Practice Details

Title of Practice: Local participation for neighbourhood improvement and coexistence
Year: 2012
BPTag: Best Practice
Reference Number: CRI311-12
City / Town / Village: Heredia
Region: Latin America and the Caribbean
Country: Costa Rica
Has this practice been submitted previously? No
Previous Title:
Address: Name of the Organization: Foro Participativo
Street: School Street, Escuela de Guararí
City/Town, Guararí de Heredia
Country: Costa Rica
Telephone (Country code): (506) 88354483 / (506) 22621132
Name of Contact Person: Olga Solís Soto
Email of Contact Person: solisoto@costarricense.cr, o.solisoto. gmail.com
Summary: The goal of this practice is to transform the surroundings, to generate a process of urban renovation through the improvement of the neighborhood and the construction of conditions of coexistence and safety. The practice is developed from the premise of work of the Integral Development Association, a Participatory Forum that brings together the leaders of the community in association with the Town Council of Heredia.

The process began with the improvement of the roads and sidewalks, streets were fixed and asphalted as the result of projects that were developed during three years with resources given by the participatory budget of the Town Council of Heredia. In the same way, an alternative for higher education for young people over the age of 15 was generated through an open education system. In addition, projects for the improvement of playgrounds and infrastructure were promoted. In the recent meeting of the participatory budget of the local government, innovative projects of communication were approved as well as an economical venture for women that will take effect during the second semester of 2012. A group of local leaders are capacitated in the formulation of projects, the participatory design of public spaces and the development of processes to carry them out. Similarly, a housing project is developed to eradicate hovels and give housing to 250 families. For the coexistence of the community, a participatory design process to build a cultural sports center is initiated, as well as two processes of urban activation of public spaces designed and executed by the youth and women.

Key Dates: September 24th, 2007: Approval of municipal resources for projects 4 November 15th, 2010: Creation of the Community Forum and accompaniment of ONU Habitat February 15 th – September 15 th, 2011: Training, formulation and approval of innovative projects November 20th, 2011 – present: Participatory design, appropriation and activation of public space February 21st, 2012: Negotiation of public resources for projects
Norminating Organization Details
Name of Organization: Heredia Municipality
Contact Person: Manuel Zumbado Araya
Type of Organization: Community-Based Organisation

Name of OrganizationAddressContact PersonOrganisation TypeType of Support
UN Habitat Costa Rica(Ofimall San Pedro, Ministerio de Vivienda, San Pedro de Montes de Oca, Costa Rica, Tel. (506) 2202 7961; fax (506) 2202 7961Iliana Ramírez, ramírez @onuhabitat.orgInternational AgencyTechnical Support

