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Coastal Urban Planning in The ‘Green Republic’: Tourism Development and the Nature–Infrastructure Paradox in Costa Rica


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This article examines coastal urban planning in Costa Rica vis‐à‐vis the country's values in the areas of sustainable tourism and community development, focusing on the city of Jacó. I argue that an anti‐urban tourism development strategy, swift coastal urban development and weak planning have nurtured a nature–infrastructure paradox: when people are brought closer to nature without proper urban and governmental infrastructure, this causes social and environmental damage. To assess this paradox and understand local perceptions of development, I analyzed lengthy semi‐structured interviews and survey responses in San José and Jacó in this study. Research methods also encompassed analysis of current tourism planning institutions and regulations, tourism media coverage and reports, real estate data, participant observation of planning and community meetings and activities, and observations of the built and natural environmental conditions in Jacó and its surroundings. The findings show jurisdictional fragmentation, regulatory weaknesses, complexity, poor coordination, slow action, and incoherent planning and development, leading to environmental degradation and socio‐spatial inequities. A more balanced approach to planning and development would seek to improve environmental health and socio‐spatial equity in tandem, by nurturing and advancing both nature and infrastructure development. Lessons from Jacó have global resonance, given the expansion of the worldwide tourism and second‐home/retirement‐housing industries, their recent concentration in urban coastal destinations of developing countries, and the fragility of these socio‐ecological systems.
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‘GREEN REPUBLIC’: Tourism Development and the
Nature–Infrastructure Paradox in Costa Rica
 
This article examines coastal urban planning in Costa Rica vis-à-vis the country’s
values in the areas of sustainable tourism and community development, focusing on the
city of Jacó. I argue that an anti-urban tourism development strategy, swift coastal urban
development and weak planning have nurtured a nature–infrastructure paradox: when
people are brought closer to nature without proper urban and governmental infrastructure,
this causes social and environmental damage. To assess this paradox and understand local
perceptions of development, I analyzed lengthy semi-structured interviews and survey
responses in San José and Jacó in this study. Research methods also encompassed analysis
of current tourism planning institutions and regulations, tourism media coverage and
reports, real estate data, participant observation of planning and community meetings
and activities, and observations of the built and natural environmental conditions in
Jacó and its surroundings. The findings show jurisdictional fragmentation, regulatory
weaknesses, complexity, poor coordination, slow action, and incoherent planning and
development, leading to environmental degradation and socio-spatial inequities. A more
balanced approach to planning and development would seek to improve environmental
health and socio-spatial equity in tandem, by nurturing and advancing both nature and
infrastructure development. Lessons from Jacó have global resonance, given the expansion
of the worldwide tourism and second-home/retirement-housing industries, their recent
concentration in urban coastal destinations of developing countries, and the fragility of
these socio-ecological systems.
Many studies regard Costa Rica as a role model for the way it has linked tourism
development to ecological conservation and community wellbeing. Costa Rica,
nicknamed ‘The Green Republic’1 (Evans, 1999), does deserve recognition for its
standing and its accomplishments in sustainability.2 Therefore, it is critical to call
attention to its current tourism practices at odds with such aims. If current chaotic
planning and development conditions persist in Costa Rica’s coastal areas, and
particularly in the cities, achievements in the areas of ecotourism as well as sustainable
development and ecological conservation, for which the country has garnered
significant recognition, could be eroded. Other positive country traits, such as its
democracy, political stability and peace, might also be compromised if socio-spatial
inequality and polarization continue to grow.
1 This ‘nickname’ can be attributed to the nation’s track record for establishing national parks and protected reserves
in particular, but in public perception it extends to include the broader arena of environmental policymaking and
2 For instance, in 2008, Yale University and Columbia University released the first comprehensive ‘green-ness’
country rankings, based on an Environmental Performance Index (EPI) incorporating 25 categories of statistics and
indicators to arrive at a composite score between 0 and 100, with 100 representing a ‘perfect’ EPI score. In 2010,
only four countries of the 163 analyzed scored an EPI of 85 or higher. Costa Rica was ranked third out of all the
countries surveyed, despite the fact that its GDP represents less than a third of any of the other ‘top four’ countries––
Iceland, Switzerland, and Sweden.
I am grateful for support from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and a Diversity
Grant from Columbia University, as well as for research assistance from Vicente Irazábal, Coco Irazábal, Joe Melara,
Mónica Acuña, Lauren Racusin, Alison Mayer, Sune Goldsteen, Milagros Lecuona and Millay Kogan. I also wish to
thank the interviewees for their generosity.
In the past 20years, Costa Rica has experienced a rise in tourism and real estate
development, particularly along its coast. The country received approximately 2.6
million visitors in 2015 (the equivalent of more than half the country’s population of
4.8 million) (Dyer, 2016). The increasing number of tourists swelled the tourism sector
by 9% in 2015, outpacing the national GDP of 2.8% by threefold. According to the Costa
Rican Institute of Tourism (ICT), the tourism sector brought more than US $2.8 billion
in revenue in 2015, a US $246 million increase over 2014, and directly and indirectly
employed roughly 600,000 people (ICT, 2015).
However, tourism in the central and northern Pacific regions of the country has
expanded without adequate government control. As a result, Costa Rica’s standing as a
world leader in ecological tourism is fragile. In this article I discuss the particularities
and challenges associated with coastal real estate and tourism development in Costa
Rica by focusing on the role of planning and on the local population’s perceptions of
coastal development. It addresses the following questions: How is planning of coastal
development handled? And: How do Costa Ricans perceive this development vis-à-
vis the country’s expressed values in the areas of sustainable tourism and community
development? I examine these matters by focusing specifically on the case of Jacó, a city
on the Pacific coast experiencing rapid tourism growth and, as a result, significant social
and environmental transformation.
Some studies have been critical of Costa Rica’s tourism development in light of
its purported ‘green image’. Honey et al. (2010), in particular, examine the social and
environmental impact of development along Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline, focusing
on the concepts of ecotourism and sustainable development. This study complements
and further develops this literature by (1) emphasizing a planning focus and paying
attention to planning regulations, institutions and frameworks; (2) focusing on the
case of Jacó to promote a more in-depth understanding of the environmental and
socio-economic impacts of tourism development in this particular city; (3) analyzing
the perceptions of residents, planners, government ocials, developers, tourists and
others, of the impact of planning and tourism; and (4) introducing the notion of a nature–
infrastructure paradox to explain these dynamics in general contexts of nature-driven
tourism development and highlighting its poignancy in Costa Rica.
This study adds to our understanding of the tourism–urban-sustainability
nexus––the correlation between tourism development and progress along the urban
sustainability axis3 (Shahgerdi et al., 2016; Saarinen, 2006). According to Boschken
(2013: 1776), ‘city development and the coastal ecology may form a uniquely challenging,
high-stakes paradox in sustainability’, as cities’ metabolisms may create ‘a footprint of
impacts incompatible with limits of the coastal ecology’s carrying capacity’.
At its heart there is a nature–infrastructure paradox, whereby the creation and
development of a nature-based tourism strategy requires not only proper conservation
policies and mechanisms to ensure the protection of natural resources, but also the
construction of appropriate infrastructure and urban services (airports, transit facilities,
road systems, water and sewerage infrastructure, hotels, food and service facilities,
and so on) to support this specific type of tourism development. If the infrastructural
development that is necessary to support tourists’ encounters with nature (Hill et al.,
2014) is lacking or not planned for and managed sustainably, the natural assets that
attract tourists will eventually become partially or totally damaged.4
3 I treat the notion of sustainability as a balancing of the economic, environmental and equity concerns of
development (see Campbell, 1996).
4 This nature–infrastructure paradox is present in many contexts and scales, to different extents. It could be extended
to be part of the global tourism system, where local sustainability might be possible at the destination level itself,
while there is unsustainability and harm to natural resources at the more international level, owing to tourists
traveling great distances mostly by plane to get to their chosen destinations. However, this study focuses on local
and national infrastructure and does not include discussions of potential degradation of natural resources caused
by arrival and departure trips of tourists.
Hetherington and Campbell (2014: 191) state that ‘infrastructure becomes that
which is both a crucial organizer of a given situation and has become routinized to the
point of banality or invisibility’. Concerning infrastructural deficit in Costa Rica, I clearly
refer to urban physical infrastructure (roads, water treatment plants, public spaces),
which should support tourists’ sustainable encounters with nature (Pollalis, 2016).
Tyrväinen et al.’s (2014: 1) survey analysis of 1,054 foreign and domestic tourists, carried
out from 2009 to 2010 in Finnish tourism destinations, demonstrated, for instance,
that building density and patterns affect the perceived quality of a nature tourism
destination: the tourists valued small-scale accommodation units, habitat protection,
green infrastructure, and easy access to authentic nature in the immediate vicinity of
their accommodation site. The study results stressed the need for careful planning and
design of tourism destinations, while simultaneously aiming for eco-ecient land use.
Such eorts include conserving natural forest vegetation and instituting landscaping
practices, as well as ensuring views onto the natural environment from accommodations.
However, I am also referring to infrastructure more broadly. Beyond ‘brick-
and-mortar’ structures, governance and planning processes and procedures constitute
‘stunningly consequential’ infrastructures:
Emerging infrastructures that map out how citizens and states articulate with
nature depend on less visible structures than the typical brick-and-mortar
infrastructures brought to mind by both developmentalism and classic
materialist philosophy. Though less visible, these infrastructures are indeed
material and stunningly consequential. These processes and procedures are
often quite literally infra––below––structural in that they defy scrutiny or escape
debate as they accompany neoliberal reforms, development ‘solutions’, or forms
of environmental politics that reach for the global register (Hetherington and
Campbell, 2014: 193–4).
The particularities of tourism development in Costa Rica (its historical trajectory,
institutional framework and marketing strategies) make the nature–infrastructure
paradox particularly salient and difficult to overcome. The nature–infrastructure
paradox is at the heart of the country’s urbanization process. Jacó, the largest and
fastest-growing coastal city in Costa Rica, is an important site for testing out the
ecacy of Costa Rica’s widely touted commitment to environmental preservation and
community development. This study points out the pitfalls and risks of development,
while also suggesting ways of development that would be more in tune with the
country’s development ethos and commitments.
Tourism as development strategy in developing and Latin American
Tourism development is beset with contradictions. Williams and Ponsford
(2009) coined the concept of ‘resource paradox’, whereby nature-based tourism
development needs environmental resources for the creation of tourism experiences
and depends on the protection of ecological integrity for sustained effectiveness.
Almeyda et al. (2010a), emphasizing this focus on nature, noticed in Costa Rica that
increased development––in particular, hotel operations and large condo projects––were
capitalizing on nature and would reverse natural health indicators if not accompanied by
conservation strategies. Chakravarty and Irazábal (2011) expanded this focus to discuss
the ‘tourism–community development paradox’: the larger the global attractiveness
of a tourist asset––in this case, the Taj Mahal and neighboring World Heritage Sites in
Agra, India––the greater the chances that there would be more costs than benefits to the
local community in the case of improperly planned tourism growth. However, tourism
can be harnessed to meet both ecological and community development imperatives.
Planners, policymakers, tourism academics and community leaders can develop the
role of tourism in societies to help realize ‘the tantalizing promise that tourism holds’
(Higgins-Desbiolles, 2006: 1192).
The rise of tourism as a development strategy, and particularly nature- and
community-based tourism, is a relatively recent trend in developing countries. Weinberg
et al. (2002: 374) found that ‘ecotourism has brought varied positive changes, including
more jobs and income leading to an improved standard of living; better and more
varied services; a conservationist ethic; better training; the start of recycling; and a
bilingual population’. Some benefits of tourism as an instrument of development are
‘foreign exchange earnings and the balance of payments; the generation of income; the
generation of employment; the improvement of economic structures; the encouragement
of entrepreneurial activity; and the stimulation of regional economies and the mitigation
of regional economic disparities’ (Wall and Mathieson, 2006: 89; Miller, 2012). Yet,
despite the growing importance of tourism development in the field of planning, only
a handful of topical articles have found their way into planning journals (Mullins, 1991;
Jamal et al., 2002; Harrill, 2004).
