What is the Sweet City Initiative?
In striving to become a more inclusive, innovative, and environmentally friendly place to live, the City of Curridabat is facing the challenge of adding value to the natural environment as a city rather than detracting from it. Within this, “nature equity,” or access to nature as a source of wellbeing for all of its residents despite extreme socio-economic differences, is the main challenge that the City has chosen to address.
The city of Curridabat strives to be a Sweet City, adopting a holistic, biophilic, and eco-centric approach that recognizes pollinators, specifically native bees, as central to the city’s urban design and wellbeing. The Sweet City vision was launched in 2015, tested through prototypes in 2016 and 2017, and established for city-wide implementation in the municipal city plan in 2018.
Over the course of 14 years and under continuous leadership of the same mayoral administration, the city of Curridabat conducted a territorial analysis in partnership with neighborhood and community associations to gain a better understanding of the life experiences within the City. The administration identified the following seven experiences in need of improvement around which to center all of its projects: adequate water management; recovery of soil health; promotion of conscious eating and healthy food options; enhancement of intermodal transportation and walkability; improvement of the sense of security in key spaces like parks; improving mental health of citizens; and strengthening of participatory local governance.
A foundational principle of the Sweet City vision is that increasing residents’ contact with biodiversity increases their wellbeing and strikes a balance and synergy between people and their environment. By recognizing the interdependency between the people and the biodiversity of Curridabat, Sweet City overcomes the long-lived antagonism between city and nature that has characterized traditional urban development. Bees, hummingbirds, and other non-human organisms are recognized as members of the urban community and incorporated into each of the seven experiences to include representation for even the smallest living things. By improving the experience of a honeybee residing in the City of Curridabat, the quality of life of all residents of Curridabat is improved.
The Sweet City vision is achieved through several different projects, touching on a range of wellbeing areas such as mental health, conscious living, place-based connectedness, and health. One such project is the creation of bee hotels that create proper conditions around the city for bees to pollinate and flourish, as the availability of nest space has fallen due to increased urban development of the city. Another project, Spaces of Sweetness, is a participatory neighborhood design process that renovates infrastructure in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods to ensure their harmonious cohabitation with nature. It implements sustainable drainage systems, riverfront parks, spring water recovery, and more green corridors. Another part of the Sweet City program is the Sweet Classroom initiative which works to educate citizens on eco-centric behaviors and reinforce that all people are responsible stakeholders in maintaining balance and personal wellbeing.
To measure the impact of the Sweet City vision, the Innovation Team from the Mayor’s Office has worked on developing a custom tool to assess its biodiversity and its citizens’ happiness and wellbeing. In the coming years, the City aims to keep refining the tool, collecting data and evidence to prove the positive wellbeing outcomes of its initiatives.
As Curridabat first became impacted by COVID-19, access to public spaces had to be restricted and their role reevaluated. Some Sweet City projects, such as Sweet Classroom, became virtual to try to maintain the connection with the community. But internet accessibility still needs to be increased to ensure that all citizens can benefit from these initiatives. Despite all of its negative impacts, the pandemic revealed the importance of being connected to nature. The City saw an increased demand for projects such as urban gardens and composting, testifying to a desire for self-empowerment through food production.