Podcast Transcript 296: Stupid Ambitious in Costa Rica

October 28, 2020
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In this episode, we’re joined by Andrea San Gil Leon, director of Agile City Partners, and environmental journalist Jocelyn Timperley to talk about transportation and climate action in Costa Rica. I came across their work after Timperley wrote an expansive piece for BBC Future. We chat about Costa Rica’s climate action from forest conservation to eco-tourism and the country’s transportation challenges and potential.

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The full transcript for Episode 296 is below:

JW (0s):
You’re listening to the Talking Headways Podcast Network. This is Talking Headways, a weekly podcast about sustainable transportation and urban design. I’m Jeff Wood. This week, we’re joined by Andrea San Gil, Director of Agile City Partners, and environmental journalist Jocelyn Timperley to talk about transportation and climate action in Costa Rica. Stay with us. Today’s podcast is brought to you by our generous Patreon supporters. Thanks so much to those that listen and support each month, we really appreciate it. And now, if you’d like to get a hold of our “bus-only” soccer-style scarf with dedicated lane designs, donate ten dollars or more a month on Patreon and we’ll send one along.

JW (45s):
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JW (1m 25s):
If they aren’t capitalized, you go to a Ukrainian urban planning signup list. Always something fun in our crazy world. That’s bit.ly/UrbanWebinar, U W are capitalized. Before we get to this week’s show, I want to let folks know that they can get this podcast wherever you find your podcasts, including iHeartRadio, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, and of course, Apple Podcasts. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss an episode. And subscribing means to get both this show, Talking Headways, and Mondays at The Overhead Wire, where this music I’m talking about comes from, on the same feed. Two fun podcasts, one great channel. Subscribe today.

JW (2m 11s):
Well, Andrea San Gil and Jocelyn Timperley welcome to the Talking Headways Podcast

JT (2m 15s):
Thank you.

ASG (2m 16s):
Hi, thanks for the invite.

JW (2m 17s):
Well, so before we get started, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? And we’ll start with Andrea and we’ll go with Jocelyn after that.

ASG (2m 22s):
Hi, my name is Andrea San Gil, and I’m from Costa Rica. I’m an environmental engineer, and I’ve been working in sustainable cities and transport since 2014. And previously I’ve been involved in general and sustainability policy and climate issues for almost 10 years.

JT (2m 39s):
Hi, I’m Jocelyn Timperley, I’m a climate change journalist from Scotland, but I moved out to Costa Rica about a year ago, and I’m doing freelance climate journalism from here.

JW (2m 49s):
What brought you to Costa Rica all the way from Scotland?

JT (2m 52s):
Well, my partner’s actually from here, so partly for that, and also just to have a bit of a change. I was living in London beforehand and kind of wanted to get out of Europe for a bit and see some of the rest of the world really.

JW (3m 4s):
And, Andrea, how did you get into your work and your job?

ASG (3m 7s):
It was an interesting transition. So I’m an environmental engineer, and my first job was climate change. We were developing a national program for greenhouse gas reporting and verification in Costa Rica for the corporate sector. And I started learning more and more about emission sources, and I was working at the national level to develop this policy, but also with the companies. So it was like top bottom policy for a bottom up action. And I had the opportunity to go to Israel for training on climate change. There was a module on climate action in the local governments, and my head just exploded. And I realized there was such an enormous field of action to reduce the impacts of climate change or in general to improve people’s lives and reduce environmental impacts, which has always been my, my interest, how to improve people’s lives for improving their environment from the city level.

ASG (4m 2s):
And then from there, I just started trying to get deeper and deeper into the city world. And of course, one of our biggest Achilles heel there is transport. So I ended up getting more and more involved in transport because it’s one of the biggest challenges I think, in the world, but also in Costa Rica.

JW (4m 20s):
And Jocelyn, what got you into climate change reporting?

JT (4m 22s):
Hmm. I had always had an interest in climate change as well. I trained as a environmental chemist actually originally, and then kind of landed on journalism a little bit later, about five years ago now. And then climate journalism was the obvious way to go from my journalism, and I’ve worked in London for a few years in a few different sort of environmental focus publications, Business Green and Carbon Brief, and then went freelance.