The tourism industry continues to grow rapidly, demanding attention from
planning; as Brohman (1996: 48, cited in Chakravarty and Irazábal, 2011: 356)
admonishes, it ‘has also encountered many problems common to other outward-
oriented development strategies, including: excessive foreign dependency, the creation
of separate enclaves, the reinforcement of socioeconomic and spatial inequalities,
environmental destruction, and rising cultural alienation’. Badly planned tourism
development can contribute to a loss of cultural identity, the production of a ‘geography
of nowhere’ (lack of unique architectural, environmental and/or socio-cultural
characteristics) and partial foreign takeover as transnational ventures exploit travel
and hotel industries. Other negative social effects include a rise in drug use and
tracking, increased prostitution, as well as loss of public access to beachfronts and
other natural areas (Irazábal, 2009). Given these conditions, some analysts see tourism
as a reflection of neo-colonialism and imperialism–– a manifestation of a neo-Marxist
‘pleasure-periphery’ world dependency (Robinson, 2001: 45; Angotti and Irazábal,
2017). In this view, tourists are attracted to developing countries ‘where the fantasy of
eroticised populations, tropicalised geography and unrestricted leisure and pleasure
provides a letting o of steam for the First-World’ (Irazábal and Gómez-Barris, 2007:
200; Feldman, 2011).
In many Latin American and Caribbean countries, the focus of tourism
development on economic growth has created undesirable urban forms and an
inequitable distribution of benefits and costs between foreign visitors and residents. In
addition, tourism’s contributions to economic growth are unstable at best, as worldwide,
‘investments in tourism in and of itself appear to be insucient for economic growth.
Instead, tourism’s contribution to the long-term growth of an economy comes through
its role as an integral part of a broader development strategy’ (Du et al., 2016). This study
assumes a dual planning focus on environmental health and socio-spatial equity, as well
as nature preservation and infrastructure development, to counterbalance the favoring
of economic factors in both promoting and examining development in tourism-driven
Another challenging condition has been increased foreign property ownership
and transfer of land in coastal regions, particularly foreign-owned hotels and gated
communities mostly used by tourists and expatriates. Attracting tourism development
often prompts cities to abandon environmental or cultural standards, especially for
beach, port and airport infrastructure developments. Some regions, such as those along
the Caribbean and the tropical Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, have tested the limits of
the carrying ecosystem’s capacity for tourism (Christofakis, 2010; Feldman, 2011) by
incorporating two further S’s––sex tourism and service/servility––into the traditional
3S beach branding image (sun, sand and sea), both of which have a significant social
impact on local residents (Irazábal, 2006; 2009; see also Campbell, 1999; Momsen, 2005).
Costa Rica and other Latin American countries that have recently been
experimenting with coastal tourism development could heed lessons learnt in Mexico,
which has the oldest and largest modern tourism industry in the region. Córdoba
Azcárate (2010: 99) points to Mexican beaches as ‘contentious hotspots where mobilities
are concentrated, space and resources are appropriated, and locals and institutions fight
to stay still’. Acapulco, Cancún and the Escalera Náutica are three historical moments
in the gradual rise of beach resorts towards global commonplace in Mexico where, as
Cocks (2010: 128) reminds us, ‘the uses and abuses of indigenous histories and peoples
are widespread’. Locals refer to Cancún as ‘Gringolandia’, a term that ‘reflects the circus-
like spectacle of the overbuilt resort, embedded in a region deeply divided by uneven
development and the ensuing inequitable power relations’ (Torres and Momsen, 2005:
314). This is consistent with Cortes et al.’s (2014: 507) research in Costa Rica, which
suggests that the relationships between amenity migrants and local rural residents ‘are
mainly superficial, with no signs of the establishment of strong bonds between groups’
or collaborating in community development eorts.
Tourism development also often restructures rural-to-urban migratory trends
and job geographies. In Mexico, for example, Mayans migrate from rural Yucatán to
work in the service sector in Cancún, while Mexicans from other states occupy better
positions, all related to serving international tourists (Berger and Grant Wood, 2010).
Costa Rica, like Mexico, has a growing population of North American and European
emigrants, many of whom are retirees. Given that this transnational population is likely
to increase in both countries in coming years, Croucher (2009) urges us to be mindful
of the political and policy implications of bringing in or employing tourism-industry
workers from more well-o states than workers in the states that receive them.
Urban coastal development in Latin America and the Caribbean is turning
fragile ecosystems and assemblages of small parcels of land into resorts, golf courses
and marinas at a pace that has alerted environmentalists and provoked legal disputes
over the role of governments as regulatory and managerial guarantors of public goods
(Irazábal, 2009). The growth of such development is prompting local and national
governments to react rather than proactively challenge unchecked development that
damages the environment and impacts on the population’s social wellbeing.
Striking a balance between addressing economic, social and environmental
factors in tourism development is a challenge (Campbell, 1996). This holds true
particularly for developing countries favoring pro-growth strategies. Achieving such
balance in coastal areas is all the more challenging (Norton, 2005c), owing to the
fragility of ecosystems, the intensifying climate-change-related phenomena (for
example, rising sea levels and exposure to storms and surges), and increased pressure
for tourism and real estate development in many coastal areas. Such development
requires an integrated management and land-use planning approach (Allmendinger
et al., 2002), a clear planning mandate from institutions above the local (Norton,
2005b), as well as coordination among different government agencies at various
levels (Norton, 2005a). It also needs to take into account social dynamics, including
people’s relationships to place (Burley et al., 2007). In the past decade, we have seen
increasing awareness of the need to plan for coastal resilience in light of the eects of
climate disruption (Beatley, 2009; Irazábal, 2010), although practice has been lagging
dangerously behind theory.
Making tourism development sustainable
To combat some of the adverse eects of typical mass tourism, trends such as
‘ecotourism’ and ‘sustainable tourism development’ have emerged as alternative forms
of tourism planning. The International Ecotourism Society (TIES, 2015: n.p.) defined
‘ecotourism’ as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment,
sustains the wellbeing of the local people, and involves interpretation and education’.
Two major factors contributed to the emergence of ecotourism: the environmental
movement of the 1970s and 1980s, and a growing dissatisfaction with mass tourism
owing to overdevelopment, environmental pollution and culturally insensitive and
economically disruptive foreigners (Buchsbaum, 2004; Bhatt and Liyakhat, 2008). The
concept of ‘sustainable tourism development’ often encompasses mass tourism as well
as ecotourism and includes principles such as using resources sustainably, maintaining
biodiversity and supporting local economies (Blaney, 2001).
Ecotourism is currently the fastest-growing sector of the global tourism industry
(Roberts and Thanos, 2003) and estimates indicate that its demand has been rising at an
annual rate of 10% to 30% (Buchsbaum, 2004). An emergent body of planning literature,
however, challenges the assumed benevolence of ecotourism initiatives and questions
their contribution to greater social and economic justice. Laudati (2010), for instance,
explains how the commodification of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda,
marketed to foreign visitors as a wild and unspoilt destination, promotes the external
control of conservation spaces by international organizations, ultimately contributing
to the poverty and dependency of local communities.
While there are positive ecotourism initiatives in Costa Rica, eorts are still
needed to incorporate them into more holistic development projects. ‘Compared to
alternative land-use options, ecotourism remains a promising development strategy’, is
the assessment of Koens et al. (2009: 1225) of the environmental, economic and social
impact of ecotourism development at four Costa Rican tourist destinations––Manuel
Antonio, Monteverde, Tortuguero and a region in which ecotourism is promoted by
the NGO ASCOMAFOR (Asociación Comunal para el Manejo Forestal, or Communal
Association for Forestry Management). Yet, the authors warn, ‘it should be embedded
in a broader process of capacity building’ (ibid.).
Tourism development in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, once an agricultural economy based on banana and coee production,
has largely shifted to a service and tourism economy. Tourism now earns more foreign
revenue than bananas and coee combined.5 Travel and tourism’s total contribution
to GDP and employment in Costa Rica is only second to that in Mexico in the Latin
American and Caribbean context (World Travel and Tourism Council, 2015).
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Costa Rican government increased expansion of
protected natural areas to incorporate a quarter of the national territory into national
parks and protected regions. Since then, the country has continued bolstering its image
as ecotourism’s ‘world leader’ (Miller, 2012: 1) through its engagement with initiatives
that include becoming a zero-emission country by 2021, conserving 32% of natural land
resources, and achieving almost 100% renewable energy in 2015 (renewable resources
provide 95% to 99% of demand, and the country uses approximately 80% hydropower)
(Greenpeace, 2014; Go 100% Renewable Energy, 2017). The government has actively
supported ecotourism development in a variety of ways, including the creation of the
ICT, Costa Rica’s tourism institute (Fletcher, 2014: 70).6 It has also instituted measures
that encourage the creation of businesses necessary for ecotourism, such as the Law
5 In 2014, the total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP, in Costa Rican colones (CRC) totaled CRC 3,359.8
billion (US $6.2 billion, or 12.5% of GDP). It is forecast to rise by 4.5% per annum to CRC 5,378.9 billion (13.2% of
GDP) by 2025. Its total contribution to employment, including jobs indirectly supported by the industry, was 12.0%
of total employment (247,500 jobs), a figure that is expected to rise by 2.8% per annum to 330,000 jobs in 2025
(13.0% of total).
6 ICT is a government institution. In 1931, the country decreed the first normative regulating tourism activity: the
National Tourism Board was created by means of Law 91 of 16 June 1931, which was in operation until 9 August
1955, when the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo was created in terms of Law #1917 (ICT, 2016).
of Incentives for Tourism Development of 1985,7 and a range of other environmental
policies and institutions. However, the disorderly growth of the tourism industry is
threatening these measures (Horton, 2009).
In addition to government marketing eorts, a number of private companies,
both national and international, have been tasked with branding Costa Rica’s tourism.
These include McCann Erickson, the company that crafted the ICT campaign ‘Costa
Rica––No Artificial Ingredients’ (Raventos, 2006).8 A strong marca país (country brand)9
also supports tourism marketing in Costa Rica–– a variety of national factors that act
as an identifiable platform to showcase the purported essence of the country. The
marca país is aimed at shaping the perceptions, preferences and behaviors not only of
foreigners, but also of national citizens (FutureBrand, 2008). For years, Costa Rica has
cultivated national pride and aimed for world recognition as well as a strong marca
país, based on its attitude towards democracy, peace, security, natural beauty and
ecotourism. Costa Rica promotes itself as a privileged place and prime destination for
tourists, by highlighting its qualified personnel, its specialized tourism services and the
opportunities for tourists to visit a variety of ecosystems and microclimates within a
small territory (Pratt, 1997; Miller, 2012).
Tourism development planning and marketing in Costa Rica, particularly in
its top two markets––US and Canada––have traditionally emphasized the ‘natural’
component of its assets, thus veiling, and all too often ignoring, the urban development
consequences of tourism growth. This produces a nature–infrastructure paradox: On the
one hand, nature-based tourism requires urban infrastructure (airports, transit facilities,
roads, hotels, food and service facilities, water and sewerage systems, treatment plants,
labor housing, and so on), thus relying on and causing urbanization. On the other hand,
inecient planning and managing of urban growth leads to unsustainability and equity
losses for places and communities. Ultimately, this threatens the tourism industry
altogether. For instance, for the past ten years, one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist
slogans has been the aforementioned ‘No Artificial Ingredients’. There is a strong
rationale for such a slogan, since ‘perception of natural beauty is the most important
driver of destination choice’ (FutureBrand, 2008: 40). Yet the slogan’s attractiveness
comes at a cost, as it feeds on and reinforces an anti-urban bias. ‘No Artificial
Ingredients’ implies a natural, non-human-made form of development. Developing
urban infrastructure–– such as roads, water and sewage systems, and transit facilities––
seems in contrast with this vision. However, such an antagonistic stance towards the
built environment simultaneously leads to and obscures unsustainable development
practices, as the infrastructure required to support tourism is often not suciently
planned for and managed.
By the mid-1990s, mass coastal tourism, characterized by standardized all-
inclusive packages and resort-based hotel services and amenities run by transnational
corporations, started to grow in Costa Rica, particularly along the Pacific coast.
Aconstruction boom that focused on hotel and real estate development began in the
late 1990s and accelerated between 2002 and 2007, especially in the coastal areas of
Guanacaste and the Central Pacific (where Jacó is located). By the end of 2015, Costa
Rica had 2,559 hotels with 47,452 registered rooms, of which 70% were concentrated
7 Ley de Incentivos Para el Desarrollo Turístico, available at (accessed 3 June
8 Marketing has been widespread in all national media (print, radio, TV and billboards) and includes important
international markets such as the United States, Canada and Europe. Promotions include glossy magazine
advertisements, street advertisements such as billboards and signs, and advertisements in public transportation
systems such as subways and busses.
