Posts tagged with "Puerto Rico":

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How an architect is using solar power to prevent Puerto Rico’s next disaster

Like millions of other Americans, Jonathan Marvel, founding principal at Marvel Architects, remembers watching media coverage stream in from Puerto Rico in September 2017 after Hurricane Maria struck the island. The devastation was extraordinary. As later studies would reveal, an estimated 2,975 people died as a result of the storm and 3.4 million people lost power. It was one of the worst natural disasters to ever strike the U.S.  Now, one year after Maria, Marvel and his partners at Resilient Power Puerto Rico (RPPR) are building a series of solar installations that are bringing emergency power to community centers in informal settlements across the island. Using state-of-the-art Tesla Powerwall batteries, RPPR has enabled these centers to generate solar power during good weather and store it for the blackouts that follow hurricanes and other disasters. Local people can use the centers as shelters where they can charge their phones to find their loved ones, store perishable food, or power life-saving home healthcare devices. The goal of the group was not to rebuild the island's existing infrastructure after Maria, but to provide a new resilient system that would support informal communities when the next storm would inevitably arrive. “When Maria hit," Marvel said, "it hit home.”  Marvel had just returned from Puerto Rico when Maria arrived. He had been helping his mother, who lives on the island, recover from Hurricane Irma, which had blown through only two weeks before. Rather than just sending money to aid organizations, Marvel worked with friends and colleagues Cristina Roig-Morris, ESQ, and José J. Terrasa-Soler, ASLA, to do what architects do best: design a solution to a problem. “Architects jump in,” Marvel said. “We’re the first responders from the professional world. We’re trained to think comprehensively; we’re trained to put the social impact first and foremost.” Rather than tackling the entire enormity of the disaster, Marvel's team focused on power. Electricity, as Marvel put it, "is the basis of all things in the 21st century,” and according to CNN, the hurricane caused the worst blackout in U.S. history. The goal of the group was not to restore electricity to the whole island; that would be an enormous task and one that a slew of government agencies were already working on. Instead, they looked at how they could create supports in the electrical web to catch the most vulnerable when they fell. RPPR’s solution is straightforward but steps neatly aside of the established way of doing things. “We’ve been very deliberate to stay outside of local politics and federal politics,” Marvel said. Instead, the group looked for creative solutions permissible under existing laws. The sun being an abundant resource on the tropical island, solar power provided an obvious place to start exploring possibilities, but they found there were restrictions on what they could do with private generation. “Before Maria, there was a lot of solar power, but it was illegal to store with batteries,” Marvel said. “After Maria, batteries were allowed without permits, which allowed us to start our system legally. But we still can’t distribute past the property line.” Across the country, small-scale solar generation is tightly regulated by power authorities that have been accused of trying to squash home power generation so that utilities can maintain a monopoly on the electricity market. Puerto Rico allowed domestic power storage in Maria's wake, but still would not allow RPPR to create an alternative power network. RPPR would have to make the most of small-scale installations. Doing a lot with a little is a common practice in Puerto Rico, where resources don't always flow as easily as they do on the mainland. Marvel’s mother, the architect and planner Lucilla Fuller Marvel, had worked extensively with community centers in informal settlements across the island (her book Listen to What They Say presented a bottom-up approach to planning in Puerto Rico), and the group realized that they could focus on powering existing hubs. By installing solar panels and batteries, each community center was able to serve a broad population with relatively little effort. “Each site serves a population about 3,000–5,000 people because of the density,” Marvel said. Thousands of people are able to take advantage of the basic amount of electricity available at each installation during post-disaster blackouts when the central power grid collapses. The focus on informal communities also helped RPPR avoid federal bureaucracy, which, Marvel said, “was completely caught off guard.” While President Trump has recently insisted that his administration got “A Pluses” for their response to the storm, Marvel saw the situation differently: “The federal government does not have a great track record on the lower 48 when it comes to hurricane recovery…but states really help each other out." Puerto Rico, being an island and a relatively isolated territory in the Carribbean, is often forced to go it alone. "Puerto Rico doesn’t have anybody waiting to help. The governor of Puerto Rico was counting on the feds…but the feds didn’t step it up.” When it came to designing the installations, RPPR focused on efficacy rather than looking for a flashy, aesthetically-driven design. Panels are installed in prosaic rooftop setups, but Marvel said that he looked for lessons from what survived the storm when it came time for detailing, and the results have proved resilient. The project’s successes have won new backers and collaborators, and enabled it to broaden its ambitions. Tesla joined the project by providing their home storage batteries, and a variety of foundations have provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in support. Now the project has 28 installations across the island, with 30 more in the pipeline. RPPR and Marvel’s work in Puerto Rico tells the story of a resilient network of communities, badly battered but bouncing back from catastrophe. It’s far from the narrative perpetuated by the current presidential administration, which maintains that the federal government saved a helpless island from impending doom. The project also presents a model for how architects can engage with their communities aside from multimillion-dollar cultural projects or philanthropic endeavors in remote countries. “I think it is very easy for architects to jump into these disasters and think of these solutions. Architects are really well equipped and we do it all the time.” The design’s success comes not out of formal gymnastics or phenomenological effects, but from the social and political structures the project engages and builds on. Ultimately, Marvel credited the served communities for the project’s success. “It’s a generous population,” he said. “They open up their hearts and their houses to each other.” The project shows that when people are willing to lend a helping hand, powerful resilience is possible.
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Nation’s largest public art project funded via Kickstarter and launching in September