JW (4m 45s):
That’s awesome. And, it must’ve been an interesting to land in Costa Rica, which seems like a very climate-forward place, at least from the outside.

JT (4m 52s):
Yeah. I definitely don’t want to sort of hit on Costa Rica too hard because in many ways it’s definitely light years ahead of many other countries on the climate front. And yet in San Jose, I suppose like many cities around the world, especially the developing world, is facing big issues with transport and being a city that’s been built up around cars., really.

JW (5m 10s):
Yeah. And I think I read somewhere where the transport sector makes up about 54% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. That seems to be a fair amount, maybe even larger than some other countries.

JT (5m 19s):
Yeah. I mean, the fact it’s nearly all renewable electricity sort of bumps that stat up because obviously the renewable electricity’s is not emitting much as part of that. So it, I suppose it’s an old relative to how big the overall emissions are, but it does show that transport across the world for years has been slightly sort of shoved under the rug as countries’ focus and also campaigner’s focus on electricity. And I think now it’s starting to be more and more recognized as, you know, something we really need to do something about.

ASG (5m 46s):
Just supporting what Jocelyn said, the big weight of transport in our greenhouse gas inventory does definitely have a link, in comparison to other countries, in how clean our electricity matrix is. So other countries usually have an energy footprint that’s quite high, but it’s mostly because of their dirty electricity generation and how they produce electricity. But since Costa Rica’s electricity is almost a hundred percent renewable, then that’s how transport becomes so clearly our biggest source of emission.

JW (6m 21s):
Yeah, so I wanted to chat with you all about this after reading Jocelyn’s article in the BBC. And I’m wondering if you could tell the listeners a little bit more about Costa Rica generally and some of the climate change advancements that the country has made. You know, you talked about the hydroelectric dams and that type of stuff, but what about some of the other things that have been done?

JT (6m 37s):
I think the two main things from what I see that Costa Rica has done is yeah, these hydroelectric dams, which would develop sort of decades ago like in several countries in Latin America, including Brazil, have these sort of mega dams, which you know, do have a lot of issues around that as well, but they do provide renewable electricity. And then the other thing is a really strong forest protection program that Costa Rica implemented over a few decades as well. And so Costa Rica has very little deforestation, even though it has lots of forest. So those are the two big policies that have I think helped to make it green. And then Costa Rica has also built up this reputation as a sort of ecotourism destination, which has helped along with the support of these forestry policies especially, so that’s kinda of all part and package of what Costa Rica is kind of presenting itself to the world as.

JT (7m 22s):
And the current government is definitely high in rhetoric and definitely trying to do lots of things, as well as far as climate change goes. To an international forum, it’s quite a sort of progressive voice on the climate front trying to push other countries to do things as well.

ASG (7m 35s):
To that I would add definitely I think a lot of our positioning in the world and a lot of our identity as a green country comes from that background and that history of conservation, which was actually deliberate. Some of the things that we’ve done, which we get credit for, haven’t been that deliberate, for example, the hydro, this was like a tendency in, in Latin American and in countries that had a lot of water, but it wasn’t precisely thought of as, “Okay, let’s do green energy,” It’s just, we have this in abundance, let’s start these types of infrastructure. But conservation was actually deliberate. And it was in a moment where there was a great boost in agriculture.

ASG (8m 15s):
And some people in the ministry of agriculture realized that there was a great detriment in the environment and in an ecosystems and actually the ministry of the environment in Costa Rica came out of the ministry of agriculture and then later just branched into two different ministries. So that was deliberate. The ecotourism was deliberate in the sense that we realized that people wanted to come see that conservation and that it was actually a source of jobs and of income for a lot of families. And then something that I think changed a lot of things was several of our presidents have been very forward at least in terms of being advocates for the environment. And in 2007, our president said we are going to be carbon neutral by 2021.