9 FutureBrand, a global brand consultancy, annually ranks countries across 30 distinct categories related to qualities
and assets that shape countries’ reputations, perceptions and experiences, including standard of living, political
freedom, advanced technology and environmentalism, among other variables.
in the coastal areas and San José’s metropolitan region10 (Central America Data, 2016).
This type of coastal development has had a high environmental impact but provided low
economic returns to local communities, thereby expanding socio-spatial inequities and
leading to a negative correlation with the marca país. Honey et al.’s (2010: 61)11 study of
Costa Rica’s tourism industry from 1980 to 2010 reports alarming results indicating loss
of sustainability: ‘despite the continuing strength of Costa Rica’s reputation for eco- and
sustainable tourism, our review reveals a range of concerns expressed in the media, in
market studies, and by tourism professionals about the impacts of resort and residential
tourism sectors of the Pacific coast on the country’s brand’. Barrantes-Reynolds (2010:
iii) reasserts this point of view, stating that ‘the promotion of residential tourism in the
coastal areas is at odds with Costa Rica’s touristic branding and its constitutional and
legal framework concerning the environment’.
Current patterns of coastal real estate and tourism development are ‘damaging
Costa Rica’s international image as a green and sustainable destination, eroding the
tourist experience, and causing a decline in quality of life for residents in a number
of coastal communities’ (Honey et al., 2010: 11). Business Monitor International (BMI,
2012: 7) stated that ‘fears about overdevelopment in some regions threaten Costa
Rica’s position as a sought after ecotourism destination’. Honey et al.’s findings on the
tourism implications for social equity are less conclusive, but still demand attention.
In terms of employment, coastal tourism has created jobs in construction, ongoing
operations and the informal sector, but long-term eects on poverty alleviation are
less clear:
Direct and indirect jobs in tourism-related businesses … increased during the
years of economic boom. However, better paying jobs which require a level
of education and proficiency in English often went to foreigners or Costa
Ricans from the Central Valley, and not to coastal residents. Extreme poverty
fell along the coast during the tourism boom between 2003 and 2007, but it
again rose in 2008 and 2009, as the economic crisis hit. Overall poverty levels
(extreme and non-extreme) between 2003 and 2009––the timeframe of the
boom and bust––show no significant change for the Central Pacific, beginning
and ending at 26%… However, a number of variables––such as labor migrations
and government investment in infrastructure and social service projects––make
it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the relationship between tourism
development and reduction of poverty (Honey et al., 2010: 11).
Coastal residential real estate development is also worrisome. These developments
are typologically varied, encompassing residential buildings, second and retirement
homes, high-rises, row houses, detached houses, resort complexes and gated
communities. Particular trends developed, such as combining residential homes and
condos with resort tourism complexes and the construction of apartment buildings.
This development has ‘brought unanticipated demands for government services and
resources, while apparently bringing scant long-term benefits in terms of employment,
taxes, or sales of goods and services’ (ibid.: 52–53).
Santamaría and Pratt (2007) urge us not to confuse these residential tourism
developments with tourism per se. Residential development is more profitable for
10 The hotel sector alone in Costa Rica grew by more than 400% from 433 hotels in 1987 to about 1,800 in 2000
(Rivera, 2002). The new developments are usually elitist and architecturally nondescript: between 2001 and 2006,
the number of 4- and 5-star rooms grew by 10% and 6%, respectively, whereas 1-, 2-, and 3-star rooms grew by
only 1.2% combined. As 4- or 5-star rooms are typically unaffordable to most Costa Ricans, these cater mostly to
foreigners, particularly high-income North Americans.
11 This four-year project (from 2007 to 2010) was conducted by an international team of multidisciplinary researchers
who developed 16 reports on different aspects of Costa Rica’s coastal tourism development (see individual reports
at (accessed 21 June 2016).
developers (with a 100% to 700% profit gain within two to three years, as opposed
to around 20% annual gain for hotel investors), but their multiplier eect in the local
economy is negligible, as development leads to demands for additional infrastructure
(schools, health clinics, telecommunications, and more) and to competition with the
room supply of hotels. As Barrantes-Reynolds explains:
the supply side of residential tourism competes with ecotourism for touristic
spaces and undermines the conditions of possibility of touristic activity in
any given coastal location. The reasons for this are developers’ short-term
commitment to a location, the residential tourism’s business capacity to
urbanize and to significantly alter and negatively impact the natural landscape,
and the competition this type of infrastructure represents for the hotel sector
(Barrantes-Reynolds, 2010: iii).
The residential tourism model is also extremely dependent on the North American
market for investors, developers and consumers and is thus very vulnerable to global
economic climate changes. Given all these factors, public capital investments, leasing
and incentives intended to make tourism profitable should not be misdirected to this
industry, as they often are (Estado de la Nación, 2015).
There are certainly examples of past tourism abuse in Costa Rica, especially
onthe Caribbean coast. For instance, in her novel La Loca de Gandoca (1991), Ana
Cristina Rossi cynically describes how foreign private investors and Costa Rican
government ocials sought to develop the Gandoca–Manzanillo wildlife refuge in
non-ecological manners. Other places where abuse of ecotourism as a development
strategy has resulted in serious socio-spatial impacts are the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Reserve and the Caribbean coastal village of Tortuguero, where tourists swamped
and transformed a little village of 150 inhabitants (Place, 1990). In Bahía Ballena and
Uvita, competition between foreigners and locals over resources, as well as socio-
economic and cultural factors, and conflicts from previous planning experiences with
the state, make for poor relations and lack of collaboration in community development
betweenthe two groups (Cortes et al., 2014). Stocker’s study of two beaches in Costa
Rica––which she calls Playa Tica and Playa Extranjera (‘Costa Ricans’ Beach’ and
‘Foreign Beach’) based on their respective degrees of local as opposed to foreign land and
business ownership––reveals ‘an existing culture clash and set of misunderstandings’ as
well as community issues that ‘include expats’ ideas of who counts as “a local”, concerns
regarding the cost of living, drugs and prostitution, water, and development’(Stockers,
2013: 29).
Jacó: a case study of coastal urban tourism development
Overview of development in Jacó
As the aforementioned precedents demonstrate, abuses of tourism development
and their negative consequences are not new to Costa Rica, yet the scale of abuse in the
case of Jacó is. The case study I present here provides a more in-depth understanding of
the environmental and socio-economic impacts of coastal urban tourism development
and the related nature–infrastructure paradox in Costa Rica.
Jacó is a coastal city on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, located in the Puntarenas
Province (Costa Rican provinces are the equivalent of states in the US) and Garabito
municipality (called canton in Costa Rica). Honey et al. (2010: 18) note that during
the first half of the twentieth century Jacó, like much of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast,
was ‘characterized by small rural towns based primarily on agriculture, livestock and
fishing’. In the 1960s, Jacó could only be reached by ferry, as there was no bridge over
the nearby Río Tárcoles. In the 1970s, development along the Pacific coastline increased
rapidly, the expansion of roads and the construction of a small international airport in
nearby Liberia complementing the existing main national airport in the capital San
José. Jacó is currently the closest coastal city to San José (approximately one-and-a-half
hoursaway by car). Connections were further improved from 2010 with the building
of a new freeway.
The population of Jacó has grown significantly over the past 25 years, to an
estimated 21,519 in 2015 (Rosero Bixby, 2002).12 The city has significantly grown in
popularity and was named the ‘leading beach’ in Central America in 2007 (World Travel
Awards, 2007). While data about employment and poverty within Jacó and Garabito
are limited, Honey et al. (2010: 71) found that, from 2003 to 2008, construction led
to a high demand for mainly unskilled jobs, which were mostly filled by Costa Ricans
from other provinces or by temporary immigrants, as developers were unable to find
enough locals to meet demand. According to the National Institute for Statistics and
Census (INEC, 2011), extreme poverty fell from 6.2% of households in the Central
Pacific region of the country in 2003 to 4% in 2007. Honey et al. (2010: 78) report that
in tourism-related regions along the Pacific coast, there are ‘two parallel realities: 1)
temporary employment in construction, unskilled hotel jobs and the informal economy
and 2) unusually well-paying jobs, especially for employees in management positions’.
However, ‘the fact that construction and back-of-the-house tourism jobs are poorly
paid and at times abusive, explains in part why, tourism experts say, there is such a high
turnover in the tourism workforce’ (ibid.).
Regarding development and environmental change, Jacó has undergone
tremendous transformations. Honey et al. (ibid.: 20) report a large percentage change
of area dedicated to human settlements within the Herradura–Jacó region from 1980
to 2005. Settlements grew in size by approximately 525% from only 3.97% of land in
this area dedicated to human settlements and tourism in 1980 to 20.67% of land in
2005. Recent environmental issues in and around the Jacó region include conflicts
over fresh water allocation, beach pollution and forest removal (ibid.: 79–86). In Jacó,
the local aqueduct for fresh water has proved to be insucient to meet local needs,
yet many residents and environmental activists fear its privatization and worry that
this could result in the provision of water to tourism developments at the expense of
local communities (Fonseca, 2012). Jacó received a great deal of media coverage from
2007 to 2009, when reports about pollution of ocean water caused by wastewater
contaminants discharged by hotels, residential developments and local housing resulted
in government ocials closing down beaches for public use and removing Blue Flag
certificates13 until proper measures had been taken (Cantero, 2008).
Tourism development in Jacó has been opportunistically built without the
organizing framework of a regulatory plan. This has resulted in a patchwork of
incompatible and pedestrian-unfriendly spatial typologies. The transformation of
beachfronts, which began in 2002, sped up as residential real estate development
accelerated, surpassing the rate of tourism development and expanding into non-
coastal zones that provided services to the coastal regions. In 2005, Puntarenas
absorbed the second largest share of total foreign direct investment in Costa Rica
(23%), and in 2006, Garabito was the municipality with the highest total built area
in Costa Rica, namely 6.8% (Román, 2007). In 2007, residential construction totaled
12 The Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INEC, or National Institute for Statistics and Census) reports a total
population of 15,479 in Jacó and 22,143 in the Garabito municipality in its October 2011 report. This is up by
136% from a population of 6,568 in Jacó and 106% up from a population of 10,702 in Garabito, as per a July 2000
report. Jacó’s population in 1990 was 2,519 people.
13 In 2005, the Water and Sewage Institute (AyA), in collaboration with the ICT and other government institutions,
implemented the Ecological Blue Flag Program (BAE) modeled on a successful European program. The BAE
annually assesses the environmental quality of beaches to award certification on a scale of one to four stars (one
being the lowest ranking). Since 2010, nearly 60 beaches have been certified, many of them along the Pacific coast
(Honey et al., 2010, 54).
74% of all new construction along the entire Pacific coast. Between 2005 and 2007, 26
of 48 municipalities along this coast accounted for 92.3% of new coastal construction.
Four municipalities––Liberia, Tamarindo, Sardinal and Garabito (Jacó)––increased
enormously: by 1,223,360 square meters or 12.2% of all new construction nationally,
and 49.8% of total construction along the Pacific coastline (Honey et al., 2010: 46).
Prices were driven up not only by real construction costs, but also by demand from
foreign buyers. In Jacó, these properties formed a speculative real estate market,
commanding high prices in US dollars and a rapid turnover rate. However, since these
market conditions faltered after the 2008 world economic crisis and have not been
fully restored yet, some projects have defaulted, remaining unfinished or vacant, giving
some areas the appearance of ghost towns.
It is clear that the type of development occurring within Jacó does not square
with Almeyda et al.’s (2010a; 2010b) favorable views of ecotourism in both the Nicoya
and the Osa peninsulas of Costa Rica. Here, the local community reaped positive social,
economic and environmental benefits. In both cases, ecotourism developments were
smaller in scale (Lapa Rios Ecolodge has fewer than 20 guest rooms, while Punta Islita
offers approximately 50) and focused on attracting an upscale clientele interested
in engaging with the local community through nature tourism and community arts
programming. Owners and developers of these hotels paid attention to social, economic
and environmental implications, undertaking eorts to ensure a positive impact for
their local communities (developing local primary schools and childcare centers,
investing in environmental conservation, arts education, and more). Development
in Jacó, by contrast, has been primarily focused on generating economic benefits,
with little attention to environmental and social concerns. Contrasts in priorities
(community development as opposed to economic development) and scale (community-
based versus mass tourism) between the Nicoya and Osa peninsulas and Jacó explain
these dierences, and analysis of the coastal planning framework in Costa Rica sheds
additional light on existing challenges in Jacó. (see Figures 1–4, illustrating the impact
of tourism in Jacó).
