In Lima, Peru more than a third of the city’s 9 million occupants live in slums. Within as little as a decade, the city’s glacial water supplies will disappear and, receiving less than 10mm of rain a year, Lima will face a water crisis. Changing temperatures and precipitation in Peru’s agricultural regions will decrease agricultural productivity, increase urban food insecurity, undermine rural livelihoods and contribute to increasing urbanization. By 2050 Lima’s population is expected to increase to 16 million. Rapid informal urban growth will exacerbate water and food shortages and infringe upon the region’s few remaining ecologically resilient landscapes. The hardships that Lima’s slum dwellers face will become increasingly acute.
The Escuela Ecologica Saludable Initiative (EESI) responds to these challenges. Founded in 2010 and sited at the Pitagoras School in Lomas de Zapallal (LdZ), an urban slum in northern Lima, the initiative integrates design activism, interdisciplinary research and education. It involves the design and implementation of ecologically intelligent interventions in community infrastructure, related capacity building programs and the monitoring and evaluation of their environmental, economic and human health impacts.
Leveraging a year of community-based research, professors in landscape architecture and forest sciences travelled to LdZ in August of 2011 with 8 university students studying landscape architecture, engineering, environmental science and public health. Working in close collaboration with parents, teachers, and children during four participatory workshops, they developed a design for a 600m2 park at the Pitagoras primary school; the Parque Primaria Pitagoras.
The park’s design provides access between the school’s central gathering area and the primary school, green space in an otherwise barren desert landscape, a shaded seating area for outdoor classes, relaxation and play and an ecological learning landscape with over 200 native, drought tolerant, economically productive and/or ornamental trees and shrubs. It incorporates a durable, low cost building system, ‘piedra de laja’, which draws upon the skills of local craftspeople, utilizes locally-mined stone and is easy to maintain. It also incorporates two water-saving irrigation systems that address Lima’s looming water crisis; a drip irrigation system and greywater recycling system that redirects water from a hand-washing station through a sand filter and into a series of porous ceramic vessels that slowly release it into the park.
Design implementation relied heavily upon community investment and served as a platform for community mobilization. Well over 300 parents participated. They worked alongside university students to grade the site, lay pathways, plant trees and install irrigation systems. Worm composting, vegetable gardening and tree planting workshops were held during construction to promote urban agriculture and forestation throughout the community. Following the departure of the university students, community participants finished the park on their own. They constructed temporary fences to protect the park’s trees and, using left over stone, marked the future location of paths that were beyond the project budget. All told, the park was constructed in just over 2 weeks for under $5000. After several months of use, its vegetation is thriving and Pitagoras School children and teachers are enjoying its multiple benefits.