How do we imagine a better Puerto Rico that stems from the communities?
That’s what Carlo André Oliveras Rodríguez is asking.
“The work of imagination is the most powerful tool that we have; it enables us to envision a different, better environment.”
Carlo is the Executive Director of La Maraña, a woman-led, participatory design and planning nonprofit focused on including Puerto Rican voices to create (and recreate) the island’s cities and communities.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, the violent winds, heavy rains, and flooding took lives and devastated neighborhoods. Maria is considered the third costliest US hurricane on record, causing an estimated $101.7 billion in damages. The devastating storm also exposed massive cracks in the island’s systems.
More than four years later, Puerto Ricans are still recovering.
Billions of dollars in federal aid have been delayed, so many are left waiting to rebuild roads, bridges, and homes Maria wrecked.
This centralized power and lack of access to funds not only denies Puerto Ricans the services and relief they need—it denies them a role in their recovery. They’re locked out of the process of creating their own future.
To Carlo, it feels like Puerto Ricans don’t have a seat at the decision-making table.
It’s a lasting challenge of colonization: ideas and power come from somewhere else, someone else.
“No one comes to you and asks, what do you wish to see in your community? What do you need? What do you want?” Carlo said.
But he and La Maraña are.
They’re creating new systems that give everyone the chance to be involved.
To be heard.
They’re imagining and building a better future for Puerto Rico—sometimes in communities that went without clean water and electricity for a year and sometimes from the debris of Hurricane Maria itself.
In one community, La Maraña used scraps the storm left behind and enlisted the help of children there to design a new structure. And in a school serving as a storage unit instead of an environment to serve students, La Maraña fought alongside the community to clear the debris and re-open it.
La Maraña’s projects are participatory and also utterly practical. After they kickstart imaginations, they give community members the tools to translate their ideas into designs that drive new, more sustainable development.
La Maraña doesn’t see Puerto Rico and its recovery as a single challenge or a task to be ticked off of the island’s to-do list. It’s a chance to solve the systemic problems they see daily. It’s a way to tackle the island’s economic crisis, the climate crisis, and prepare for the next storm that’s sure to come. It’s their opportunity to patch the cracks and create a new future—with solutions from their own backyards.
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