ASG (8m 60s):
And it was a goal that had no technical sense. (Laughs) It was completely political. It was as I usually say, and I use this phrase for a lot of things including myself, it was “stupidly ambitious.” And it really had no sense, but it started a movement. It, it was like this snowball. And so it became this thing where everyone’s like, “Yeah, we’re going to be carbon neutral by 2021,” there was questioning around it, and no one really knew how that was going to happen. And this was way before the NDCs or the Paris agreement, but it started a conversation and people were getting familiar with the term of carbon neutrality, and then we started to train people on, “OK, how do we measure carbon?

ASG (9m 46s):
And how do we start reducing emissions? And what are the sources of these emissions and how do we transform our economy and our companies and our cities to be less carbon intensive?” So that started a conversation quite a long time ago. And that’s helped to mainstream the concept. And even if not everyone’s completely involved in climate change they have at least an awareness. And it’s something that in general makes Costa Ricans proud. (Laughs) Even if they’re not very consistent, and our policies are not always as consistent, but there’s an awareness that sets a base for action. And that it’s easier because you don’t really have to convince people that much, maybe in comparison to other countries.

ASG (10m 32s):
And here companies want to become carbon neutral and cities want to become carbon neutral. And it’s this thing that is completely voluntary, but people, it’s like a competition, it’s like this little star on your forehead that says, “Yay, you did it!” So I think it’s a lot about motivation and pride and feeling good about what we’re doing and about our identity. And maybe one of the last things, the most recent things that the country has been doing is a shift towards electric vehicles. There was a recent law, well, not that recent anymore, but it was a significant jump towards a shift to electric transport, an electric mobility law. And that provides incentives for electric vehicles.

ASG (11m 15s):
It focuses mostly on private vehicles. However, now there’s projects going on to electrify buses and to electrify taxis as well. So, and there’s a huge project being discussed right now about an electric train. So there’s a big, big movement towards the electrifying transport, which has to be coupled with how to transform the sector and the system to talk about not only low carbon transport, but good quality transport and dignified transport, et cetera. But in general electrified transport will be a great contribution to reducing emissions.

JW (11m 52s):
Yeah. I want to mention, you know, one of the things that I read was that forest cover has actually doubled in the last 30 years in the country. And I was really impressed by that number. I mean, I think that we’re seeing so much degradation and chopping down of, of forests all over the world. And I was really impressed by the way that that came back. And speaking to the electrification piece, that was interesting as well, because I feel like some of the things I was looking at were talking about how you tied the ecology of the place to monetization strategies or at least, you know, fiscal policy. I’m wondering how that’s connected to the transport electrification as well and the way that the bus system works and the way that automobiles are used in the country.

ASG (12m 27s):
Maybe Jocelyn can comment on the first one because it’s an interesting thing to comment on. And I can comment on the fiscal part.

JT (12m 35s):
Yeah. I mean, I definitely will defer to Andrea on buses because the bus system here is a whole complicated mess from what I understand, which Andrea’s been quite involved in trying to push for a change, but it’s interesting that you don’t really think of public transport companies is sort of holding back back better buses, but in Costa Rica it kind of seems that they are. Don’t know if you’d agree with that statement, Andrea

ASG (12m 58s):
Mm. I think there’s a lot of actors involved in trying to keep the status quo. (Laughs)

JW (13m 5s):
(Laughs) Well, it’s different from the United States in that basically we have public transport companies and I think that the UK does as well, but in Costa Rica it’s all private companies and the country tenders, the routes, but the private companies are on, you know they’re on the hook for everything that goes along with those routes after they’re given the contract.

ASG (13m 22s):
Yeah. How it works, it’s a bit complicated. So the routes are tendered, but the tariffs are based on the cost of the service and the payment is directly from users to the companies. So there’s no electronic payment, for example. So in other countries, what happens is the government tenders the service and says, “I need you to comply with this level of operation and I “will pay you this for the service.” So the transaction is between the government and the service provider. In Costa Rica, the transaction is from the user to the service provider. And the government, what they do is just like basically give a permit. And so it’s also very difficult to get the permit back or to disable or to break the contract.