Social Services
Urban and Regional Planning
Urban Governance

Situation Before the Initiative Began:
Ten years ago, Guararí was a place marked by squatter slums next to housing development projects for low income families. It was a community with streets and sidewalks in poor condition, with potholes and dirt in the dry season and mud in the rainy season. It had educational services for primary school but lacked any alternative for formal education for the adolescent youth; it did not have any public spaces. There was a high level of citizen insecurity. Above all, the youth was affected by these problems. The community was stigmatized, viewed as a group of violent neighborhoods, which was detrimental to its inhabitants because no company in the surrounding areas would employ them.
Establishment of Priorities:
The Municipality of Heredia, the Association for Development, and later a Participation Forum of organizations and leaders of the settlement, in a participation process of diagnostics, definition of priority needs, and negotiation of agendas, define the following priorities:
– Repairs of streets, sidewalks, and other infrastructure works. The works are carried out with municipal investment.
– Development of a high school education option for the youth of the community. The Guararí Development Association is charged with summoning and organizing the youth, while the management of the education alternative is carried out by the Costa Rica Education Ministry. This project consists of two stages: the first one is a night school option for young people over the age of 15 (functioning presently), and the second stage consists of the purchase of land and the construction and development of a technical professional college for young people 13 to 18 years old (land purchase currently in progress).
– Improve community safety levels. To bolster this priority, three parallel and complementary cores are defined and worked on: one involves proceedings for social and situational prevention starting with community training and organization; second, police action efforts to prevent the expansion of drugs and weapons; the third core consists of community appropriation of public spaces. The preparation
and organization of community safety committees is developed by the Public Safety Ministry along with the supply of more security personnel from said Ministry.
– Another fundamental priority was freeing lands and changing their use with the purpose of converting them to areas for gathering, recreation, and community training. This project involves a long process at the National Institute for Housing and Urban Development (INVU)), which owns the lands, for their due transfer to the Municipality so they can then develop projects in these lands. The other area of this point is established through efforts of participation design and urban activation of strategic public spaces.
– Another priority defined in this process was the construction of a cultural, sports, and training complex. It involves a process of participation design and negotiation with public institutions to gather the necessary investment. The participation design is facilitated by UN Habitat Costa Rica and the funding is negotiated through a process bolstered by the local government along with the Housing Mortgage Bank (BANHVI)), the National Institute for Housing and Urban Development (INVU)), the Housing and Urban Development Ministry (MIVAH)), advisors from the Legislative Assembly, and the Presidency Vice-Minister.
– The last priority was the development of training and recreational processes for the youth. It involves procedures for public space appropriation by the youth and the promotion of the right to the city of the inhabitants of Guararí. There are two urban activation processes being developed that utilize art and culture which will serve as work models for the rest of the community.
It is important to point out that the leadership in this process comes from leading women in the municipality as well as the community
Formulation of Objectives And Strategies:
The objectives and strategies of this process were established through a series of discussion and reflection sessions in the heart of the Development Association, its Ordinary Assemblies, and the Participation Forum of the Guararí community. This discussion is synthesized into the following objectives:
– Create suitable conditions for the Guararí youth to have access to a formal education.
– Develop and create public spaces with design quality, aesthetic beauty, and safety for community gathering and for the development of training and community recreation activities.
– Promote social relations and constructive and peaceful coexistence models among the inhabitants of Guararí.
– Develop permanent programs for cultural, sports, artistic, recreational, and spiritual activities for the population of Guararí and especially for its youth
– Promote models for healthy and constructive coexistence.
– Negotiate the necessary resources so that these objectives can be achieved.
The strategies for the realization of these objectives were:
– Establishment of a participation forum in the community where actions can be coordinated and strategic process decisions can be taken.
– Participative defining of needs and priorities from community forums of neighborhood representatives.
– Establishment of joint agendas with the Local Government from the established priorities.
– Training, formulation of projects to create responses to the agenda priorities. First there is emphasis in generating an established capacity for the formulation of projects; second, there is an important emphasis placed on the participative design.
– Negotiation of projects from the neighborhoods within the participative budget of the Municipality of Heredia.
– Negotiation of legal and administrative conditions y channeling of resources from the National Government for those projects requiring large investments. The negotiation is carried out jointly between the community and Local Government and the national public institutions.
– Establishment of strategies for the negotiation and sustainability of designed and activated public spaces.
Mobilisation of Resources:
The resources that need to be established have been mobilized from negotiations with the Municipality of Heredia, based on a common priority agenda between the community and the municipality, or starting with the presentation of projects within the participative budget of said municipality. Within this framework, the municipality provided financial, technical, and administrative resources. It also provided its political “clout” in the negotiations for financial resources with public institutions of the national government.