The largest public art campaign in U.S. history features 52 artist-designed billboards and will commence in September in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, thanks to more than 2000 backers across 52 Kickstarter campaigns. The publicly-funded campaign is part of the 50 State Initiative, organized by For Freedoms, a project sponsored by non-profit arts service organization Artadia. The 50 State Initiative also amasses more than 200 institutional partners and 250 artists to produce “additional billboards, lawn signs, town hall meetings, and special exhibitions to encourage broad participation and inspire conversation around November’s midterm elections,” according to a statement from the organizers. Kickstarter Director of Arts Paton Hindle explained that he was pleased to help the For Freedoms team with their first step. “At their core, both For Freedoms and Kickstarter seek to make art an integral part of society. Having all 52 projects succeed on Kickstarter is an affirmation that the greater global community believes in the power of art to spark dialogue and participation.” The billboards will tackle nationwide topics such as democracy, religion, sexual orientation, expression, and systemic oppression. Through the launching of the 50 State Initiative, For Freedoms hopes to create “a network of artists and institutional partners," as well as to “model how arts institutions can become civic forums for action and discussion of values, place, and patriotism.”
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Here’s how architects are supplying Puerto Rico with solar energy

In the wake of the profound damage wrought by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, New York-based architects Jonathan Marvel and Walter Meyer are coordinating relief efforts through a Brooklyn nonprofit, the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), which has initiated a project called Resilient Puerto Rico to supply solar microgrids to municipalities across the island. Walter Meyer, principal at Brooklyn-based Local Office Landscape Architecture, is organizing a large shipment of solar panels, generators, and power inverters to the storm-ravaged island. Meyer himself has family in Puerto Rico, and is looking for longer-term solutions to replace the island's historically faulty energy grid. Immediate recovery efforts, however, are focused on those in particularly dire straits, like seniors and those in need of medical attention, many of whom lack the proper care or medication due to the near-total outage. Supplies are being held at informal community centers in public spaces all over the island. Some of these improvised centers will receive funding from Jonathan Marvel, founding principal of New York firm Marvel Architects. Marvel, who is in San Juan to coordinate recovery efforts, donated $50,000 towards relief centers that provide cell phone chargers, food, and water. When The Architect's Newspaper (AN) spoke with Marvel over the phone, he was in middle of wiring these funds to a Florida-based supplier of solar panels and generators called Sun Electronics. These solar supplies will be sent to 16 community centers across Puerto Rico with existing leadership structures, each serving tens of thousands of nearby residents. Marvel got information about these centers from his mother, Lucilla Fuller Marvel, a career AICP urban planner in San Juan who has worked on resilience planning her entire life. The panels and generators supplied by Sun Electronics will be then shipped down to San Juan, where Marvel and a team of architects from the firms's Puerto Rico office will put together assembly kits before sending them out to the 16 community centers. The island has 78 municipalities in total, and CMRC's eventual goal is to provide every one of them with a solar microgrid. "We're in many ways a perfect candidate for having a grassroots-based, municipality-scale, solar-powered energy grid," Marvel said. His team's longer term goal is to focus on scaling these renewable energy sources to provide more permanent sources of electricity to communities that aren't generated by petroleum plants hundreds of miles away. Marvel and Meyer are also working with Cristina Roig Morris, assistant vice president and senior legal council at AT&T, to fundraise for the project's larger mission, which may receive help from the Rockefeller Foundation. While the coordinated relief effort is ambitious, Marvel has another idea for architecture students currently on the island. Modeled after post-Katrina efforts to relocate students from the Tulane School of Architecture to other design schools where they could continue studies while their school was closed, Marvel would like to create opportunities for architecture students in Puerto Rico to do the same. The idea is in an early stage, and he is brainstorming ways for the three architecture schools in San Juan (serving about 75 to 125 students total) to partner with host schools in the mainland United States to continue their education. Never one to be excluded, Elon Musk has also extended an offer to aid in the propagation of solar energy solutions to the island, tweeting his interest at Puerto Rico's governor Ricardo Rossello this week.