ASG (14m 5s):
So there’s a lot of difficulty in transforming the way the transport works and also improving the transport service. Because if you want to improve it, you need to invest. And if the whole investment needs to happen in the private side, that would push tariffs up and then it would make transport much more expensive and much more excluding and less inclusive. So it’s like this vicious loop in which you can’t really improve transport because the government has no budget for it. And it’s never given any budget to public transport and users are just stuck with the service providers that don’t necessarily comply with certain criteria of quality of service provision.

ASG (14m 50s):
And it’s just the way it is. And the contracts are usually for seven years, at least. And now they’re trying to push it to 10 years because of the argument that if we’re going to electrify transport and we have to buy the buses and we need to get that investment back, then give me a 10 year concession instead of a seven year concession. So the electrification process, it’s kind of complex because of how the transport system, at least the public transport system for buses, is designed. If we had another operations model, it might be easier to generate that transition. If, for example, the government had a bus fleet and they would pay people to operate it.

ASG (15m 30s):
Or if the payment was electronic and the service provider would get a set amount for a service that complies with certain criteria. But since they have to get their investment back through tariffs, then it’s really complicated to sort of force them to electrify.

JT (15m 48s):
I was just going to add, I suppose, just coming at it from a user perspective coming into San Jose from somewhere like London where, you know, obviously it’s kinda it’s very easy to find out where the buses are, you know exactly how much everything’s going to cost. Everything that you can kind of get an app. And I think there are some efforts towards that, in San Jose, but it’s pretty complicated. You generally need to kind of just check on the front of the bus to see where it’s going. So hope to get the right bus stop and see where the bus is going and check the tariff and pay the tariff. And also because there’s very few bus lanes, there’s a couple of short stretches it means that the buses is not really any faster. Then, you know, if you have your car you wouldn’t take the bus because it was probably going to be slower.

ASG (16m 25s):
It’s actually double the time.

JT (16m 27s):
Right. (Laughs) So that’s a huge difference in many countries, if we prioritized public transport, where I was living in London before the bus would sort of career down its bus lane and overtake cars. And it was much faster often, especially in rush hour to take a bus.

JW (16m 42s):
So what’s the traffic like in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica?

ASG (16m 45s):
It’s nothing as you would imagine. And it’s very different from Jurassic Park, which is the reference of a lot of people. If they think of San Jose, Costa Rica. (Laughs) It’s pretty chaotic. San Jose is actually a tiny city, its small in terms of distances. So you can cross the city in 10 kilometers I would say, the metropolitan areas is a bit bigger, but the congestion is so high that you can do one hour crossing three kilometers, I would say. So the traffic is very bad and precisely because there’s no other infrastructure for public transport or for cycling, et cetera, people keep relying on cars.

ASG (17m 25s):
Actually one statistic that’s pretty surprising is that in the last couple of years there’s been more cars coming into the country than births. So the amount of cars in Costa Rica is just growing massively and there’s no incentive to shift to a cleaner transportation mode. So I move around on a bike for example, and I live in the city center precisely to be able to move on a bike and I get everywhere really fast. So I just get everywhere in 10, 15 minutes. So that’s how short the distances are, but if you don’t live in the city center, the connectivity is quite bad also, so that’s also something that contributes to that traffic.

ASG (18m 8s):
The bus system is designed in a way that even if you need to cross the city or to go to a part of town that is, I dunno, it’s outside of the city center, you have to take a bus to go to the city center to switch and then get another bus and to do that switch you usually have to walk around one kilometer to get to the other bus and get to your destination. So it’s completely centralized. It’s a radial model, which is completely obsolete to the way the patterns of mobility are actually occurring in the city right now. So it’s very outdated and the government hasn’t been agile enough to adjust the system to the new needs and patterns of mobility of people who live and work or study in the greater metropolitan area.

