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La Plancha neighbors were way ahead of everybody else in creating a park

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In just three years, neighbors transformed a bleak landscape into a green space. The inset photo shows saplings facing their first dry season. Photos: David Stansbury, Gran Parque La Plancha

Jack Robinson, a member of Gran Parque La Plancha A.C., a civic association lobbying for a new park in the centro, writes about a grass-roots effort to turn concept to reality.

Back in late 2012, I got together with a group of neighbors who live north of the old train station along Calle 46. We were strangers then, but it was enough that we liked watching things grow, and they had already planted a few trees in the hardscrabble soil flanking La Plancha. The land was filled with trash and just begging for a solution. We settled on planting more trees.

Over several months, in man-sessions over cold beer, we spun out our ideas until they gelled. It had to be simple. Maybe a hundred trees: fruits like ciricote and mamey for the kids; some finer woods like cedro and mahogany; citrus for our kitchens; balché for the beautiful lilac blooms.

We would source trees from CICY’s nursery or from the plastic buckets in our yards sprouting trees; plant at the onset of the 2013 rainy season; nurse the saplings through their first dry seasons with buckets of water. We’d stay clear of the street and sidewalk to avoid buckling the concrete, and keep the straying branches pruned.

When we were ready, we took our plan to the municipality. To their credit, the officials encouraged us, issued a permit and promised a crew to drill planting holes.

From June to September 2013 we dug our trees in as neighbors watched from across the street or kept us company while we worked and told stories. We fetched manure and leaf mulch to supplement the meager soil, protecting the trunks from the city’s weed trimmers with plastic pipe.  We yelled when bags of trash flew out of passing cars, and cursed when our young trees were stolen. We sweated through our pants and shirts and belts. We felt great.

Today, the area’s still littered with trash, but the trees aren’t bothered.  Some are over seven meters tall.

We’re hopeful our little project will become a 64-acre public park we call Gran Parque La Plancha.  The state government recently announced the first phase will begin in early 2018, but we’re cautious and don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. There’s still a lot of work to do before the park becomes a reality.

But we can imagine La Plancha in 10 or 15 years when the old rail yard is filled with new green trees, and kids and birds we haven’t seen here in decades.

By then, some of us will be gone or too old to plant trees in the heat.

It will be beautiful.

—Jack Robinson

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