  Densely constructed buildings along Jacó Beach (photo by the author, 2010)
  English-language financing and rental advertising for newly constructed
apartments in Jacó (photo by the author, 2010)
  Many roads in Jacó are badly maintained or altogether unpaved (photo by
Joe Melara, 2010)
Coastal planning in Costa Rica and Jacó
The Costa Rican state protects its coastline. A wide range of institutions and
regulations are in place that govern coastal planning (see Table1). As the focus of
this study is on Jacó, the Maritime Land Zone Law #6043 (MLZL, 1977),14 coastal
plans and urban regulatory plans are particularly pertinent. The MLZL stipulates
that no development should occur within 50 meters from the high-tide line, which is
designated a ‘public zone’. The next 150 meters of land adjacent to the public zone is
referred to as the MLZ (maritime land zone) or restricted zone and may not be subject
to private ownership. This land may be leased by the municipalities for use by private
companies that are more than 50% owned by nationals (or who have been residents
of Costa Rica for at least five years). Concession users are obligated to keep the zone
accessible and within the jurisdiction of the public. Municipalities are responsible
for upholding the law regarding dominion, land-use controls, development, eviction
of transgressors and demolition of illegal construction. The ICT is responsible for
creating a General Coastal Plan in the MLZ, in collaboration with municipalities and
in accordance with the National Plan of Tourism Development, and for approving
development plans that aect the MLZL, along with the National Institute of Housing
and Urban Development (INVU). Municipalities may only grant concessions after
approval of coastal plans. Planning, management and control of the MLZ involve at
14 See (accessed 3 June 2018).
  Polluted river water flowing into the sea at Jacó Beach (photo by Joe
Melara 2010)
  Public planning organizations and their functions dealing with coastal planning in Costa Rica
Institution Governing Authority
Asamblea Legislativa (AL)/Legislative Assembly Provides authorizations in exceptional cases; administers island concessions
Ministerio de Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones (MINAET)/Ministry of the
Environment, Energy and Telecommunications
Flora and fauna extraction permits in the maritime-land zone (MLZ)
National natural assets administration
Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental (SETENA–MINAET)/National Technical Secretary of
the Environment
Approves environmental impact evaluations
Establishes criteria and procedures for environmental control
Issues administrative resolutions
Appellates against decisions to the Ministry of Environment
Assesses environmental viability of coastal/urban regulatory plans
Tribunal Ambiental Administrativo (TAA–MINAET)/Environmental Administrative Tribunal Solicits administrative or technical reports from various institutions
Carries out onsite inspections, administer tests and issues fines for environmental damages
Ministerio de Hacienda/Ministry of Finance Declares land values, does assessments
Collects taxes and land–in cases of failure to pay taxes
Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes (MOPT)/Ministry of Public Works and
Builds infrastructure and ports
Ministerio de Salud (MINSA)/Ministry of Health Issues sanitation permits and other types of permits related to the environment, health and environmental health
Addresses issues concerning natural resources that pose a risk to the environment (together with MINAET)
Registro Nacional (RN)/National Registry Registers concessions (land leases)
Procuraduría General de la República y Procuraduría Ambiental y de la Zona Marítimo-
Terrestre (PGR)/General Comptroller of the Republic and Environment and Maritime-Land
Zone Comptroller
Has judicial control over compliance with laws
Municipalidades/Municipalities Ensure compliance with laws in their jurisdictions, development, and use of the MLZ and coastal tourism areas
Manage use of land, address the MLZ and coordinate functions with the ICT
Authorize tourism development projects with prior authorization of the ICT and INVU
Grant concessions once development plans have been ratified by the ICT and INVU
Approve regulatory plans as instruments for planning and development within their jurisdictions
Remove or demolish illegal buildings, including public property and property located within the MLZ
Manage these properties according to law
Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT)/Costa Rican Institute of Tourism Exercises authority over all areas administered by the MLZ
Has decision-making power over areas designated for both tourism-related and non-tourism-related activities
through own initiatives or upon request from municipalities
Formulates the National Tourism Development Plan, which includes a General Land Use Plan to establish
recommendations and guidelines for regulatory plans, including plans for the MLZ
Reviews the tourism part of regulatory plans
Reviews marine boat ports
Instituto Geográfico Nacional (IGN)/National Geographic Institute Demarcates and delimits the MLZ
Institution Governing Authority
Instituto Nacional de Vivienda y Urbanismo (INVU)/ National Institute of Housing and
Urban Development
Processes projects once a concession contract for the MLZ has been obtained and registered
Approves urbanization or tourism development plans and reviews the urbanization part of regulatory plans,
concurrently with the ICT
Urbanizes land included in plans in accordance with the regulatory plan’s criteria according to the Law of
Construction, the Law of Urban Planning and the Law of Condominium Property Regulation
Prepares building permits for construction of urban and tourism development
Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad/Costa Rican Institute for Electricity (ICE) Provides access to electricity and telecommunications
Instituto Costarricense de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (ICAA or AyA) y Asociaciones
Administradores de Acueductos Comunales o Rurales (ASADAS)/Costa Rican Institute of
Aqueducts and Sewage and Administrative Association of Communal and Rural Aqueducts
Administers and supplies potable water
Instituto Costarricense de Pesca y Acuicultura (Incopesca)/Costa Rican Institute of Fishing
and Aquaculture
Administers the fishing sector and aquaculture in coastal zones
Instituto de Desarrollo Agrario (IDA)/Institute of Agrarian Development Approves concessions for areas designated for non-tourism development
: Adapted from Cabrera and Sánchez (2009: 88–92)
  Continued
least 11 public institutions at the national level,15 19 municipalities and 4 municipal
district councils (Cabrera, 2009).
In terms of the MLZL, coastal cities––Puntarenas, Golfito, Quepos and Limón–
are exempted based on a 1973 law that, for a limited time, allowed titles to be granted to
beachfront settlers. Jacó was exempted in terms of the MLZL later, in 2006,16 to legalize
constructions that had taken place illegally. This exception of coastal cities from the
MLZL constitutes a challenge to beachfront planning. Today, development within the
MLZ occurs mostly in piecemeal fashion, following proposals by private concession
seekers. Coastal municipalities allowed chaotic development to take place, including
the building of structures that do not meet technical engineering criteria. This had a
huge impact on the environment, and made adequate sewerage and solid-waste disposal
technically challenging to manage (CGR, 2008; Fonseca, 2008).
The General Comptroller of the Republic (CGR), an independent government
institution and the highest form of fiscal control in the country, recognizes that the
MLZ law creates conflict between environmental conservation concerns and tourism
development. The problems aecting the MLZ are related to a lack of integrated planning
that promotes the correct use of both the regulated area with its publicly accessible zones
and the preservation of natural areas. The main legal framework governing the MLZ, Law
#6043, has undergone very few changes since 1977, when it was first issued (CGR, 2008),
although both the definition of the concept of the MLZ and the law itself are regularly
challenged. Another sensitive issue concerns the hoarding of land in the MLZ by a few
legal persons, usually foreigners creating oligopolistic land regimes that threaten equity
and sovereignty (ibid.). During 2006 and 2007, of a total of 80 square kilometers of MLZ,
only 10% had coastal plans. Also, the National Registry showed that 1,600 concessions in
the MLZ had been subdivided and sold illegally (Fonseca, 2008: 7–8; 2012).
These problems are possibly being exacerbated by some initiatives within the
National Legislative Assembly that attempt to deregulate the MLZ and hence weaken
coastal management. In 2005, some laws were passed to modify Law #6043, such as
one that exempts new communities from this law (for example, Cahuita and Puerto
Viejo were declared ‘cities’, so that the MLZ law no longer applies to them) (Fonseca,
2008). Since 2007, dozens of bills have sought to relax the requirements and extend
the concession rights of investors in marinas and piers, promote economic and tourism
development in several areas in the MLZ, and enable families living in coastal and
island areas to build housing and other facilities on coastlines (CGR, 2008). In 2014
alone, more than 90 provisions were adopted––laws, regulations and decrees related to
environmental management. A relevant example was the Law of Occupant Protection
in Areas Classified as Special, which replaced the moratorium on the eviction of people
who had settled in ‘special areas’ (Law #9073) and changed the limits of the Gandoca–
Manzanillo wildlife refuge. Law #9221 (Framework for the Declaration of Coastal
Urban Areas and their Use) and Law #9242 (Regularization of Existing Buildings in
the Restricted Area of the Maritime Land Zone) were approved. The latter is subject to
the validity and implementation of coastal regulatory plans by municipalities that have
jurisdiction in the MLZ (Estado de La Nación, 2015: 201).
In 2015, no coastal municipality had a regulatory plan that covered its entire
territory. The area is highly fragmented, as 81 of the approximately 124 existing regulatory
plans cover coastline lengths of less than two kilometers. Prime examples may be found in
15 The institutions are the Legislative Assembly, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute, the National Institute of Housing
and Urban Development, the Attorney-General’s Office, the Ministry of National Planning and Economic Policy, the
Ministry of Public Works and Transport, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, the Ministry of Environment,
Energy and Telecommunications, the National Geographic Institute, the Directorate of Direct Taxation and the
Institute of Agrarian Development.
16 Declaration of Jacó as a city, Law #6512 of 25 September 1980, Art. 3, Contraloría General de la República (CGR,
or General Comptroller of the Republic), see
pro_ficha.aspx?param1=PRD&param6=1&nDictamen=8255&strTipM=T(accessed 3 June 2018).
the district of Cóbano (Puntarenas), where 11 regulatory plans each cover a distance equal
to or less than 2.3 kilometers over 14 consecutive kilometers of coastline. It is not certain
how many regulatory plans exist in the coastal municipalities, because the ICT, the INVU
and various municipalities all state dierent figures (ibid.: 205). In an attempt to address
this matter, the sector for Environment, Energy, Seas and Land Management was created
in 2014 under the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE) (Cabrera, 2015).
There are also a number of non-governmental institutions that intervene
in coastal planning processes, including private institutions (such as the country’s
Global Association of Realtors and Chamber of Commerce), national professional and
academic institutions (including CLACDS–INCAE, Costa Rica’s premier business
school); the Federal Association of Engineers and Architects; the Research Program
on Sustainable Urban Development (ProDUS); as well as international and national
nonprofit organizations (such as the Rainforest Alliance; the National Resources Defense
Council; the Nature Conservancy, and more). Non-governmental environmental and
interest groups exert pressure on government agencies and occasionally have achieved
impressive results (Cupples and Larios, 2010).17
Government entities in Costa Rica have had varying and conflicting responses to
increased development, in part as a result of the fragmentation of intergovernmental bodies
and because of a lack of communication among policymakers. The legal framework for
coastal development ‘suers from internal deficiencies and inconsistencies, overlapping
authorities, and heavy reliance on weak and ill-equipped municipal governments’ (Cabrera,
2009: 2). Legislation is enforced ad hoc, with government institutions occasionally
collaborating to respond to illegal activities reported by the media, NGOs or communities.
The legal framework is fragmented too, and there is no jurisprudential consistency (CGR,
2007). Many rules and institutions involved in land management with responsibilities in
areas such as conservation, construction, land subdivision, or use and exploitation of water
and wood, make the processing of plans and building permits a highly complex procedure.
Additionally, there is the high political and economic vulnerability of local administrative
structures when there are changes in government or economic climate. Socio-economic
planning is decoupled from land management and public policy, with no clarity on scope
or means to enable and facilitate citizen participation in planning processes (Zapata, 2014).
Furthermore, technical capacity in the majority of local governments for environmental
management is weak (Román, 2007; Fonseca, 2012).
Even when the requisite legislation and institutions are in place to monitor
development and preservation of the environment, flawed systems of accountability
allow for uneven monitoring, evaluation and application of sanctions for non-compliance.
Where they are executed, sanctions do not outweigh the gains that have accrued to the
developers through their illegal practices (Irazábal, 2009). Some mayors have reacted
with clientelism, prioritizing economic gains and turning a blind eye to violations.