JT (18m 56s):
I was just going to add to that I think one thing that struck me again, just because I come from UK, from London at least, where very few young people would really aspire to having a car, it wouldn’t really be thought of as a necessity or even something that’s desirable for lots of people. Whereas in San Jose, I think there is still definitely this car culture where that’s kind of, you know, one for practical reasons, probably transport is a very tricky, but it’s seen as something that really increases your sort of quality of life. And also for lots of young people who maybe still live with their parents it’s a kind of sign of independence I’ve found. So they might aspire to have their own car, which perhaps is more similar to the U S but that’s something that’s been really different for me coming here.

JW (19m 35s):
Yeah. That’s something that happens a lot here outside of major cities, right? So even in major cities, that’s kind of the way it looks and in New York City, here in San Francisco where I am, there’s definitely a lot more transit usage and biking and active transportation, but the automobile is seen in other places as a status symbol. And also like you said, a measure of independence to some, even though it chains you down to payments (Laughs), so that’s one of the things that can be a problem. I’m curious how the automobile focus in the city is changing or whether there is a bit of an understanding of it needs to be cleaned up in order to get to your 2050 zero carbon goals.

ASG (20m 12s):
Hmm. There’s a sort of double discourse. So there is an awareness that it’s our Achilles heel and that we need to reduce emissions and that we need to improve our mobility. However, I think in the general public, the goal is still to reduce congestion rather than improve mobility. And for example, you won’t to reduce congestion by changing to electric cars and you won’t reduce emissions just by changing buses to electric, or you won’t have more people jumping on the bus by changing them to an electric and there’s some actions being taken but I think one of the biggest challenges is that the transport sector is not tackled as a system.

ASG (21m 2s):
So a lot of individual initiatives trying to tackle little tiny things and improve them, but it’s not thought of as system. And in order to make a shift towards a better transport system, you need to think of it as a system. So the issue is, okay, we’re trying to move towards the electric, but we don’t have any sidewalks or we have very little and very bad sidewalks. And we don’t really have a lot of cycle lanes. And we don’t really have information on how to move around in the bus or adequate information. And we’re building huge roads and we’re widening roads as a solution to congestion.

ASG (21m 43s):
So it seems like we’re just throwing things everywhere without a clear strategy, there is no vision of mobility and a system. So it’s hard when some people are trying to push a policy forward towards active mobility. And on the other side of the ministry, the same ministry, is just building massive infrastructure, road infrastructure projects. And then someone is trying to build a train, but then they’re building a highway right on the same direction, which will make an incentive for people to just drive because it will get places faster rather than take the train. So it’s, it’s very disarticulated and it doesn’t have any system thinking.

ASG (22m 25s):
And that makes it very difficult to actually make an adequate transition towards a more sustainable system.

JW (22m 31s):
It sounds like a lot of the frustrations we have here. (Laughs)

ASG (22m 35s):
Oh yeah. We’re not special, that happens everywhere. (Laughs)

JW (22m 38s):
But you all have done some interesting things. I mean, you passed a law that makes road builders consider bike lanes when they’re doing construction on new roads, you also have a lot of, you know, the ecological corridors that you’ve created too. There’s been some really positive stuff.

ASG (22m 52s):
And I think we’re really good at putting stuff on paper (Laughs) and I’m all for policy and that’s actually what I do, but to make that policy come true in the projects and to make it be adequate rather than just comply with a check, that is a big challenge. For example, one of our biggest highways to go to the Northern part of the country is the Liberia. Liberia is a part of Guanacaste, which is in Northern part of Costa Rica and it’s a very touristic place, but it’s also a place where people cycle a lot and usually the rural areas are where people are still cycling everywhere because it’s flat and, and it’s cheap and it’s easy to move around.

ASG (23m 35s):
So since there’s a requirement for a new projects to have cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, what they did was just like add little tiny parts of cycling infrastructure in the places where it was convenient for them and not necessarily for people. So it’s very operator oriented rather than user oriented. And you see these like 300 meter, tiny parts and pieces of cycling infrastructure that do not connect anything. And it’s like, yeah, look, we have a cycle lane, but no one’s using it. Then, then cyclists get criticized because they’re not using this cycle lane and they’re driving on the highway on the places with no cycling and it’s because infrastructure keeps being built without a user focus.

