The rain gardens were developed in the Playa community of Ponce, Puerto Rico, in 2018. We collaborated with local community groups, public schools and universities from Ponce in the rain garden development process. The gardens were designed by the students of the School of Architecture of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Puerto Rico in Ponce (PUCPR). Two different rain gardens were developed in and around the seaside and Enrique González city park of the Playa. A local private contractor prepared the soil for the gardens. Once the contractor finished the prep work at the garden sites, we convoked the Playa community to help install the rain gardens.
Students from the Environmental Science Program of the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, as well as students from the Playa de Ponce that go to local intermediate schools such as Sor Isolina Ferré and Pedro Albizu Campos, and the local Lions Club Chapter joined us in the transplanting activities. Un Nuevo Amanecer (a local community organization of the Playa) and students from the Fernando L. Malavé Fernandez Elementary School in Ponce took over the park and rain garden maintenance. The school students do their community service hours required by the Dept. of Education of PR in the park, plus they get to run and play outside for a while.
In addition to the rain gardens, Professor Tamara Orozco-Rebozo from the School of Architecture at PUCPR implemented an urban design project in which her students and local artists implemented several site-specific interventions in the park and adjacent areas. For example local artists painted murals on the warehouse walls that surround one of the gardens and students decorated the park’s gazebo with stencil paintings. In addition, the students installed park benches created from gabions, granite rock, and wood. The colorful vegetation and the paintings on the walls have revived the area; while the rain gardens have served as a space for community organization and collective enjoyment.
This project is part of a series of community-based environmental projects in the Playa de Ponce since 2015. ISER Caribe has collaborated in several environmental initiatives in the Playa, including coastal cleanups, cultural activities, and a community water quality monitoring program. The rain garden project, is part of our continuous commitment to help improve the water quality of the Playa and its ecosystem through community-based actions. Physically, the rain gardens are a type of green infrastructure that serves as a beautiful sediment trap that avoids excess nutrients and contaminants from reaching bodies of water and affect their flora and fauna. At a social level, the rain gardens have encouraged conversations around climate change, capacity building, and resilience within the community. We think that local environmental welfare begins to improve when neighbors start talking about community issues and work together to bring solutions to problems that affect them collectively.