Corruption is also a factor, with regulators allowing individuals to log areas illicitly and
to commit other environmental crimes. Miller (2011: 50) states that ‘a serious failure
to satisfy regulators’ material needs, including salary, equipment, funds and sta, is
the key issue causing them to fall into corruption’. In addition, some developments are
exempted from environmental laws through political interventions such as presidential
decrees that sanction them as being in the ‘national interest’, as in the case of former
president Oscar Arias granting permission for construction of the first tourist marina in
the country, Los Sueños (The Dreams), which neighbors Jacó.
In terms of land-use planning, municipal regulatory plans are deemed a key planning
instrument. Nevertheless, some municipalities do not have such a plan. The weaknesses
17 NGOs in Costa Rica stopped offshore oil explorations by a US-based company in the Caribbean Sea in 2002 and
played a pivotal role in almost stopping the Free Trade Agreement with the US in a 2007 referendum (Cupples and
Larios, 2010).
identified in the regulatory plans, alongside the insucient institutional capacity of Costa
Rica’s national technical environmental secretary (Secretaría Técnica Nacional Ambiental,
or SETENA), the government’s principal environmental watchdog, allow for real estate
development in the coastal zone to take place in a context of broad deregulation (Román,
2007). As a result, the development of the urban regulatory plan of the city of Jacó and the
coastal regulatory plans for its beaches has been 12years in the making. The regulatory plan
was launched in November 2005, when the firm DEPPAT SA was hired to prepare it. In 2007,
the regulatory plan commission formally handed the document to the city council. Since
then, these documents have undergone several review processes, primarily by SETENA.
SETENA and the INVU have formally requested clarifications or supplements to the
documents that were submitted. Plans have also been adapted to new regulations issued by
the ICT and based on citizens’ input. Nevertheless, the urban regulatory plan is still awaiting
approval by the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Telecommunications (Ministerio de
Ambiente, Energía y Telecomunicaciones, or MINAET) for the Environmental Vulnerability
Index, which is necessary before the process can continue through the INVU. Work on
the coastal regulatory plans for areas under the MLZ has also come to a standstill pending
certification by the MINAET (Garabito Municipality, 2017).
Perceptions of tourism development in Jacó
Various researchers have investigated residents’ attitudes towards tourism
development (see Brougham and Butler, 1981; Williams and Lawson, 2001; Stocker,
2013). Harrill’s literature review (2004) offers implications for tourism planning.
There is, however, little insight into the differing perceptions of experts, residents,
tourism-industry workers and tourists. To assess the nature–infrastructure paradox
and understand local attitudes and feelings towards development in Jacó, in the course
of this study I conducted 35 long, semi-structured interviews and analyzed 89 survey
responses. Interviews and surveys were conducted in San José and Jacó on separate
month-long field trips in 2008, 2009 and 2010.18
The interviews were aimed at understanding contextual factors, power relations,
the institutional framework and conditions related to the tourism–sustainability nexus
and the nature–infrastructure paradox. Individuals interviewed included scholars
(in architecture, planning, environmental sciences, business, tourism); planners,
policymakers and bureaucratic officials in public agencies; independent policy
analysts; domestic and international tourist and environmental NGO operators; private
practitioners (architects, developers and planning contractors); as well as community
leaders in San José and Jacó.19
Surveys were administered in the public spaces and on the beaches of Jacó.
In about half of the cases, surveys were followed up with short, informal interviews
(impromptu conversations about people’s reactions to the survey questions) that
either provided more insights into their survey responses or revealed other tourism-
related issues. The sample was balanced regarding subjects’ positionalities: residents,
tourism-industry workers and tourists.20 Survey responses are used in this article
18 San José was included because bureaucratic and academic centralization is still very prevalent in Costa Rica, and
a great deal of policymaking, management and data producing/processing related to Jacó takes place in San José.
19 About 80% of interviews and surveys were conducted in Spanish and then translated into English by the author
and her research assistants. The remaining interviews were conducted in English. Most interviews lasted
approximately one hour. Interviewees were chosen by their relevance (the most recognized people in their
respective fields and those directly involved in the dynamics of coastal development in Costa Rica and Jacó). They
were identified by the author through research and referral by other interviewees.
20 These positionalities usually provide the most noticeable variation in relation to the way people perceive and are
affected by tourism and development. Variation within these categories was also sought, including residents from
low-income, middle-income and high-income areas; national and international tourist workers in blue- and white-
collar positions; and national and international tourists. In the latter category, I distinguished between those from
Latin America and those from the US, Canada and Europe. The sample was also balanced in terms of age and
gender, because people belonging to different categories along these lines are generally conceived as dissimilar
in their engagement with and appreciation of the effects of the dynamics of tourism development.
to illustrate the perceptions of members of these groups; there is no claim to
representativeness. The qualitative data from the interviews and surveys were coded
and analyzed manually.
Finally, research methods also encompassed the analysis of current planning
institutions and regulations, tourism media coverage, tourism reports, tourism and
real estate data, resort performance vis-à-vis sustainable tourism and community
development, observations and participant observation of planning and community
meetings and activities, and observations of the built, social and natural conditions in
Jacó and its surroundings. The qualitative data collected and analyzed for this study
complement and update previous studies on tourism development in Costa Rica based
on quantitative indicators, provide specific impressions about development in Jacó from
dierent sectors in society, and oer both evidence of the nature–infrastructure paradox
in existence and ways to overcome it.
Interview findings
While the interviews included a variety of individuals, common themes emerged
regarding tourism development in Jacó, particularly concerning poor planning and
complex regulations, environmental degradation, deficient infrastructural support,
socio-economic implications, and proposals for Jacó’s recovery.
Poor planning and complex regulations
Many experts reported that development in Jacó had happened too fast and
haphazardly, without proper plans, regulations or consideration for the country’s marca
país. Lawrence Pratt, Director of the Latin American Center for Competitiveness and
Sustainable Development (CLACDS), stated, ‘there is nothing particularly Costa Rican
about development in Jacó’, while Antonio Farah from the ICT indicated that ‘Jacó does not
represent Costa Rica’s commitment to sustainability: Jacó is Costa Rica’s Cancún’. Indeed,
Jacó may not be representative of other cities in Costa Rica yet, but it is closely followed by
rapid and haphazard growth in Tamarindo, Playa del Coco and Flamingo in Guanacaste;
Manuel Antonio and Quepos in Puntarenas; and Santa Teresa, Mal País and Nosara in
Nicoya. Thus, this trend may expand if urban tourism development is not better planned
and managed as the national and global economies improve after the Great Recession.
Interviewees commented on disparities between the country’s marca país
and its actual actions. Rosendo Pujol, Director of ProDUS, stated that ‘the paradox
between Costa Rica’s environmental legislation and its anti-environmental practice
is terrible’, while Andrés Bourreout, Manager of steel company Holcim, asserted that
‘there is tension between the political vision reflected in the marca país and economic
pragmatism … some elements [of the marca país] are left aside to accelerate economic
development’. Kyra Cruz, Executive Director of ACTUAR, a nonprofit organization
comprising 37 community tourism organizations, denounced the fact that investment
was prioritized towards major economic indicators in current tourism instruments,
‘invisibilizing others’ that are more pertinent to sustainable community development.
Olga Solís, Regional Coordinator for the Federal Association of Engineers and
Architects of Costa Rica in Jacó, enumerated a series of developmental problems in
the city, stating that ‘Jacó has undergone exaggerated growth in a context of collapsed
services: water, sewage, electricity … The lack of regulatory planning allows chaotic
construction: new buildings without water treatment plants, proper setbacks, etc.’.
Architect Javier Salinas believes that ‘Jacó is beyond repair. It looks like Manhattan, like
Panama City, even worse … They sell one square meter at US $10,000, as in Barcelona,
but without the same urban amenities. They allow the maximum building-site area,
intensifying flooding which swipes away squatter settlements’. Rolain Borel, Head of the
Department of Environment, Peace, and Security at the United Nation’s Peace University
in San José, similarly painted a negative portrait of development in Jacó, stating:
go check Jacó to see what should not be done: people rushing to be the first
ones to make a million, while polluting the water that they’ll drink … The built
environment is chaotic; land prices drop because there is no water. There
are many vacant properties because they are bought for speculation. Poverty,
polarization and insecurity have risen.
Pujol seconded these opinions and was quick to assert that work remained to be done.
He believed that Jacó is ‘a lost cause. We propose a strategic withdrawal: let them
[developers and government ocials] continue doing what they are doing and “stew
in their own juices”. There are winnable battles in other places: Osa, Golfito, Isla de
Chira, etc.’.
Pujol also emphasized that municipalities are not equipped to do the work
assigned to them, asserting that ‘municipalities in Costa Rica are among the weakest in
Latin America’ and that ‘regulations are very complicated and often overlapping. They
are hard to enforce, particularly in poor communities. There are contradictions and
interest groups in confrontation. Also, presidential decrees can override environmental
legislation, such as in the controversial case of Los Sueños Resort and Marina [near
Jacó]’. Roy Castellón, Garabito Municipality’s planning ocial, endorsed this view,
stating that ‘the process of decentralization has only recently started to take root in
Costa Rica. Garabito has had to take on responsibilities without adequate institutional
Pujol asserted that a nature–infrastructure paradox in Costa Rica exists partly
as a result of the way the planning profession is perceived in the country: ‘there is no
planning school in Costa Rica, the discipline lacks a strong identity, and municipalities
lack planners’. Borel stated that ‘there is a great dichotomy between the high value
of conservation, a motive of pride for lay citizens, and the unchecked negative
consequences of urban development: sewage, trac, air and waste pollution’. Vanessa
Camacho, Inspector at the Garabito Municipality, pointed out that ‘there are only seven
inspectors for the entire municipality. When they point out an irregularity, the damage
has already been done’. Sirlene Jiménez, Water System Executive at the Costa Rican
Water and Sewage Institute (Instituto de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, or AyA) in Jacó,
lamented that the existing environmental commission ‘cannot cope with the needs.
There is a need for more resources and more political will at the local and national level
to follow up when irregularities are pointed out’. When I interviewed her, Doris Salazar,
the regional representative of the Ministry of Health in Garabito and a member of the
Municipal Environmental Commission, operated from a cramped room in Jacó with
no ventilation, no computer, no internet access and no filing cabinets. She expressed
interest in better facilities, but focused the bulk of her concerns on the slow pace or lack
of follow-up to the commission’s solicitations to upper-level governmental institutions,
stating that ‘the pace of development has left behind both institutions and regulations.
The [world’s economic] crisis could be an opportunity to bring together what we preach
and what we do’.
Environmental degradation
The theme of growing environmental degradation was a common thread in
interviewee responses. Several interviewees alluded to the fact that the local river, Río
Tárcoles, is the most polluted river in Central America and that its waters pollute Jacó
Beach. Solís reported seeing ‘great destruction: rivers have been polluted, mountains
destroyed and deforested, fauna has decreased, the sea water is contaminated’.
Ronald Sanabria, from the Rainforest Alliance Central America, commented that
‘1492: Conquest of Paradise’, a 1992 film depicting Columbus’s arrival to the Americas
featuring famous [actor] Gérald Depardieu, was filmed in an area near Jacó, ‘a
paradisical, lush place that is now gone’. He lamented that in Guanacaste (to the
north) and in the Central Pacific (where Jacó is located), there were hotels ‘consuming
more water than three towns together to maintain their golf courses’. Pratt added: ‘to
build the Resort and Marina Los Sueños, mountains were flattened and hillsides were
Private developers and expatriates are taking some steps for reparation into
their own hands. Jacó has a Chamber of Commerce that holds meetings and organizes
activities in English. Javier Angel Müller, the architect of Wyndham, Jacó’s first five-
star hotel, explained the formation of Friends of Jacó, a group of developers who
got together to tackle issues regarding tourism promotion, sanitation, insecurity and
maintenance in Jacó. He also explained that planners preferred to consult real estate
developers with regard to the urban regulatory plan and that their considerations ran
counter to the original intents of the plan: ‘the plan proposed ascending building heights
from the beachfront, but there were already high buildings along the beachfront and
lots are usually smaller and more expensive there, which increases the cost of land
assemblage’. Adjustments to the developers’ requests have led to further complications,
contradictions and delays regarding the still pending approval of the urban regulatory
plan and the coastal plans, and may potentially compromise their environmental
considerations. Some acknowledged that there was no consideration of the eects of
climate change in current planning and development practices in the area, despite the
fact that rising sea levels (of up to seven centimeters within 50years) were expected to
have a significant impact.
