Livability Solutions

Improving Public Engagement in San Juan, PR

July 2015


Foundation for Puerto Rico, Inc.



The Santurce neighborhood of San Juan is home to more than 80 thousand people. It is home to some of the city's wealthiest households and some of its poorest; nearly half of households exist below the poverty line. Imagine Santurce is an MIT-led Placemaking effort begun in 2013 with the intent of promoting the neighborhood's culture, prompting economic development and improving livability. Local stakeholders were already significantly involved in Imagine Santurce, but the Foundation for Puerto Rico, a key partner in Imagine Santurce, wanted more direction from them on what they wanted their community to look like. The Community Image Survey (CIS) offered such an opportunity to identify areas of conflict and agreement.

The Foundation, in collaboration with Project for Public Spaces and Livability Solutions' designated technical assistance provider (Local Government Commission), designed a program of technical assistance that would address the following objectives:

  1. Developing a CIS that allows residents to express their preferences for the following community elements: building form and use; street and sidewalk design; and public spaces design and uses.
  2. Identifying issues and a shared vision for improvements in the neighborhoods of Calle Loiza/Machuchal, Barrio Gandul/Tres Talleres, and Campo Alegre along the Ponce de Leon Avenue.
  3. Identifying low-cost improvements and potential demonstration projects for Ponce de Leon Avenue and the three neighborhoods.
  4. Training Foundation staff and other Imagine Santurce leaders to conduct the CIS in other neighborhoods.


Prior to the visit, LGC held numerous calls with the Foundation to discuss CIS content, Foundation priorities, and logistics for the week on-site. Throughout the week on-site, LHG worked with Foundation staff to construct and deliver the CIS; this collaborative approach addressed the Foundation's capacity-building objective.

LGC spent the first two days on-site touring with the Foundation to collect images for use in the CIS. The experience allowed LGC staff to better understand local issues, assets and culture. During this information collection phase of the visit LGC met with City staff and local activists who were collaborating with the Foundation on Imagine Santurce. As a result of these meeting LGC made changes to the CIS to improve its user-friendliness: a graphic scoring system (thumbs-up or thumbs-down) replaced the numerical scoring system. The draft CIS was ready by the end of the third day. The CIS was finalized on the following day after additional focus group feedback.

The Santurce Community Image Survey was administered on the final day on-site at a workshop organized by the Foundation. The approximately 30 people present included planners, architects, business representatives and community activists. The CIS consisted of 20 slides, each containing two contrasting images. Participants were asked to score the images and be prepared to discuss what they liked or didn't like and whether (or not) the image contained elements appropriate for Santurce.


The Foundation, in partnership with the City of San Juan and the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, received a National Endowment for the Arts (Our Town) grant for planning the Santurce Cultural District. The Foundation plans to use CIS to inform the Cultural District plan.

The Foundation, in 2016, plans to use CIS in at least three Imagine Santurce sessions, one in each of the identified Placemaking communities. They are also looking at ways to use the CIS on other infill development sites in Santurce.