como valor agregado, en el caso de este laboratorio urbano en la Comunidad de Cedros, se pretendió desde el inicio fortalecer y promover la autogestión y no la resolución de un problema puntual por parte de actores externos. Por lo tanto se brindaron las herramientas necesarias para que cualquier ciudadano fuera capaz de repetir o adaptar los modelos propuestos en este prototipo, mediante un manual técnico que fue diseñado para ser “open” y archivos 3D editables, accesibles para toda persona que lo requiera, en el marco del concepto Creative Commons.

Es de suma importancia para la vida urbana lograr la convivencia entre sus ciudadanos mediante el aprovechamiento de los espacios públicos que nos brinda la ciudad. Sin embargo el espacio urbano por sí solo no funciona, pues necesita ser pensado para y por los ciudadanos, usado y cuidado por ellos mismos de forma continua y organica. Por esta razón las intervenciones académicas no son un logro si no un estímulo a revitalizar dichos espacios como nodos sociales.

En Costa Rica, a pesar de la renombrada cultura democrática, las personas todavía se deben empoderar en el tema de derechos y deberes civicos, y lograr ser miembros partícipes y activos de los espacios de la ciudad. Esto se logra mediante la gestión, metodologías y herramientas de participación ciudadana, que den una razón de uso real a dichos espacios. El desarrollo de esta gestión se realizó en coordinación entre el Campus Creativo de la Universidad Latina de Costa Rica, la Asociación de Desarrollo Integral de Cedros de Montes de Oca y la Plataforma de Integración Ciudadana, gracias a la participación de la comunidad y de grupos organizados como los Guías y Scouts de Costa Rica.

El programa LabGov de Costa Rica busca involucrar los estudiantes de los cursos de Diseño Urbano en un proceso de investigación y extensión con el fin de experimentar y entender procesos innovativos de diseño urbano, no limitados al dibujo sino a los procesos de gestión participada del diseño. Esto no sólo con el fin de lograr una amplia participación ciudadana y crear una conciencia urbana de cuido y mantenimiento de los Bienes Comunes Urbanos, sino además entender a los estudiantes como investigadores cualitativos y actores integrantes de la comunidad, los cuales pueden y deben involucrarse en proyectos sociales.


Linebaugh, P. (2008). Manifestación de la Carta Magna.

Madrilonia.Org. (2011). Carta de los Comunes.

Costa Rica urban exercises: promotion of the commons, and the right to the city

Costa Rica urban exercises: promotion of the commons, and the right to the city

[…]the concentration of people and events in time and space is a prerequisite to make anything happen, but more importantly are what activities are allowed to develop […]

In Life between buildings[1] are outlined the applications that must exist in the architectural proposals, so that human being begins to appropriate them. By extrapolating this analysis and relying on the concept established in The Right to the City[2], where it is considered that the gentrification caused by urban processes implies an impact on the present and the future of humanity[3]. The construction and strengthening of social structures that complement the dynamics of interaction of the different actors begins to make sense.

This concept of change of social structure is broad and, at the same time, complicated to define by different actors involved in the subject[4] Therefore, related processes that can be articulated from the academy result in the proposal of systematic variables that, far from wanting to intercede to achieve the purpose of a change of structure, what they seek is to detonate a collective process which add to the existing.

Proposal of social integration.

In this search to promote the use of space and social interaction, the approach to the community Barrio Pinto and its surroundings is proposed in the South of the canton of San Pedro de Montes de Oca, in the province of San Jose, Costa Rica; whose radius of action is located between the kilometer close to the Campus of Universidad Latina. This context contains many different realities. On the one hand, the central avenue has an established structure of commerce and services, in addition is the road that connects the center of the country with the Inter-American route, therefore, highly charged with vehicular flow.

This situation disappears entering avenue 2, 4 and 6. Residential use is giving space to the commerce and offices, but that still encloses a residential range that gives life to the parks of his around. This mutation of the space is reflected in the offer of related services between traditional commercial systems, such as tailors, sodas and informal commerce, as well as other emerging elements (biodegradable cleaning products).

Is under these dynamics – between the behavior of the inhabitants of the sector and the users of the services that are beginning to develop in the area – that the interaction between students of the area and the institutions (who are unaware of the processes, routes, services) arises. For example, there is a coffee shop that offers bike rental per hour and per day, as well as the organization of recreational circuits in the sector.

Then, the question arisen is: how to provide a tool to citizenship that allows articulation in the public space between the collective memory of a specific place and emerging uses that change the image of the city?