Deficient infrastructural support
Costa Rica’s national position on the index of competitiveness in tourism, as
calculated by the World Economic Forum (WEF, 2015), has been improving since 2013;
yet, of the 14 issues that are assessed, the country has very low ratings for land and port
infrastructure (Estado de la Nación, 2015: 141). Similarly, the experts I interviewed in
this study supported the notion of a nature–infrastructure paradox, which states that a
lack of infrastructural planning had contributed to Jacó’s haphazard growth. Vladimir
Klotchkov, Chief Planner at San José Municipality, argued that ‘wherever there are
disputes between environment [i.e. nature] and urbanity, the environment always wins,
i.e. the urban needs are always subordinate to the environment’s’. Kristian Benavides,
Sales Director of Marriot Costa Rica, expressed the view that ‘in Costa Rica, we rested
on our laurels, in the belief that we were the best in service, as a country with peace,
with no army, … but in terms of infrastructure (roads, airports, sewerage) there is a
lot to be desired, compared to Panama and other tourist destinations. We forgot about
infrastructure’. Gustavo Alvarado, Director of the ICT, stated that ‘the country had
abandoned infrastructure. Only now we are finishing highways started 40 years ago.
Airports, ports, sewerage systems … are only now being reconsidered’. Pratt claimed
that ‘the “blind spot” that the nature–infrastructure paradox creates did not exist before
2000. [Before that time], it was zero-infrastructure-investment tourism. That was so
successful that the paradox came in simultaneously with the real estate construction
and speculation boom’. Jiménez conceded, more specifically, that ‘there is a critical
situation with water in Jacó. Projects have been stalled because there is water, but a lack
of water infrastructure’.
Some interviewees expressed concerns that the new infrastructure that was
being created would not be sufficient for current and future demand. Many believed
that the new highway that links the capital to Jacó––which they claimed was already
obsolete, since it had been many years in the making and had been built according
to old plans––would only cause increased growth in the Jacó region. Müller warned:
‘there is going to be enormous development along the San José–Jacó corridor. Jacó
is going to grow significantly’. Raúl Goddard, Central Pacific Officer for Edificar,
one of the largest construction companies in the country, corroborates this view:
‘all developers are expecting that the new highway will spark development. Jacó
is bound to move the market away from San José’. While these predictions did not
materialize during the Great Recession and the years of economic recovery that
followed, they seem to indicate a plausible growth scenario for the late 2010s or
early 2020s.
Socio-economic implications
Interviewees variously commented about the socio-economic implications
of tourism development in Jacó, distinguishing the unequal impact that tourism has
had on dierent groups of people, depending on their level of education, legal status,
wealth, land tenure status and work position. Solís pointed to the surge in the number
of construction workers who were working under poor labor conditions and without
access to proper accommodations. This group includes unauthorized migrants.
Solís stated that ‘construction [in Jacó] has attracted workers, often undocumented
Nicaraguans. Many have been laid o. Frequently, they occupy the river fronts in
precarious settlements that oer no services, and are prone to flooding in the rainy
season’. Solís added that the surge in the number of workers and migrants created
‘spatial fragmentation: tourists have privileged access to recreational areas, while
locals scramble for the rest’. Alexandra Kleinox, local Remax realtor, conceded: ‘there
is more purchasing power in Jacó, but there are also more “created needs” for the
Cruz pointed to the phenomenon of Costa Rican landowners being displaced
from coastal areas, stating that ‘there is little coastal land in the hand of Costa Ricans.
The rise in land prices puts locals under a great deal of pressure to sell, because they
need to pay higher [property] taxes’. In her experience, tourism development in Costa
Rica needs to strike a balance between what tourists want and what locals need. This
includes the need to become more ethno-racially and gender-sensitive: ‘we need to
develop gender- and locally focused projects’, particularly in respect of the fluidity of
identities in Costa Rica owing to changing economic circumstances and class structures
(Chant, 2006; Mannon and Kemp, 2010).
Many mentioned the erosion of aordable and inclusionary housing. Even when
Pratt conceded that Costa Rica may be better o having an attraction such as Los Sueños
Resort and Marina, ‘Costa Ricans do not play golf, and golf courses can add 20%+ to
condominium costs’. He mentioned other undesirable socio-economic factors: the cost
of living has skyrocketed; many locals do not have the labor skills to fit in (construction,
tourism hospitality, language proficiencies); have been uprooted and are unable to buy
or rent equivalent housing in San José; have been aected by increased gambling and
prostitution in their communities; and suer intimidation and harassment by security
guards in exclusive communities.
Others have focused on the attrition of the social safety net, traditionally robust
in Costa Rica (see Garnier and Blanco, 2010). Miguel Rojas Castillo, Jacó’s Catholic
priest and Vice-President of Garabito’s Health Commission, lamented:
despite the fact that Garabito is the third or fourth richest municipality in Costa
Rica in terms of tax and social security collection, less attention is paid to human
development than to economic development. We need better labor and health
insurance, and also social services such as education, child care and a better
health center.
Castillo pointed to the fact that workers in the tourism industry lived in environmentally
risky areas (for example, along creeks in Quebrada Amarilla and Quebrada Dragón) and
that, in his view, tourism had brought more problems and expenses to Jacó (related to
drug addiction, alcoholism and prostitution) than gains.
Proposals for Jacó’s recovery
Based on his study of tourism perceptions, Harrill (2004: 263) recommended
development options that planners could pursue to manage tourism growth, including
economic programs, such as tax abatement for residents bearing the brunt of tourist
activity; concentration or dispersal of tourism facilities, such as the creation of tourism
districts or zones; and urban design that carefully integrates tourism facilities into the
community fabric, as buer zones between residents and tourists.
He also suggested that ‘ongoing resident participation and education must
be key components of the tourism development process, with planners reinforcing
perceptions of positive economic benefits and eectively addressing what is being
done or can be done to mitigate adverse social and environmental impacts’ (ibid.: 263).
In tune with some of these ideas, many interviewees believed that planning could help
alleviate the negative aspects of development in Jacó. Those in government institutions
advised decentralization, better coordination across agencies and levels of government,
and streamlined regulations. Others believed that marketing the country’s tourism
offering needed to be based on better practices, with incentives to support these.
Solís suggested improving systemic planning so that Costa Rica’s ‘marca país not only
promotes proper nature planning, but also infrastructure planning to support tourism
and real estate growth’.
Regarding urban design, both Salinas and Goddard favored plans that would
promote verticalization within Jacó’s city limits. Salinas believed that the Costa Rican
government should ‘create regulations for adequate verticalization, pedestrianize the
commercial boulevard, put parking underground, and build another beach boulevard’,
while Goddard believed that verticalization and density would ‘concentrate resources
and service networks and lessen impacts’. Indeed, given that scattered tall buildings
already exist, allowing reasonable verticalization might help accommodate expected
growth within the city limits, encourage densities that can support pedestrian and
bike-friendly environments, be better served by transit and other infrastructure,
and avoid new greenfield developments. Catherine Filton, real estate agent and tour
operator, agreed: ‘Jacó can become the “city” of the region, hence helping preserve
the natural conditions of beaches to its north and south’. Müller advocated for green
architecture and urban design: ‘new projects need to improve public space and
construct urbanity’. In recent years and little by little, Jacó has been advancing on
public-space projects through public–private partnerships with real estate and private
tourism agents.
Regarding economic and community development programs, Solís believed that
economic diversification and speculation caps would prove helpful in the case of Jacó.
She claimed:
everything has been dollarized [in Jacó’s development]. Rents and everything
is cheaper in San José, yet salaries in Jacó are lower than in San José. There is
assistance for tourist entrepreneurs, but not for other entrepreneurial activities.
We need to diversify the economy, enforce minimum wages, maintain prices
in Costa Rican currency, and raise awareness among the business class about
adequate profit-making levels.
Cruz also urged support for community entrepreneurship, and Pratt and Rojas Castillo
advised more investment in health, education and job training.
Survey findings
Survey respondents also addressed the impact of tourism on environmental
quality, architectural appropriateness of tourism structures, satisfaction with
infrastructure and the local economy.
Change in Quantity of Jobs Available to Locals and
Expatriates as a Result of Tourism, 1989-2009 (N=56)
0No change Slight
Jobs for Locals Jobs for Foreigners/Expatriates
  Residents’ and tourism-industry workers’ perspectives on employment
opportunities in Jacó, 1989–2009 (source: author’s own research findings)
Little to moderate Significant
Tourism’s Effect on the Rise in Cost of Living
  Residents’ and tourism-industry workers’ perspectives on cost of living in
Jacó, 2009 (source: author’s own research findings)
Environmental quality
In total, 45 residents and tourism-industry workers responded to two survey
questions regarding environmental quality. Of these respondents, 71% believed that
protection of natural resources as a result of tourism in Jacó had worsened, while only
27% thought that it had improved. When asked whether environmental sites or resources
had been protected in Jacó, 70% of 27 residents answered ‘no’, while only 26% answered
‘yes’. However, when asked whether the promotion of sustainable tourism had helped
to achieve the protection of natural resources, 68% of 31 tourism-industry workers
responded with ‘yes’, while 29% said ‘no’. Dierences in results between residents and
tourism-industry workers may be attributed to the perceptions that tourism-industry
workers acquired from their places of work. A clearer picture of residents’ and workers’
concerns regarding environmental quality was revealed in their detailed spoken or
written responses (not accounted for in the figures), including: too much development
prevents protection of the environment; money talks and buys what you want whenever
you want; the MLZ is not respected, many areas of the coast have been destroyed; flora
and fauna have been protected, but not the beaches; the destruction of the mountains
around the coast is obvious; environmental resources are protected only when there are
big events about to take place, such as the World Surfing Championships; contamination
of water and deforestation are problems as people sometimes don’t have access to water;
in the past the hotels didn’t treat wastewater; and sewage is an issue.
Tourists, in turn, perceived environmental degradation as an outcome of tourism
development as less of a concern than residents and tourism-industry workers: 43% of
the tourists surveyed believed there was no problem or few problems with environmental
degradation in Jacó as a result of tourism development, 16% thought it to be a moderate
problem, 36% believed it to be a ‘significant’ or ‘very significant’ problem, and 20%
stated that they thought there was no problem. Many tourists’ responses suggested an
internalization of Costa Rica’s fine reputation for ecological considerations, shaped through
advertisements even before they arrived in the country, as Stocker (2013) had also found.
Architectural appropriateness of tourism structures
Residents were asked if they felt that the architectural typologies of tourism
developments (such as resorts and hotels) were appropriate to Jacó in scale and context.
From the 26 responses, 17 (65%) answered ‘no’. However, residents who responded with
‘yes’ justified their responses by making comments such as ‘it is inevitable’, or ‘tourism
drives everything; it has to happen’. Their comments suggest that they have resigned
themselves to the process of tourism development rather than approving of it. The
residents who responded ‘no’ replied more emphatically, making statements such as: ‘Jacó
looks like a mini-Miami, it doesn’t look like Jacó anymore’ or ‘you have turned a nice beach
town into a nightmare!’ They commented extensively on the appropriateness of tourism
structures, pointing out issues such as the following: developments are poorly made; they
need to be planned better, are too big and too near the ocean, are too close to the beach;
there’s only one main road; it is said the structures are defective; hotels are ugly and poorly
made, look at the huge yellow beachfront hotel!; hotels aren’t very good, and they aren’t
made from quality materials; the high-rises on the beach make it look like there’s a wall on
the beach, it doesn’t look appropriate for the culture or the environment; the hotels are too
big–– they rob the area of space and its natural beauty and are only for the well-o.
Finally, they addressed other aspects too: developments alter many aspects
of Jacó, especially the ecology; overdevelopment and issues such as increasing
drug problems aren’t given much attention; developments do not respect the MLZ;
developments cause water-service problems, leaving some residents without water;
and there are too many condos. Residents’ dissatisfaction was based as much on the
appearance of buildings per se (their form, bulk and height) as on the inequality they
created between tourists and locals (for example, the structures are regarded as being
‘only for the well-o’ and ‘cause water-service problems’).
Satisfaction with infrastructure
Residents were asked about the magnitude of change in the past 20years
regarding public services such as water and electricity in Jacó. Residents had evidently
noticed the change as Jacó has grown from a sleepy and isolated village to a small coastal
city accessible by road, but they were split on their value judgment of such change.
