Green islands in Isla Verde (III)
We leave the Departamento de la Comida and walk east. After three blocks down Loíza street and crossing Inga street, we arrive at the Punta Las Marías Skate Park, a one of a kind project that combines ecology, graffiti skateboarding, and the rescue of public lands (1).
The Skate Park is an abandoned construction site turned into an urban coastal tropical forest. Among the trees, some of which are sixty feet tall, there is a cement floor that belonged to a structure that was never built, which youths now use for skateboarding. Unfinished walls are now decorated by talented graffiti artists.
The aborted project, Princesa del Mar, was going to have two towers of twelve stories each, and 182 apartments that would sell for between $349,000 and $600,000. The project was blatantly illegal, located on the coastal zone, which under the law is public land where construction is prohibited, and what’s worse, built on top of a public road, the Dos Pinos street, which was bulldozed and erased from existence.
Agroecology activist Susan Fairbank, who lives in a condominium next door, on Inga street, tells that when the construction crew hammered the support columns into the ground the noise was so loud that it broke glass windows in her apartment and in other nearby structures and houses. The community of Punta Las Marías, together with the Playas Pal’ Pueblo coalition, declared war on the project and spared no effort to stop it. Finally in 2005 the Puerto Rico Supreme Court ruled in favor of the opponents and the construction ceased the following year.
In one corner of the forest, where the Loíza and Villa Internacional streets meet, we find- at last!- affordable lunch, a food truck selling Mexican tacos for $2.75. While we eat we listen to the sounds around us: some Dominicans listening to a newscast from their country, where general elections take place today, and some youths conversing excitedly about the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders, who will visit Puerto Rico tomorrow.
In the corner there is a small kiosk that sells coconuts and scallops, and right behind it there is a hen watching over her chicks. The social dynamic here is much healthier than in much of the rest of Punta Las Marías and Isla Verde. The Skate Park doesn’t attract the rich only; there are people from all social classes here. We see children from the Llorens Torres public housing project riding their bicycles, kids on skateboards, other youths graffiti-ing, and volunteers weeding with machetes, making room for garden plots and trails.
Today they plant almácigo (Bursera simaruba), coconut palm, alelí (Melia azedarach), beach grapes, lilies and mangrove (Conocarpus erectus). Some of the volunteers are cyclists from the Playas Pal Pueblo protest camp, located approximately a couple of miles to the east, where the line of skyscrapers that block the view to the sea ends and the Isla Verde public beach begins. The camp was established in March 2005 to impede the illegal expansion of tourist developments that were invading the public beach (3).
Tomorrow these cyclists will be heading to the south coast municipality of Guayama, where they will start a bicycle caravan for agroecology and against GMO’s. They will visit the municipalities and communities that host the agricultural biotech operations of Monsanto, Dow Agrosciences, Syngenta and other seed and agrochemical corporations present in the area. They will finish their voyage on Friday the 20th in the city of Ponce, where they will sleep over in the Samán community forest, a strip of vacant land rescued by the local community from the Walgreens corporation, which intended to build one of its superstores there. (4)
My friend Georges Félix invites us to see the beachside community garden that he started in his home, the Beach Tower condominium, approximately halfway between Punta Las Marías and the Isla Verde public beach. Félix, who is currently president of the Puerto Rican chapter of the Latin American Scientific Society of Agroecology (SOCLA), is enrolled in a doctoral studies program in farming systems ecology at the Netherlands’ Wageningen University and is doing his fieldwork in Burkina Faso (5). Dividing his time between Puerto Rico, Europe and Africa, he devotes all his energy and time to the promotion of an agroecological world view.
In a gray and sandy piece of land, a totally uninviting location for farming, under the condo’s shadow during the afternoon hours, Georges and his neighbors planted a viable edible garden. They fertilized it with kitchen waste, weed clippings, tree trimmings, branches, straw, paper and cardboard. The garden produces lemongrass, oregano, rosemary, aloe, poleo, plantain, banana, papaya, passion fruit, gandules, and much more.
We bid farewell to Georges and return home. What we have seen this afternoon is only a small sample of San Juan and Carolina’s urban coastline, barely a brief glimpse at the complicated political ecology of this place, a political ecology marked by privatization, gentrification, contradictions, struggle and resistance.
May 15 2016
- Carmelo Ruiz is a Puerto Rican author, journalist and environmental educator. He is a research associate of the Institute for Social Ecology, a senior fellow of the Environmental Leadership Program, and director of the Latin America Energy and Environment Monitor (http://monitorenergiayambiente.blogspot.com/search/label/English). His bilingual journalistic blog, started in 2004, is updated daily (http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/search/label/eng). In 2015 he started a side project called The World According to Carmelo (http://carmeloruiz.tumblr.com/tagged/eng ). His Twitter account is @carmeloruiz.
1) On Facebook: Punta Las Marias Skatepark
2) “Vecinos abren su ventana al mar” El Nuevo Día, September 18 2013 http://www.elnuevodia.com/noticias/locales/nota/vecinosabrensuventanaalmar-1598162/
3) On Facebook: Playas Pa'l Pueblo, Isla Verde
4) On Facebook: El Saman Bosque Urbano
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