JT (24m 22s):
I’d also add on the cycling front. I mean, I haven’t actually cycled in the San Jose because I found it a little bit scary because cars go really fast here, while in London, then, you know, people talk a little bit about being scary and it’s also dangerous as well. But I definitely feel as though the speeds the cars go and that kind of a lack of awareness of a cyclist as kind of get an impression as seen as being a bit in the way of cars most of the time if you’re on the road. And that’s something that really needs to change probably everywhere, well everywhere in the world actually. For a cyclist to have a right to be on the road and not just be kind of like there, just because a car isn’t.

JW (24m 54s):
Are things changing during the pandemic in terms of cycling?

JT (24m 57s):
Yes. And it does definitely been a few more bikes on the road. So Costa Rica in the pandemic, one of the main measures it’s taken is a restriction on cars. So there’s been some times when nobody is allowed to be in a car apart from to go to supermarket, or if you’re an essential worker or you have restrictions depending on your number plate, which day you can drive and things. So that’s like really, I think the first time that you see San Jose a bit without car’s and yeah, they were more bikes. I think I had a stat in the piece that was looking at evidence of increased bike sales, for example, but is also visible in the street.

ASG (25m 28s):
Yeah. You definitely see more cyclists. I had some spare bikes in my house, in my house there is more bikes than people, and I actually sold like three of them through different friends who decided to start cycling because they were just scared of using public transport. And you do see more people with bikes out on the road. And we’ve had reports from bike shops that they run out of bikes. People are just buying and they can’t restock. So their stock is just depleted completely. And one of the things that we’ve been trying to push with the ministry of transport is to do temporary cycle lanes and it’s been incredible.

ASG (26m 9s):
They had to find resources to build these lanes because they had no budgeting allocated at all for building cycle lanes in the whole year. So in the discourse they support active mobility and bicycles. But at the end of the day, as people in the USA, they don’t put their money where their mouth is. So we’re trying to keep pushing and to keep putting pressure on the ministry because if not, they will just like, wait it out. Then people would just be vulnerable on buses and vulnerable on bikes, et cetera. So we’re trying to generate that change, just creating demand from civil society.

JW (26m 48s):
Another thing that I noticed from reading up on the article and also just a couple of other things that have popped up here, I know that the Guardian had a piece about bio corridors. The rivers have been a focus as well for active transportation. And I know that the country has several bio corridors, but I’m curious what the importance is of connecting, not just the people and jobs and activities on transportation quarters, but with nature and natural corridors as well.

JT (27m 11s):
Yeah. So in the piece I mentioned that I’d been on a walk to this project, Rutas Naturbanas, which is a development project, a lot of rivers in San Jose are basically covered, they’re hard to access. They’re often quite dirty and not really like a place you’d go to sort of be in nature. And this project has really trying to develop riverside paths. People can go along, come by and walk along. And hopefully sort of it have somewhere to walk that’s sort of green and nice and still being in a city. I think Costa Ricans do you seem to have quite a separation, like you have all this amazing nature, but its kind of like, you go visit it for the weekend or you go visit it for the day, driving on your car or to have a trip outside the city. And there’s not much of an idea of like having a green spaces in the city where you could go and still kind of slightly being in nature.

JT (27m 57s):
So this project and a bunch of people who care about this are trying to change that in a center of San Jose.

ASG (28m 2s):
Just to support that. And I think you made an excellent point regarding just like the incredible separation between our conservation identity and our urban identity. And that’s something that since the beginning of creating our NGO. We were trying to explain to people that Costa Rica is known as this green country. And if you look for Costa Rica and in Google, you see all these like waterfalls in national parks and the forests and you don’t see one image of our cities and this green identity is built on our conservation trajectory, but people don’t live in national parks, animals in nature live in national parks, but we don’t live there.

ASG (28m 44s):
So our nature is in escape from our Cities and Cities have been neglected for decades. A lack of urban planning, a lack of user focused design Costa Rica has no urban planning majors in University we have no transport Planning majors in the university. So there is a big void regarding how to, how to make cities better, and you see that in how our cities support. So one of the things that we are trying to advocate is to have sustainability go beyond the green, but to also integrate in blur the lines between the city’s and our forests and nature.

