How A Traditional Agricultural City Functions: The Case Of San Isidro, Costa Rica

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If you're one of those that is interested in the agricultural New Urbanist community concept, then you might want to check out the city of San Isidro, Costa Rica.  San Isidro is a city with a population of around 35,000.  It lies nestled in a valley surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains located in the Talamanca Mountain range, east of the Pacific coast of southwest Costa Rica.  Although the city of San Isidro is definitely lacking in several departments (such as architecture and nightlife) from the perspective of a person coming from a city in a more developed country, it also, however, has several important lessons that can be learned from it that can be applied to cities in other more developed countries.

The city of San Isidro consists of walkable 2-4 story development throughout in it's urban core, and has always been a predominantly agricultural city too.  The fact that the city lies in a valley makes it easily comparable to a "bread basket."  Most of the food produced for the city even still today comes from the farms in the mountains surrounding the city,  is produced more or less organically by the local farmers, and is then brought down and sold/traded to the people in the city in the valley below.  Many of the goods that are generally purchased here are also manufactured and sold by the people of the city to the people of the city.   Every Thursday, the local farmers all descend out of the mountains into the heart of the city for the weekly Feria, or Farmer's Market as they are called in the US.  This is the largest local farmer's market that I have ever experienced personally.  

The modern world has obviously imposed itself on the city of San Isidro in recent years, with storefronts that sell imported goods from all over the world, but a fair balance has been created between these goods and the goods produced locally by the residents, farmers and craftsmen/women.  One imported item that the people here are obviously way into is their shoes, as it seems that every other storefront contains mostly imported shoes of one lind or another.  That particular imported good really caught on in a big way here.  Unfortunately (in my opinion), large multi-national corporations such as Wal-Mart have recently opened grocery stores under the guise of different Latin sounding names such as Pali, but this has also allowed the local people to have access to goods (and mostly products made in China) that they previously had no access to.  This fact has both positive and negative aspects.  

Most of the modern, local large businesses in the city, however, actually operate under the "cooperative" business model, rather than "corporation."  In fact, the largest grocery store in the city operates under both, and is called Corporacion CoopeAgri (Corporation of Cooperative Agriculture).  It seems to be an interesting and balanced business model that is uncomparable to most businesses in the US in my opinion.  The majority of the city's local residents, however, seem to keep most of their food shopping restricted to the Feria, supporting their local farmers.  The larger chain grocery stores seem to be more frequented by foreigners and tourists (at least for the purpose of buying food).

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this city, in my opinion, is that it is still today largely self-sufficient, self-sustaining and independent from fossil fuels as being a necessity.  Although there are a lot of cars, traffic, roads, and gas stations, it seems that if there were ever a shortage of fossil fuels, that the people of this city and region would have hardly any issue at all.  Most of the residents already use public transportation, and most goods are transported in a cooperative fashion.  The large chain grocery stores and imported shoes and clothes would mostly go away, leaving the people here with the same traditional things and way of life that they always had before, and still have today.  Noone, it seems, would really suffer in such a situation, or was ever in any big hurry to begin with either; and in fact it seems that most of the residents of this city would actually prefer if all of the imported way of life went away anyways.

This is all in great contrast to such a city in a more developed country such as the United States, the residents of which all seem to have an eternal "Black Friday mantality" where everyone is in a really big hurry to buy, so they get onto the congested highways in their gas-guzzling SUVs and try to rush to the big-box mega store in order to purchase the latest goods, almost all of which had to be imported/transported all the way from China (or some other far Eastern country that uses cheap labor), or a large corporate/ polluting factory farm in some distant corner of the country (or Chile).  That sure is an excessive amount of fossil fuels to be consuming.  I suppose that it is all a matter of the lifestyle that an individual wishes to live.

Also see my Blog titled Farmton, FL: A New Opportunity To Prove What Can Be Done For the Environment Through New Urbanism/Regional Planning by clicking on Dylan's Blog below.


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