Plan Making from Below--Puerto Rico: Maritza Hernandez
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Maritza Hernandez – Urbe Apie
“From abandoned buildings to community activism in Caguas, Puerto Rico” —Insurgent plan making
In 2015 a group of residents in downtown Caguas, Puerto Rico formed a community organization to deal with the problem of abandoned buildings and transform them into active spaces for the community. They called the organization Urbe Apie (city on foot) and defined it as an invitation to walk, and live, the city. The group was diverse – men, women, LGBTQ+, afrodescendants, different ages, all residents of the community. The group painted murals, organized street fairs, with the vision of not only creating community spaces for everyone, but also creating economic development and jobs.
In 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit, and all systems failed Urbe Apie started a collaboration with Comedores Sociales to give warm meals to the community. Comedores Sociales runs a mutual aid feeding program at the University of Puerto Rico, and the same concepts were applied in Caguas, thus the Centro de Apoyo Mutuo de Caguas was born.
Urbe Apie’s programs have been expanding as the needs of the community and our awareness changes. We have an art gallery, a performing arts cabaret style theater, a second hand store, a risk reduction program, a community garden, an occupied building for permanent and transitory residency that also houses a museum, and a newspaper. We rent, and occupy. We are moving towards a cuadra social (social block) and distrito social (social district) with democratic community participation, creating a city within the city.