Building resilience in Vieques, Puerto Rico | 8/28/2019 | Staff
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Two years ago today, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico with winds as fast as 155 miles per hour. Heavy rains caused flooding and landslides. The storm destroyed homes and entire neighborhoods, knocked out electricity, and left people with limited food and water supplies for months. It is estimated that Hurricane Maria caused nearly 3,000 deaths. Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover to this day.

Given the extent of devastation, Richard Plunz from Columbia University's Urban Design Lab (UDL) was asked to start a project lending his expertise toward helping the small Puerto Rican island of Vieques with the recovery process. Enlisting the help of Vilma Gallagher from the Earth Institute, the UDL brought graduate students to visit the impacted communities, learn from local residents and community leaders, and present to them ideas for solutions.

Project - Proposals - Report - Reflect - Knowledge

The resulting 14 project proposals, soon to be published in a report, reflect and build upon the knowledge of the Vieques community. What started out as a focus on housing and planning grew to encompass community-building, water access, health, transportation and more. To name a few examples, the proposals encompass rebuilding medical facilities; creating bicycle routes throughout the island; opening community gardens to grow food locally; strengthening local education and job skills; and repurposing waste into building materials. The group hopes to eventually make one or some of these proposals into reality.

The island of Vieques is home to 9,000 people and has a footprint of just 52 square miles. Yet it suffered many of the same setbacks of the main island after Hurricane Maria. To the Urban Design Lab, Vieques could be the perfect testbed for resilient infrastructure that changes the way people think about disaster response and recovery. Eventually, the tiny island could serve as a role model for the rest of Puerto Rico and other...
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