ASG (29m 24s):
So there’s been advances in that and there’s, after some years and a lot of advocacy, there’s been more openness towards the mixing those two. And there’s several projects about biodiversity corridors in the city, which is very innovative in their context. And yeah, so the rivers are still biodiversity corridors that don’t really include humans yet, but a lot of the efforts are going towards that.

JW (29m 53s):
I feel like though that you have a good start. I mean, here in the U S we are still arguing whether climate change is real or not and you already have a country that’s very proud of its conservation. So, you know, maybe if you look at the glass half full you’re already halfway there. (Laughs)

ASG (30m 8s):
We’re just, yeah, we’re hard on ourselves. I would say that Costa Ricans like to complain about everything because we don’t really have real problems. We’ve had such a privilege to grow up in a country with an adequate health system, with no army, with so much nature, with peace, with democracy and political stability. We haven’t gone through a war in generations. So there’s so many privileges that were just taken for granted that we just complain about the stupidest things, but it’s because we’ve set the bar very high and then we don’t conform with anything. So sometimes it’s just a bit tiring and annoying because we kind of forget all the other good things.

ASG (30m 52s):
But then in the other sense, we keep being stupidly ambitious and we keep striving for a more inclusive way of life and a more democratic system and the more sustainable country in the really sustainable sense, not only green, but really a balance between that social welfare, economic stability and protection of our natural resources.

JT (31m 16s):
Yeah I’d second all that. I think, I mean, one thing that attracted me about writing this story is it’s really, I mean, it’s not the fact that there’s a city that is having trouble decarbonizing the transport. It’s the kind of a contrast between that and Costa Rica’s image of self promoted image of being kind of decarbonization lab of the world almost. And, you know, it’s a really considered to be one of the greenest countries. And I didn’t want to do that to sort of, you know, put Costa Rica down. But I think it does that show that it’s not easy to decarbonize. It’s really hard. And even a country that has a lot of efforts, especially again, you know, Costa Rica is not a super, super rich country that has loads of spare funds to invest in all that. So I feel like that’s the thing that’s really interesting here is that there is an aspiration and they’re trying to work out and hopefully they will, but we see had to go by it.

JT (32m 1s):
I think it’s really important in all climate change a policy that we do, we understand the difficulties and really recognize that there are often not easy solutions and they often will be going to be a long haul before we managed to tackle the difficult sectors in each country, which depends on the country.

JW (32m 16s):
I mean, that’s why I wanted to talk to you all because you did such a great job at laying out that interesting contrast between the city and the conservation efforts. And I see kind of a pathway for the country in my mind anyways, with all of the valuable assets that it has to think about the City a little bit differently, which, you know, it sounds like you all are working on. So I appreciate that. And I know it’s just policy, but policy also leads to concrete things and maybe budget changes and all those things. So I came away impressed, especially since there’s been a number of pieces talking about Costa Rica. I’m wondering what you’ll see in the next five years. Like what’s the biggest thing to change kind of what is the aftermath of the pandemic? What are the positive things you see going forward?

ASG (32m 54s):
Oof. So hard to think about positive things right now. (Laughs) I would really like, because there’s so much uncertainty right now and we’re past the first half of the political cycle of this government. So it’s four years of government period and we’re past the second year. So past the second year we start seeing the pressure and we started seeing some tension politically. So once there’s that, it’s hard to envision what will happen in the next five years because we’ll have a political change. And I’m very invested in this because I realized that so many of these things can change if you just have a political change.

ASG (33m 34s):
And right now we’re having this huge discussion in the country, for example, for the electric train project. And I’m super aware that this is a project that cost Rica has been talking about for 30 years and unless there’s a continuity between one government and the other on a project like this, you’ll have just keep going back once and again and again and again, and trying to start the project from scratch every four years. And there’s no way to achieve such a big scale project in such a short period. So for me, at least in the transport sector, it’s really hard to, with certainty, envision what will happen because the style and the priorities of different political parties are just so different and the ones that are supporting the shifts are the current political party that’s running the government, but I don’t think they’ll have another term because they’ve already done two and there’s a lot of pushback going on right now.