On the other hand, for more wide range projects that involve a permanent flow of resources, negotiations were carried out with the corresponding public institutions in the area. The Ministry of Public Education thus supplied the resources for the teaching and administrative personnel, and for the logistics of the night school; the Ministry of Security provided more permanent police personnel for the community.
Through a letter of understanding between the Municipality, the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements, and UN Habitat Costa Rica, human and technical resources are mobilized to integrate the participation forum, and to train in an organizational way for the improvement of the neighborhood and in the formulation and negotiation of projects; furthermore, within the same agreement but within the Joint Project for the Achievement of the Millennium Objectives, the human and technical resource from UN Habitat advises and accompanies the Participation Forum from the technical standpoint in the design, activation, and management of public spaces and in the generation of conditions of an urban agreement that provides sustainability to the results of the process.
A first step for this process was to conciliate interests to the inside of the community: interests of the housing groups that want the wage to build houses; interests of the
inhabitants that want the wage for the development of public space dedicated to recreation, sports and community meetings; political partisan interests of the community leaders that possesses different partisan affiliations; interests of the different neighborhoods to gather scarce resources for their respective communities. This job was carried out originally by the Communal Development Association through the Communitarian Assemblies, establishing priorities and developing processes of negotiation with the Local Government.
Then, through the technical assistance of the ONU Habitat Costa Rica, an instance or Participatory Forum that gathers the leaders of Guararí was motivated and created, with the aim of conciliating and boosting the different local interests. This forum will establish the strategies to follow and will define the main decisions of the process. Participating in the forum are the representatives of the different neighborhood organizations, representatives of the Municipal Board, representatives of the District Board, representatives of the Cantonal Union of Development Associations and representatives of the police force, as well as counting with the technical assistance of the ONU Habitat.
As a central focus for the work of the Forum, dialogue guidelines were established, as well as a democratic participation to impulse betterment and coexistence. There was also a broad discussion about the type of organization that was needed in Guararí, in addition to an opening for the deliberation and contribution of the local leaders, through the recognition of the interests of each member. Instead of denying those interests, they are recognized and debated in negotiation processes.
The coordination with the local government and public institutions was established as a fundamental principle at the forum. The working agenda to follow was established within this framework.
As a first step of the agenda, a shared standpoint of Guararí and the priorities in which to work to reach it are defined in a participatory way, paying attention to the most significant problems and needs related to the betterment of the neighborhoods and citizen safety of the communities.
Then, the defined priorities are transformed into themes and guidelines to present projects in the process of the participatory budget, or to handle through the ordinary administrative budget of the Town Council.
Within this logic, members of the forum are trained in project formulation. Special material is prepared to learn to how to formulate projects for the betterment of the neighborhoods and training sessions are carried out for the leaders. Members of the Municipal Council of Heredia, from different partisan fractions, explain the procedure and regulations to gain access to the funds of the participatory budget.
Likewise, community representatives participate in a course for the betterment of neighborhoods organized by ONU Habitat and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Within this process, the projects that were priorities in the communities are formulated at the heart of the forum; then, they are approved at the Development Association Assembly of Guararí and the District Council, to then go to the presentation and approval from the Municipal Council of Heredia. Out of 12 projects that were presented, 11 were approved to be incorporated in the current of the Participatory Budget of the Municipality. This work was carried out from the end of 2010 throughout 2011.
Afterward, new projects are carried out to reach the set out goals. At the end of 2011 and the first trimester of 2012, the development of three projects is prioritized:
• Project of building a cultural, sports and educational complex
• Permanent project of education and recreation for the youth
• The municipality will settle the project to modify the use of the land and transfer the lands that belong to the INVU to the municipality
With this in mind, the participatory design process of the cultural and sports complex is developed as a result of the needs and characteristics of the community, within a viewpoint of encounter and community coexistence.
Likewise, work is carried out with the youth in social cartography to define processes of appropriation and use of public spaces and profiles of projects for 2012. During this year, projects of appropriation and urban activation start on behalf of the youth and women of the different neighborhoods.
Similarly, funds are negotiated within an institutional instance in which representatives of the community, representatives of the Local Government and representatives of the central government participate.
As a result, a procedural culture has been developed to formulate, present and negotiate projects within processes that count with the tripartite participation of community representatives, technical personnel and political representatives. The integration of the participatory design has been fundamental in the formulation of projects and the orientation of the processes.
