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Bahia de Caraquez - Ecuadorian Bioregionalism
Alex Steffen, 6 Feb 04

The Ecuadorian resort town of Bahia de Caraquez had a bad year in '98. Unusually strong El Nino rains drenched the city for almost half a year straight, and then a severe earthquake hit, triggering massive mudslides and destroying buildings. The results were a number of deaths, 20% of the population reduced to homelessness... and a very serious commitment to rebuilding sustainably.

Over five years later, that work, undertaken in conjunction with San Francisco-based Planet Drum, is bearing fruit, with native plantings reforesting the hillsides, organic gradens feeding people, recycling centers up and running and a serious effort being made to grow a bioregional sense of place:

"Fundamental to our involvement in Bahia has been the vision of bioregionally inspired city living practices. We have aimed at establishing a working model of this unique perspective using the vast natural opportunities found here. The Rio Chone watershed, winterwet-summerdry climate, the offshore blend of Humboldt and Nino ocean currents, predominantly clay soil, dry neotropical forest plants and animals, and a 5,000 years running indigenous domestic culture based on farming, fishing, and trading are all strongly visible and sometimes remarkably intact. City dwelling is powered by fossil fuels and electricity, informed by newspapers, radio and television, reliant on retailing and tourist industries in addition to commercial-scaled agriculture, utilizes the option of plumbing and piped water, and employs a predominantly indoors style. But Nature is still clearly dominant in the city. A distant electrical power plant fails on a monthly basis restoring country-style darkness to streets and houses. Water supplies evaporate in the dry season rendering faucets in household and businesses useless and their owners as dependent as farmers on cisterns and transported water barrels. Common fruits such as bananas, papaya, and limes have been nativized and can be seen growing in yards and on hillsides everywhere. Yucca is a native starchy vegetable used daily for everything from bread flour to a soup ingredient. Locally caught river and ocean fish, shrimp and shellfish are consumed amazingly fresh on a daily basis. A significant number of houses are still elevated on poles, sided with bamboo pounded flat into boards, and roofed with palm thatch. Direct dependency on native natural systems for sustenance is a continuous reality. Planet Drum’s erosion control effort in a barrio which evolved into a valuable public "wild park", the large organic waste recycling project in another barrio that keeps polluting waste out of a landfill while providing soil to grow food and native plant seedlings, and the new massive revegetation effort to resist watershed erosion while creating a "wild corridor" of harvestable plant products are directly based on restoring and maintaining natural systems while delivering human benefits..."

It's small town, and a small project, and there's nothing all that new or particularly innovative in the technologies or techniques deployed, but in some ways, those attributes could be thought of as strengths as well, in the sense that any city could undertake what Bahia de Caraquez has undertaken. It's proof that things can be done better by folks with very little to work with. I'd like to visit in a couple years and see how those hillside greenspaces are doing.

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