Altogether 28 residents responded, of which 60% said there had been a significant to
drastic change in public services. Half the respondents stated that the change in public
services had been ‘good’, while the other half believed that the change had been ‘bad’.
In total, 30 tourism-industry workers responded as to whether they had benefited from
improvements in transportation services and public works; 60% stated that they did
not perceive improvements in transportation services, while 40% said that they did.
Also, 57% of the total sample stated that they had perceived improvements in public
works, while 43% said that they had not. When asked for a more detailed response,
tourism-industry workers explained that long and dicult commutes to work made
improvements in transportation seem limited. In addition, any improvements in public
works were unequally distributed and concentrated along and near the main beachfront
avenue: street and sidewalk paving and maintenance, lighting, access to water, sewerage
systems and water treatment plants. Of the 30 tourists surveyed in this area, 14 (46%)
stated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with public services, 8 (26%) were
indierent and 8 (26%) were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
The local economy
Both residents and tourism-industry workers reported a significant change
in job opportunities in Jacó for both locals and expatriates (see Figure5). Tourism-
industry workers reported a more significant change in job opportunities, especially for
expatriates, than did residents. There were very few responses to the question regarding
the quality of new employments. However, in conversations with residents and workers,
both groups reported a change for the better, although primarily for expatriates. Both
residents and workers strongly expressed that the cost of living in Jacó had increased
sharply in the past 20years: 83% reported a ‘significant’ increase in the cost of living,
while only 17% reported a ‘little to moderate’ increase (see Figure6).
Corroboration of survey findings against tourism research literature
These survey findings are in accordance with the literature on residents’ perception
of tourism development, and complement it with perspectives from tourists and tourism-
industry workers. Harrill’s (2004) literature review demonstrates that residents often
have a sophisticated grasp of the positive and negative aspects of tourism development.
This study evidences that they are more critical than tourism-industry workers and
tourists. Thomason et al. (1979), in a study of the attitudes of groups that had been aected
within a host community in Texas, also found that entrepreneurs were more positive
about tourism development than residents, who felt that too many tourists strained local
resources. Harrill’s research shows that residents identified diverse negative impacts, as
they did in Jacó, including poor economic benefits, such as low wages; increasing property
values and housing prices (Var et al., 1985); environmental impacts, including litter and
ecological degradation (Liu et al., 1987); increased costs of accommodation (Ross, 1992);
undesirability of tourism jobs and tourism’s poor role in raising living standards (Lankford,
1994); tourism revenue ‘leakage’ from local economies (Lawson et al., 1998); high prices,
drug use, vandalism, violence and sexual harassment (Haralambopoulous and Pizam,
1996); degradation of community aesthetics (Murphy, 1981); displacement of locals (Perdue
et al., 1987; Keogh, 1990; Allen et al., 1993); and dissatisfaction with local planning and
environmental management eorts (Liu et al., 1987; Cavus and Tanrisevdi, 2002). More,
recently, Stocker (2013) reached similar findings regarding the perception of dierent
tourism stakeholders in four dierent Costa Rican destinations.
Many of the authors above found that the perceived benefits of tourism regularly
outweighed its perceived adverse impacts and that often residents not only supported
the current level of tourism, but favored expansion in expectation of an increased share
of its benefits. They focused on the potential of tourism to create businesses, reduce
unemployment and enhance leisure and economic activities. Residents, however, were
often concerned about unmanaged growth and the deterioration of the destination itself
(Harrill, 2004). These findings are consistent with my findings for Jacó.
The Irridex Model (Doxey, 1975), which is used to define attitudes of residents
resulting from tourism impact on a destination community, suggests that residents
react to tourism in stages. From an initial stage of euphoria they reach a stage of apathy
followed by annoyance, in which the community feels saturated by tourists. In its final
phase, the community becomes a mass tourist destination, resulting in antagonism
between residents and tourists (Harrill, 2004: 256–7). In Jacó, residents’ attitudes are
currently ranging between euphoria and annoyance. Better planning and management
can contribute greatly to preventing an escalation towards the stage of antagonism.
Conclusion: Planning for natural protection and urban development in Jacó
The existence of a nature–infrastructure paradox in the development of Jacó
is evident in this study’s findings. An analysis of the development of Jacó over the past
20years shows that construction was done opportunistically and characterized by
minimal attention to infrastructural support, planning and oversight, resulting in growing
environmental degradation and socio-economic inequality. Observations, surveys and
interviews confirmed this paradox: a number of individuals in multiple private, nonprofit,
public, academic and community sectors verified that a lack of focus on infrastructural
planning and community-based development have led to undesirable conditions in
Jacó. An analysis of the planning institutions and regulations that are currently in place
also indicates that jurisdictional fragmentation, regulatory weaknesses and complexity,
poor coordination, slow action and insucient and incoherent infrastructure planning
and development have fostered the nature–infrastructure paradox that is at the center
of Costa Rica’s tourism development. The eects of this paradox, which are commonly
found in nature-based tourism development projects, are particularly regrettable in
Costa Rica: the country has experienced a commendable ecological trajectory, and sound
environmental ethos and initiatives on the one hand, as well as an anti-urban bias in its
tourism marketing campaigns on the other, which, however, have led to it having a ‘blind
spot’ for the infrastructural needs of the tourism industry.
Jacó’s rapid transformation and the undesirable effects of development show
that, despite Costa Rica being internationally showcased as a model of ecological tourism
development planning, it has not been immune to global capital dynamics and development
tendencies transforming many coastal urban areas throughout the world, signaling both
the timeliness and the transbordering character of these issues (Irazábal, 2014). As
the literature has for long suggested (see Allen et al., 1988), low to moderate tourism
development is perceived as beneficial to communities, but as development increases,
perceptions of tourism may quickly turn negative. Given the findings discussed in this study,
Jacó is approaching this tipping point, and while planning institutions, regulations and
practices in Costa Rica are becoming more coherent and robust, this is not happening at
the same pace as the development. Particularly worrisome is the long-term lack of an urban
regulatory plan and coastal plans for Jacó. Conversely, the creation in 2012 of Municipal
Councils of Institutional Coordination (Consejos Cantonales de Coordinación Institucional,
or CCCI) in Costa Rica may benefit technical and inter-institutional coordination in the
Garabito Municipality (2017) and oer the promise of long-term planning.
Recent studies on tourism development in Costa Rica offer multiple
recommendations ‘to ensure that coastal tourism fulfills the goals of protecting the
environment, benefiting and empowering local communities, and providing visitors a
unique and memorable holiday experience’ (Honey et al., 2010: 90; Stocker, 2013). This
study supports these recommendations and provides evidence of the specific risks, as
well as the negative environmental and socio-spatial implications, of current real estate
and tourism development trends in Jacó, Costa Rica’s largest and fastest-growing coastal
city. Yet, the most distinct contribution of this study is that it sheds light on the nature–
infrastructure paradox that lies at the heart of the discord between the eorts and
resources put into protecting and showcasing Costa Rica’s natural assets and the lack
of attention to, or outright disregard of, proper infrastructure development, which is
needed not only to bring tourists close to nature, but also to ensure its preservation. Jacó
is at this crossroads, and in its future development it could either absorb and contain the
negative impacts of unchecked urban tourism development in the country or foreshow
developmental trends in other urban coastal areas.
Jacó and Costa Rica would be best served by a more balanced approach to
planning and development that seeks to improve environmental health and socio-
spatial equity in tandem, by nurturing and advancing both nature and infrastructure
development. Not only would this approach help Costa Rica redress the current state
of its nature–infrastructure paradox; it could also be a warning to the country of the
potential counter-effect of ameliorating the paradox–that of induced demand:21 if
Costa Rica upgrades its infrastructure, real estate and tourism development could tend
towards new heights in Jacó and other coastal areas.
Planners and policymakers should avoid perceiving nature tourism and
infrastructure development as antagonistic to each other. Based on contributions from
sociology, geography and anthropology (Goodman and Redclift, 1991; Freudenburg et
al., 1995; Demeritt, 1998; Smith, 2007; Redclift and Woodgate, 2013; Hetherington and
Campbell, 2014), I contend that nature and infrastructure should not be understood as
opposite entities. Rather, they are part of a continuum in which natures become hybrid
(Whatmore, 2002). There is no separation between nature and society/infrastructure;
instead, these are social constructs that are mutually imbricated in varying and
fluctuating degrees of hybridity (Whatmore, 2008; 2013). Furthermore, it is not only
physical, external infrastructures (roads, airports, buildings, trails, utility grids) that
mediate our encounters with nature. Our own bodies are also both infrastructures in
themselves and part of infrastructural assemblages. As such, they mediate encounters
with nature––i.e. with hybrid nature–infrastructure assemblages––and are part of
them. As human beings and planners we embody the tensions between natures and
infrastructures and can strive to deconstruct their relations as paradoxical.
Such a holistic approach to nature and built environments requires an
understanding of their interconnected character, as well as the transformation of tourism
marketing, planning and management strategies. The financial crisis that has slowed real
estate and tourism development around the world, the growing awareness of rising sea
levels and other global climate-change eects in coastal areas, the increased global interest
in sustainable development and Costa Rica’s record as a world leader in ecotourism and
sustainable development should be seen as opportunities to better align planning and
development practices with the country’s proclaimed focus on its marca país.
The sobering lesson of this case study is that, if tourism-related urban
development in Costa Rica were to be derailed in the quest for social and environmental
goals despite the country’s strong environmental ethos and proven record of community-
based ecotourism, it could more easily happen in other contexts. Hence this study is
important, considering the expansion of the worldwide tourism and second-home/
21 The notion of induced demand––the phenomenon that once supply increases, more of a good is consumed (from
the economic theory of supply and demand)––has been frequently invoked in debates over the expansion of
transportation systems and particularly used as an argument against widening or building new roads (Leeming,
retirement housing industries, their recent concentration in coastal urban destinations
of developing countries, and the fragility of those countries’ socio-ecological systems.
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Urban Planning and Design, University of Missouri Kansas City, 109 Katz Hall, 5005
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... Although coastal cities are among the most beautiful, important, profitable, and popular, they are also inequitable and dangerous locations to live and work (Papageorgiou, 2016;Jarratt & Davies, 2020;Kim et al., 2021). Due to their diverse and intense usage in different economic fields, coupled with climate change-related consequences, they are increasingly threatened by coastal hazards, suffer ecological degradation, and face several obstacles in planning for and managing beaches (Irazábal, 2018;Hjalager, 2020;Kim et al., 2021). Urban planning for disaster prevention has become a critical concern for the socioeconomic development of coastal cities (Birkic et al., 2014;Papageorgiou, 2016). ...
... 97). Therefore, the worldwide interest in incorporating the notion of sustainability into coastal planning grew throughout this time period (Irazábal, 2018;Hjalager, 2020). Norman has relied on the concept of integrated coastal zone management when determining the concept of sustainable coastal planning. ...
... The importance of tourism planning for coastal regions appears in its ability to meet the needs of tourism development on beaches while preserving the environment (Hjalager, 2020;Singh et al., 2021). This is achieved through development plans and decisions that are generated from planning and implementing policies that seek to enhance the coastal environment, taking into consideration the enormous challenges that the world has recently experienced due to climate change, such as coastal erosion and flooding (Irazábal, 2018;Kim et al., 2021). ...
... The extraction of flora and fauna, logging, or construction of any kind of infrastructure is forbidden, unless a concession is provided by the ICT (Asamblea Legislativa, 1977). Over the past 30 years, urban sprawling and infrastructure development started to increase due to the lack of government control, hampering the enforcement of the ZMT Law (Honey, Vargas, and Durham, 2010;Irazábal, 2018) (Figure 3.11). Therefore, depletion of marine resources, the degradation of coastal and marine habitats, pollution of aquifers, unappropriated solid waste management, and other problems started to unveil the consequences of mass tourism (Moreno Díaz, 2015;Irazábal, 2018;Samper-Villarreal, Mora-Rodríguez, and Morales-Ramírez, 2020). ...