ASG (34m 30s):
And basically what I’m envisioning is the next government that we’ll have will try to be like radically different. So that scares me a lot and it’s a very anti climate change, anti- sustainability agenda. It’s a very economic growth centered agenda that doesn’t really care that much about social wellbeing and environmental protection. And that, for me, it’s quite scary and it gives me a lot of uncertainty. I’m sure this is not the answer that you were looking, but maybe that’s just the pandemic talking. (Laughs)

JW (35m 7s):
The pandemic speaks through all of us in different ways.

JT (35m 10s):
I think the thing I would say is, the train is being pushed by the government, especially the first lady, who’s a transport expert herself and has really been pushing, giving lots of speeches, lots of inspiring speeches about how she can imagine the city could be if it’s put there. The other thing that really inspired me like coming here, is kind of just meeting all of the young people here who are trying to make this change, that kind of gives me hope, young people are really conscious of climate change and they do care and there is many different projects going on all over the place trying to do something. So I kind of hope that that will continue to grow and that might kind of influence things a bit more as well.

ASG (35m 47s):
Thanks. That gave me more hope. And I was super involved in the civil society movement and I’ve always been involved in it. And I think, yeah, definitely. If one thing is certain is that people will keep getting involved. And I think there’s a new generation of young activists that’s coming up. And that has been very clear on the link between climate change and Cities and transport. And I think once you have that clarity, you can’t go back to thinking environmental activism is forest conservation. So at least maybe in that sense. I think there’s a lot of City and Urban and transport activists that are coming up and I know will push forward these changes.

ASG (36m 32s):
As you were saying, once there’s policy changes, then you can go to the next step, which is providing funding and building. But that first step is definitely policy and there’s no way of transforming all of these other things if you don’t have the actual regulations or the actual plans or policies in place. So I think in that sense, we’ve had quite a good advancement because we’ve had very strong policies on de-carbonization on not that much to say about transport, but some might advances in terms of legislation on cycling, there’s one coming up on pedestrian infrastructure. So in terms of policy, I think we’re doing well, which will set a base for things to maybe be built and maybe funded in the next couple of years.

ASG (37m 20s):
Maybe before pandemic. I actually talked about this with someone that, that I think if we continue on this path, we can actually see an urban transformation in the next five years. If we continue. But my fear is that we won’t. So we have everything to go and transform our cities and transform our transport sector. The thing is if there will be political buy in to that and political will to carry out that transformation.

JW (37m 50s):
Well, I look forward to talking to you about it in a couple of years to get all of the positive things that have happened.

ASG (37m 57s):
Let’s hope so!

JW (38m 0s):
Before we go, how can folks find you online if they want to reach out?

ASG (38m 4s):
They can find me on Twitter as SanGilAndrea or Andrea I’m pronounced it in English, because in, in Spanish it’s “san-heel”, but you won’t find it like that. So it’s S A N G I L Andrea.

JT (38m 20s):
You can find me also on Twitter at jloistf and my direct messages are open so feel free to get in touch.

JW (38m 30s):
Awesome. Well, Andrea and Jocelyn, thanks so much for joining us, we really appreciate it.

JT (38m 34s):
Thank you so much.

ASG (38m 34s):
Thanks for the invitation.

JW (38m 39s):
And thanks for joining us. The Talking Headways podcast is a project of the Overhead Wire, on the web at theoverheadwire.com. Sign up for a free trial of the Overhead Wire Daily, our fourteen-year-old daily cities newslist, by clicking the link at the top right of theoverheadwire.com, and please please please support the pod by going to patreon.com/theoverheadwire. Many thanks to our current patrons for their ongoing support. And as always, you can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud, Overcast, Spotify, and wherever you get your podcasts. And you can always find its original home at USA.streetsblog.org. See you next time at Talking Headways.


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