“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.” ~ Anne Lamott
Based on my interactions with stakeholders and community members thus far, a common theme has begun to materialize: many residents of Puerto Rico place a large portion of the blame on a lack of coordination among the municipalities. These residents tend to argue for more centralization and a consolidation of the municipalities.
Our meeting with Dr. Carmen Concepcion, from the Department of Planning at the University of Puerto Rico, offered an alternative argument. Dr. Concepcion suggested that the entire response to Hurricane Maria was in fact too centralized. In the aftermath of the disaster event, the federal government, the military, and FEMA took control of the response process, while the mayors of the municipalities were left out entirely. Dr. Concepcion emphasized the enormous value of storytelling and sharing experiences. She relayed an example of a Mayor going above and beyond to care for his community when there appeared to be no assistance available for his constituents. Examples such as this, that highlight the success stories of communities that take autonomous action to guide their own response and recovery, are critical to building regional resilience. There is a great need for new technologies that can facilitate the ability to share these success stories.
I was most inspired by Dr. Concepcion’s immense optimism for the people of Puerto Rico. She at one point even expressed her gratitude to Maria for the opportunities that the disaster has presented. If there is one driver that will move Puerto Rico towards recovery, it will be hope.
One last lesson that made an impression on me was the reminder of the deep attachment that people have to their communities. When considering the options available for coastal development with high exposure to hazard, I often have a knee jerk instinct to choose retreat. Dr. Conception explained the tight social networks that exist at the community level in Puerto Rico. For many communities, friends and neighbors become a tight-knit family. She reminded me of the sensitivity required for neighborhood relocation and the importance for the community to be involved to guide their own retreat.