It is at this point, where the definition of common goods[5] and Collaborative Economy[6] (Cañigueral, 2014), together with the use of the technological tool Agora PIC (Plataforma de Integración Ciudadana, 2017) developed by the NGO team PIC, that these are taken as the basis of the research, to identify the possible elements to be taken into account, and to define a path that provides information on tangible and intangible variables. Trying to unify the social processes of the inhabitants of the sector, with visitors and users of the different activities in the radio, near to the community of Barrio Pinto.

Within the concrete analysis of the peculiarities of the community, the gap that exists between space of the Square Máximo Fernández-  on the north side of Franklin D. Roosevelt School – and El Retiro Park (650 meters Southwest of Máximo Fernández Square) -, as a hub that makes possible the social connection of a situation different from the current, whose goal is immersed, as Gehl points out[7] – is taken into account, to generate not only the space of transition, but of interaction.

Citizen participation has been necessary for the construction of this project. Across workshops and interviews, as well as different visits to the community to establish collaborative and individual services[8], the rescue of collective memory, stories and accounts of the citizen for the visibility of the human and sensory part of the area began, as well as the delimitation of the emerging uses that change the dynamic preset in the area, and generate a social movement toward the appropriation of common space[9].

Conclusion of a job, start of a route.

In conclusion, it is possible to counteract the thinking and analysis of Gehl[10], about the dynamics of use of public spaces, with the contributions of Zaida Muxí and Joseph María Montaner[11] on the substantial changes that surround the phenomenology of the city for the adequate enjoyment and use of the various variables of the Commons. Processes that lead to interpret the change of the image of the city must occur in an intrapersonal way, understanding that this isolated element is part of an articulated social system[12].

On this premise, it is part of this personal relationship, of collective memory and the individual task, for the strengthening of pre-existing social layers. It may not induce a community to take a change in its structure, but it strengthens when an external user can deviate from their daily life to rediscover its immediate context. For this reason, and waiting for the use of the technological tool (Ágora PIC[13]) to boost social skills to community, this intervention has been completed with the start of a journey raised with the student community of the Universidad Latina.

On this basis, we should start from this relationship between the collective memory and the individual task, to strengthen the pre-existing social layers. It is not possible to induce a community to adopt a modification in its structure, but it can be strengthened, when an external user can get away from their everyday life to rediscover their immediate context. For this reason, the use of the Ágora PIC technological tool was envisaged so that it could stimulate the social capacities of community making, ending this intervention with the beginning of a journey through the community.

A circuit that seeks, every four months, that is to say with the opening of the academic semester, to offer the newly admitted student the possibility of knowing their immediate context, and at the same time generate interaction with the dynamics of their area and with its inhabitants. This wants to contribute to the creation of a collective memory and local participatory networks that bring the academy closer to its own territory.

Il progetto pilota del LabGov Costa Rica comincia da esercizi accademici mirati che hanno l’intenzione de rispondere alla domanda: come facilitare uno strumento alla cittadinanza che permetta l’articolazione tra i beni comuni spaziali e la memoria collettiva di un determinato luogo; con una particolare attenzione agli usi emergenti che mutano rapidamente il volto frenetico della capitale e il ricordo di un passato, non troppo passato, campestre e bucolico? Come possiamo conservare la memoria dei beni comuni intangibili promuovendo contemporanemente l’hic et nunc dei commons tangibili attuali?

[1] Gehl, J. (2011). Life between buildings: using public space. Washington, DC: Island Press.

[2] Lefebvre, H. (1973). Le Droit à la ville. Paris: Ed. Anthropos.

[3] Costes, L. (2012). Del ‘derecho a la ciudad’ de Henri Lefebvre a la universalidad. Urban, 1-12.

[4] Lucas, M.A. (2006). Estructura social. La realidad de las sociedades avanzadas. Madrid: Pearson Education.

[5] Fundación Heinrich Böll (2008). Genes, bytes y emisiones: Bienes comunes y ciudadanía. Ciudad de México: Ediciones Böll.

[6] Cañigueral, A. (2014). Vivir mejor con menos. Barcelona: Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial.

[7] Gehl, J. op.cit.

[8] Cañigueral, A. op.cit.

[9] Fundación Heinrich Böll, op.cit.

[10] Gehl, J. op.cit.

[11] Muxí, Z., Montaner, J.M. (2011). Arquitectura y política. Barcelona: Editorial Gustavo Gili.

[12] Lucas, M.A. op. cit.