On the other hand, one of the main problems that the process has presented is the communication and information between the Participatory Forum and the rest of the community. That is why a communication project was designed and negotiated in which the population will be informed and consulted through alternative means about the projects that are being carried out. This project will be sorted out by the youth.
Results Achieved:
A series of conditions, that seek to provide sustainability to the results, have been generated:
• Designing and installing a tripartite model based on the definition of visions and common agendas and the delineation of responsibilities and resources between community, local government, and national government agencies.
• Definition a strategy of co-management between the community and the local government, with the inclusion of the private sector, that aims at the integration of income generating projects and the maintenance for other public projects.
• Installing of a municipal Special Commission on Neighborhood Improvement to ensure the sustainability of the results and projects developed.
• Building a culture of negotiation and communal co-management for the coordination between community organizations, local government, and other public institutions.
• Promotion and signing of an Urban Pact that will channel human, technical, and financial resources from public institutions, private companies, and local organizations for the sustainability and extension of the achieved results and projects.
Lessons Learned:
The experience developed in Guararí (Heredia) teaches us many lessons; among them are the following:
1. It is strategic that community representatives are in decision-making positions within local governments.
2. In a settlement with a complex and heterogeneous population, it is critical to have a communal space (instance) to articulate between the leaders of the different
territorial and thematic sectors of the community. Furthermore, it is a fundamental requirement for the operation of this instance is that its members learn how to negotiate their interests and to establish a common vision that enables them to develop a working strategy consensus.
3. Urban transformation of neighborhoods is facilitated and strengthened when it has permanent and institutionalized mechanisms for channeling funds and resources from the regular budget of the municipality to communities through participatory budgeting.
4. For a successful translation of urban improvement to the creation of better living conditions, the community leaders’ capacity to prioritize, develop strategies, formulate projects and negotiate in Local Government and National Government bodies has to be installed.
5. Participatory design and participative definition of management strategies of public space and its socio-cultural activation facilitate an appropriation of those spaces by the population and their socio-cultural relevance for the neighborhoods.
6. To negotiate resources of public instances is essential to establish partnerships with the community and local government.
7. It is essential to learn to negotiate within the spaces provided by the representative democracy, from the standpoint of strengthening the communal organizations, their mobilizing power resources (their social capital), and the logic of mobilization of the electorate for the elections of local and provincial authorities.
8. To achieve the objectives, it is necessary to integrate community representatives, local government staff, cooperation agencies, and political representatives of the municipality and the Legislative Assembly within the participatory processes. This generates credibility and support of the various actors involved in the decision-making processes; Technicians prepare the proposals based on the inputs from the communities and politicians, together with the community, negotiate the proposals for decision-making in the national and local government instances.
The systematization and transfer of this experience is currently being developed through a set of actions, listed below:
1. The Development Associations – private organization representing communities’ interests and managing public funds – of neighboring communities have become interested in the process developed in Guararí. They have taken part in meetings of Participatory Forum (communal coordination and articulation instance in Guararí) and been integrated as observers, as to learn from the experience developed for the replication it in their communities.
2. The Cantonal Union Development Association of Heredia wants to coordinate with UN-Habitat a conceptual and practical training course for all Development Associations in Heredia so they can develop similar processes and leverage the municipal participatory budget within the communities they represent.
3. The Municipal Department of Gender Issues of Heredia is participating in the processes of appropriation and activation of public spaces by women in Guararí, as to learn the methodology and to apply it in other communities in the canton.
4. The Land Planning Unit of the municipality of Heredia is also interested in the process, as to incorporate the methodology in urban renewal areas across the canton.
5. UN-Habitat is preparing a systematization to share the experience nationally and regionally through a knowledge management processes by the MDG-F.
6. Finally, based on this experience, a strategy and methodology is being proposed to the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements for its implementation in degraded human settlements and slums.
Related Policies:
This project resulted in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Municipality and the Ministry of Housing and Human Settlements to accompany the process with a UN-Habitat technical assistance and intermediation.

Furthermore, the City Council approved the creation of the Special Commission on Neighborhood Improvement, integrated by political representatives of the City Council, municipal technicians, and the support and technical assistance by UN-Habitat. Its main aim is to leverage neighborhoods and communities into similar processes, with special attention to those communities that are located within the territories designated for urban renewal.

Additionally, in order to provide a sustainable basis to the process, the Special Commission on Neighborhood Improvement is preparing the Urban Pact, to be signed by community representatives, representatives of the local government, representatives of national government institutions, and representatives of civil society and the private sector.


Supporting Material:
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