Twenty-five years ago, the notion of designing neighborhoods to be compact, pedestrian-friendly, and with mixed-use elements was far from the norm in urban planning. Fast forward to the year 2023, and Las Catalinas stands as a shining example of a car-free neighborhood that continues to grow using the principles of new urbanism as its guiding light. The impact of this approach on homeowners at Las Catalinas is profound, often defying easy descriptions as it seamlessly integrates into daily life. Let’s take a deeper look into the world of new urbanism lifestyle and how it affects residents.
Promoting Walkability as a Necessity
Central to the new urban lifestyle is the idea that many daily activities should be easily accessible on foot. To convey the concept of a compact neighborhood to the broader public, new urbanists coined the term "pedestrian shed," representing the distance one can comfortably stroll in five minutes at a walking pace. When the built environment is inviting and tailored to human scale, people are more inclined to opt for a five-minute stroll rather than resorting to a car.
The idea of pedestrian shed is now widely integrated in new urban plans and incorporated into zoning codes. The quality of the urban landscape can influence the distance people will walk. The quarter-mile pedestrian shed is a useful measurement for community design, grounded in human psychology.
A walkable destination, be it a corner store, coffee shop, or neighborhood bar creates a sense
of community, identity, and the potential of interdependence among a group of people that is beneficial. In the case of Las Catalinas, there is no lack of things to do within walking distance of town, be it movement-based like mountain biking, hiking, or paddle boarding in the ocean, community-based like Las Catalinas’ events in Plaza Mercado, daycare at Elif Academy, or dining and retail-based options like Pots and Bowls or Copper and Stone.
Recently, we introduced our readers to Brian Funcik, a valued senior member of the Las Catalinas’ Residential Sales Team, and in the Las Catalinas community. We discuss his lifestyle in this blog post, where he mentions appreciating the merits of walkability daily. He relishes the opportunity to walk his son to daycare on his way to work and return home for lunch during his breaks. This daily quality time, made possible by the town's quarter-mile pedestrian shed, is truly irreplaceable. Remarkably, the entire town can be traversed from end to end in just ten minutes, enhancing the appeal of this walkable community.
Advancing Sustainable Urbanism
In an era where the threat of global warming is ever present, new urbanists are rising to the challenge of mitigating the carbon impact of buildings. While the creation of car-free towns represents one approach to reducing the carbon footprint of an urban space, the new urbanism movement recognizes the need for a broader perspective. New urbanism is a reminder that the goal is not to remove cars from public spaces, but from the need for cars in public spaces. Traditional environmentalism primarily focused on natural landscapes, wilderness preservation, and industrial pollution. New urbanism defines environmental protection as an interconnected challenge tied to community building.
Solutions must be innovative and tailored to the unique characteristics of each region. Here in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, where climate is intense, thoughtful consideration of building materials is paramount. Natural materials are chosen for their durability and for how they show the place's life. The development team at Las Catalinas is trending towards materials such as aluminum or PVC, although this entails some aesthetic and design flexibility trade-offs. On the other hand, these choices offer the advantage of reduced maintenance, which, in turn, lessens the carbon footprint associated with material replacement.
Observing Las Catalinas, you will notice an abundance of outdoor spaces and large windows designed to facilitate natural ventilation. This deliberate approach minimizes the need for air conditioning, offering yet another avenue for reducing our carbon footprint.
One of the most compelling strategies for curbing our town's carbon footprint is conservation. An impressive 80% of Las Catalinas' land has been set aside for conservation purposes, with only 20% designated for development. This commitment to preserving natural spaces underscores our dedication to sustainability.
As a collective, new urbanists possess a wealth of knowledge regarding the impact of location-based decisions. Given the climate challenges we face and the imperative of addressing climate change head-on, it is essential to continue applying this knowledge and refining our planning strategies as Las Catalinas grows.
Elevate Esthetics and Livable
New Urbanists advocate for the revival of captivating, human-scale neighborhoods. Tools have been developed to revamp zoning and street designs while revitalizing underused architectural styles like shopfront houses and courtyard units in a beautiful way, contributing to diversifying and creating engagement within communities. In Las Catalinas, this vision is at the heart of town's mission, and you will feel it as you stroll through the narrow-interconnected streets of town.
Homeowner and native Costa Rican Edgar Fernandez's decision to make Las Catalinas his home was influenced by the innovative use of the Condominium Regime in Costa Rica, which allows for the creation of a "private municipality" or something akin to a "town state." This intriguing experiment demonstrates what private industry can achieve when entrusted with responsibilities typically reserved for public municipalities, and the application of new urbanism. Edgar remains captivated by this concept today. “I am convinced that this is the best place to raise my children.” says Edgar.
Within Las Catalinas, the beach, the park, and even the train system, though surrounded by private property, are public spaces. These beautiful communal areas foster employment opportunities, community activities, and enchanting natural settings for all. Las Catalina's director of residences recently coordinated the garden team visited several homes in the community to construct and educate residents on tending to their own garden beds. The incorporation of beauty into design elements exemplifies another cornerstone of New Urbanism's principles.
New Approaches to Urban Planning in Costa Rica
New Urbanism represents a nuanced and recent approach to urban planning that challenges the conventional blueprint of many cities. It extends beyond the mere incorporation of bike lanes, crosswalks, sidewalks, and vehicle lanes; it encapsulates structures that actively engage with the people within the public domain. Thoughtfully designed plazas, squares, and green spaces are harmonized with landscape architecture and buildings that reflect the local culture, history, and climate.
New urbanists have long championed the notion that the public realm serves as the unifying thread in urban landscapes, offering potential sources of joy and inspiration for all residents. In a quest for a more aesthetically pleasing and livable urban environment, the embrace of the New Urbanism lifestyle harmonizes perfectly with Las Catalinas' dedication to the new urbanism principles. These intertwined principles steer us toward crafting vibrant, eco-conscious communities that not only enrich our quality of life but also demonstrate our reverence for the planet we call home.
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