... Over the past 30 years, urban sprawling and infrastructure development started to increase due to the lack of government control, hampering the enforcement of the ZMT Law (Honey, Vargas, and Durham, 2010;Irazábal, 2018) (Figure 3.11). Therefore, depletion of marine resources, the degradation of coastal and marine habitats, pollution of aquifers, unappropriated solid waste management, and other problems started to unveil the consequences of mass tourism (Moreno Díaz, 2015;Irazábal, 2018;Samper-Villarreal, Mora-Rodríguez, and Morales-Ramírez, 2020). For instance, the beaches along the Pacific coast have been polluted directly by hotels, second residences, and businesses that illegally discharge wastewater directly to the rivers and streams that flow to the ocean. ...
... Unfortunately, coastal populations are fighting for space, with social unrest occurring where the business sector controls the access to land (Picón, Hernández, and Bravo, 2014;Moreno Díaz, 2015), forcing the locals to sell their properties and move away from the ocean, or limiting their access to the beaches (Honey, Vargas and Durham, 2010). Additionally, coastal mass tourism creates jobs, though, mainly in construction, informal jobs, and giving back low economic returns to the local community, which does not help poverty alleviation (Barrantes Reynolds, 2013;Irazábal, 2018). However, communities such as Osa and Punta Islita are genuinely benefitting from ecotourism and committed to enhancing their communities' sustainable development. ...
... Literature [5] pointed out that there are many factors that influence tourism demand, and they are a series of factors and not a single factor. Literature [6] pointed out that different countries and regions have differences in prices or income, and their impact on international tourism demand is also different. Literature [7] believes that the economic development of a region or a city is too dependent on the international economic market, which may have a reactionary force on the economic development of the city and affect the development of urban tourism. ...
... e aggressive cross efficiency of the decision-making unit p based on d is shown in model (5), and the efficiency value is E dp . e benevolent cross efficiency of decision-making unit p based on d is shown in model (6), and the efficiency value is E dp . ...
... Among them, α ′ � 1/n n j�1 α j ′ . Models (4) to (6) give the general DEA cross-efficiency calculation method, and model (5) treats all decisionmaking units as hostile situations. However, model (6) regards all decision-making units as Allies. ...
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In order to explore the statistical measurement and influencing factors of green total factor productivity in tourism, this paper proposes the use of gray absolute correlation to measure the similarity between input variable sequences. Moreover, this paper obtains the key parameters of the combination of radial and nonradial in the model based on the proximity index of gray correlation and calculates the economic efficiency of the decision-making unit according to the steps. In addition, this paper combines the DEA-EBM model to carry out the statistical measurement of China’s tourism industry green total factor productivity and the analysis of influencing factors and verify it through data. Through research, it can be seen that the DEA-EBM model proposed in this paper can play an important role in the statistical measurement and analysis of influencing factors of green total factor production in the tourism industry.
... For example, management experts believe that [1] tourist attractions should consciously strengthen the awareness of marketing services, expand the tourist attraction of scenic spots, and enhance the awareness of tourism services, so that more tourists can experience beautiful natural scenery and high-quality tourism services. e tourism environment researchers believe that [2,3] the carrying capacity of the scenic environment and the impact of foreign tourism culture on local traditional cultural values, customs, ideology, and natural resources should be considered while developing tourism. At the same time, while attracting foreign tourists, we should pay attention to the protection of the cultural traditions of the local residents in the scenic area, avoid the impact of foreign culture on the local culture, and pay more attention to the protection of the ecological environment and natural resources. ...
... At the same time, while attracting foreign tourists, we should pay attention to the protection of the cultural traditions of the local residents in the scenic area, avoid the impact of foreign culture on the local culture, and pay more attention to the protection of the ecological environment and natural resources. erefore, the cross-study of different disciplines will find some new theories and new viewpoints, and the fusion of many theories and viewpoints can create a new knowledge system. is avoids single theoretical research from falling into a loop and falling into a one-sided research paradigm and enriches and improves the knowledge system of tourismrelated disciplines [3]. ...
Full-text available
By making adaptive adjustments to the tourism activities and tourism structure carried out in the tourist area, the natural resources of the scenic area can be protected while pursuing economies of scale. Moreover, it achieves a benign interaction between scenic spot development, planning, carrying capacity, and benefits, so that the scenic spot can develop sustainably under the condition of grasping the carrying capacity and restrictive conditions. This paper combines the set pair analysis method to evaluate the ecological tourism carrying capacity of scenic spots, so as to improve the quantitative effect of ecological tourism carrying capacity of scenic spots. In addition, this paper introduces the fuzzy analytic hierarchy process to determine the weight of the evaluation indicators and combines the set pair analysis method to establish a comprehensive evaluation model. The research results show that the evaluation method of ecotourism carrying capacity of popular scenic spots based on set pair analysis proposed in this paper has a good effect.
... The biogeophysical ecosystem has been impacted by the loss of polar ice, increasing sea water quality, desert extension, intensified rain and floods, climate change, disappearance of flora and fauna, and migration of fauna and pests (Ai et al., 2008;Williams, 2014;Brochier & Ramieri, 2001). Impact on the community's socioeconomic activities: destruction of the coast and coastal towns, disruption of path, port, and airport infrastructure functions (Chang, 2016;Deshmukh, 2010;Petterson et al., 2006;Irazábal, 2018;Zsamboky et al., 2011). Disruption of human settlements and agricultural production Risk of cancer and disease outbreaks was increased ...
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Environmental concerns concern the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' most pressing issues. This is because the threats found inside them are very deep and pervasive within the eco system itself. Humanity is actually seated on a ticking time bomb due to the environmental consequences of weapons and/or contamination, as well as threats such as flooding, wildfires, land degradation, wildfires, volcanoes, earthquakes, and radio-chemical hazards. Environmental issues have become a global issue for a variety of reasons; certain environmental problems are global in scope; concern for the environment becomes a global issue because an environmental problem has a global impact; environmental issues include the exploitation of global resources such as the oceans and atmosphere; environmental damage in one country can have an effect on the environment of other countries.
... e original meaning of "resources" refers to the natural mineral resources buried underground for development and utilization and later extended to all natural and social things with economic value and available for use. From the etymology and literal understanding, tourism resources obviously refer to all the elements with economic value and tourism development, which are economic concepts and have instrumental rationality and value judgment [4]; tourism attractions are the name of "things," which are simple and clear. It points to "things," emphasizing the objective properties and attractive properties of things without a clear value orientation. ...
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In order to improve the development effect of tourism resources with rural characteristics, this paper combines the digital communication signal modulation technology to process the related data of tourism resources. Moreover, before the quadrature demodulation of the tourism information signal is carried out in this paper, the symbol rate is estimated, and the signal-to-noise ratio and the symbol rate of the digital communication signal are estimated to improve the development effect of tourism resources. The estimation of the signal symbol rate is obtained by statistical analysis of the instantaneous characteristics of the signal in the time domain, and it can also be obtained by measuring the length of the adjacent transition points of the instantaneous amplitude. In addition, this paper constructs a rural characteristic tourism resource development and management system based on communication signal modulation technology. Finally, through test research, this paper verifies that the rural characteristic tourism resource development platform proposed in this paper has a good effect on the development and management of rural characteristic tourism resources.
... Only through government green supervision, industrial green restructuring, and enterprise green management can cities achieve economic, environmental, and resource levels, which is a situation of social coordination and unity. Literature [6] also pointed out that the key to successful green transformation is the behavior of transformation subjects such as government planning guidance, industry response, and independent actions of enterprises. From the perspective of the main body of the urban green transformation, the government, industry, and enterprises, as the most critical participants, should complement each other in the transformation process and give play to policy synergy. ...
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In order to implement the green transformation strategy that follows the sustainable development concept as the guiding ideology, this paper combines the Internet of Things technology to construct green energy economic efficiency and enterprise environmental cost control system. Moreover, according to the current situation of economic, social, and environmental development, this paper establishes a scientific, complete, and systematic comprehensive evaluation index system. When choosing system assessment indicators, make sure they represent the coupling connection between the three. Furthermore, this article employs Internet of Things technologies to gather and monitor data on company energy usage and emissions, as well as to construct an intelligent model. According to the results of the simulation experiment, it can be seen that the green energy economic efficiency and enterprise environmental cost control system based on the Internet of Things proposed in this paper has good green economic efficiency.
... Generally, there is more than one ticket gate in a scenic spot; that is, if there are multiple ticket gates, multiple sensors are required, so the sensing technology applied by the sensing device is the same [11]. We set the wireless sensor network to have N nodes distributed in a square detection area of length M. e nodes of each sensing device transmit the detected tickets to the identified router node X through multiple nodes. ...
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The rapid economic development and the improvement of people’s living standards have prompted the rapid development of tourism. And in the era of big data, it is inevitable for economic and technological development to apply IoT technology to various industries. The application of Internet of Things technology in the tourism industry conforms to the development of the times, promotes the upgrading of the industry, and also promotes the emergence and development of smart tourism. At present, the development of smart tourism provides convenient and timely services for people’s travel and also improves the management level and reception capacity of tourist destinations. Therefore, this paper conducts an in-depth discussion on the urban smart tourism based on the Internet of Things technology and summarizes the development status of urban tourism. And based on the current development situation to predict the future development trend of urban smart tourism and the future development plan of smart tourism, this paper discusses the current problems of smart tourism in order to promote the healthy and sustainable development of urban smart tourism. The research in this paper has great reference significance and practical guiding significance for the healthy and stable development of smart tourism in the future.
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Tourist visitation in protected areas has experienced steady growth in recent decades. For countries that rely heavily on nature-based tourism, having high visitation statistics is synonymous with success, which is why the negative impacts generated by tourism are often minimized. The main objective of this study was to assess from different approaches the implications of tourism overcrowding in the conservation model of Costa Rica and particularly in Manuel Antonio National Park. Multiple research methods and techniques were applied from the mixed approach (surveys, Delphi, case study, literature review, spatial analysis, among others) that allowed to collect and analyze the information to answer the research questions. The results are organized in eight chapters: 1) Introduction, 2) Theoretical and methodological foundations, 3) Implications of nature-based tourism in Costa Rica from the perspective of Recreational Ecology, 4) Spatio-temporal patterns of tourist frequentation in the system of protected areas of Costa Rica, 5) Indicators of tourist overcrowding in protected areas and areas of influence, 6) Manuel Antonio National Park as a case study of tourism overcrowding, 7) Tourist behavior and dynamics of domestic tourism in times of COVID-19 and 8) Conclusions.
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Tourism industry is heavily dependent on environment. Moreover the vitality of sustainable tourism development in an environmentally friendly manner along with avoidance of ecological damages has been highly emphasized by environmentalists, which indicate the significance of this phenomenon and its vulnerability as well. This study by means of descriptive qualitative approach employs content analysis as its method and sets ecological modernization theory as well as sustainability as its theoretical framework and reviews tourism literature and highlights bilateral impacts of the tourism and the environment on each other. The realization of these themes not only beckons the tourism stakeholders to be more cautious about the upcoming effects of their activities, but also increases social awareness about these impacts along with the importance of the environment.
Ecotourism is a term debated upon by practitioners all over the world. The initiatives carried out in the name of ecotourism have adversely affected people and the environment. The indigenous and local communities have raised voices against such steps at local, national and international levels. However, sustainable ecotourism – tourism carried out within certain defined norms, can lead to the development of the people. Ecotourism Development in India attempts to present a comprehensive and analytical perspective on the development of ecotourism in India. This book showcases the key policies and legal frameworks linked to ecotourism development at national and international levels. The consequences of large-scale models of ecotourism in terms of responses and impacts, both negative and positive, are presented through select case studies. It is intended to facilitate effective formulation and implementation of conservation and development policies and practices.
Environmental degradation in Latin America has become one of the most pressing issues on the international agenda. The volume began to crescendo when space shuttle astronauts photographed five thousand fires on a single night in the Brazilian Amazon state of Rondonia in 1985, and grew shrill when rubbertapper Chico Mendes was shot in 1988 trying to stop ranchers from clearing rainforests near his home in Acre. Since the early 80s, we've heard pleas from rock star, environmental groups, and scientists, asking us to focus our attention on environmental destruction in Latin America-oil spills, lax NAFTA driven ecological standards, endangered indigenous cultures, and the destruction of the rainforests. This volume presents an overview of the pressing nature of these issues and the scope of the problems and seeks to focus our attention on environmental destruction in Latin America by examining several types of environmental crises in Latin American countries. With discussions of the World Bank, urban pollution, NAFTA, toxic pollution in maquiladoras, headline grabbing environmental disasters, drug trafficking, and the 1992 Rio Earth Conference, this book will be a must read for anyone interested in the future of Latin America or world ecology.