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For those who'd like to pitch in for Puerto Rico's recovery, below are some recommendations of groups, both in Puerto Rico and on the mainland, to check out. This list is based on recommendations from Ruth Santiago and Luis G. Martinez in our original article on the post-Maria energy crisis. On the island, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including: Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery. ConPRmetidos (Committed), a nonprofit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need. Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities. Comité Diálogo Ambiental (Environmental Dialogue Committee), the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative). Stateside, here are a few diaspora groups participating in recovery work: El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm. AN knows this list is not comprehensive, and we encourage readers to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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Puerto Rico’s energy crisis calls for sustainable solutions, not more of the same

On September 20th, Hurricane Maria pummeled into the Puerto Rican coast with wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour, deluging the entire island with rain and quickly pulverizing its energy grid. The entire island was left without power. Puerto Rico's energy infrastructure is notoriously fragile. As Ruth Santiago, a climate advocate and attorney with Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc., a Puerto Rican environmental law group, told AN, three fallen trees in 2004 once took out energy for the entire eastern seaboard. Santiago explained that this was largely a geographic problem. Energy is by and large produced by two power plants – the Aguirre Power Complex in Salinas and the Costa Sur plant in Guayanilla. An additional coal-burning plant owned by US-owned AES Corporation is another player. Yet these sites are huge distances from some of the most populated cities. Nearly 230,000 kilowatts of energy are produced by the Aguirre plant, extending through power lines over the central mountain range of the island to the metropolitan area of San Juan, which along with its neighboring cities has a population of about 2 million people – over half of the island's total population of nearly 3.5 million. Transmitting energy at that distance makes the whole grid extremely prone to collapse. In September 2016, a similarly massive outage occurred, but this time due to faulty maintenance, Santiago explained. A general lack of resources and oversight means it is difficult to maintain the grid in the long term, especially as it faces the duress of hurricane-power winds and as these storms become more intense with climate change. Luis G. Martinez, Senior Attorney and Director of Southeast Energy at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), told AN that Puerto Rico's energy problem has been caught in a vicious cycle for quite some time. Earlier this summer, the Puerto Rican power utility PREPA filed for bankruptcy with a $9 million debt. Petroleum isn't cheap, and Puerto Rico is one of the only islands in the Atlantic to operate off of a petroleum-based energy grid (it is the source of about half of the island's electricity). When prices spike, utilities spend all their funds securing fuel, sinking further into debt and unable to break the cycle until they are no longer able to borrow money. Until about two years ago, Martinez said, the Puerto Rico Energy Power Authority (PREPA) was operated with very little oversight. In 2014, the Puerto Rico Energy Commission (PREC) was created to regulate PREPA. Two days after the storm hit, another infrastructural system showed signs of imminent collapse: the Guajataca Dam located on the northwestern end of the island, a 90-year-old, 120-foot-tall structure holding back about 11 billion gallons of water. Three nearby towns, Isabela, San Sebastián and Quebradillas, were immediately evacuated, displacing thousands. Supplying relief from the mainland United States faces its own challenges. Yesterday, President Trump waived the Jones Act for a period of ten days. The Jones Act is a century-old law requiring goods delivered to Puerto Rico to be carried there exclusively on American-owned vessels. This Act has been hindering the delivery of relief supplies to people in need. Representative Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) was responded: "For an entire week, the President was touting his concern for the shipping industry, while refusing to suspend the Jones Act. A ten-day waiver, as the Administration has announced, is far from sufficient given the scope of this tragedy ... To that end, I repeat my call for a one-year waiver of the Jones Act." The President shows no signs of budging. On the ground, recovery efforts are unfolding in myriad ways. Santiago has been working with local advocates on a short-term response to the island's energy crisis, noting that long-term solutions like sustainable energy sources – localized, solar micro-grids being the ideal – are important, but should be implemented carefully in the months to come. For now, she said, municipalities need smaller-scale solutions: cell phone chargers and generators chief among them. She described recently visiting a facility where individuals with diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer were going without their medications because they could no longer be refrigerated. Fortunately, some groups have arisen to work on long-term solutions to the frail energy grid, alongside the efforts of Puerto Rico-based organizations. A Brooklyn-based initiative called Resilient Power Puerto Rico, a project of the Coastal Marine Resource Center (CMRC), is focused on solar energy solutions. In their first phase, they are seeking to provide mobile solar-energy hubs, which are being prototyped in Santurce (a district of San Juan), which will be scaled up to be based in Caguas, a city in the central mountain range of the island when they have more resources. These hubs, if effective, will be able to provide limited power to the residents of small towns around the island. CMRC's mission is quite extensive both in time and scale: by the end of 2017, they hope to deliver more than 100 mobile solar kits to be assembled in public spaces in municipalities, training communities to install the projects along the way. The timeline for the initiative extends through 2021, when they hope to advocate for solar energy for the entire island as a permanent replacement to today's over-stretched grid. The organization has experience implementing these kinds of projects, including in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when CMRC produced scalable solar panels and generators for the hard-hit Rockaway peninsula in New York City. As Santiago explained, with the economic and fiscal crisis the island was already undergoing when Maria hit, any investments should be made in renewable energy and micro-grids, and set the stage for future investments in the same field. As the Hurricane Sandy anniversary approaches on October 29, let us not forget that the same effects in Puerto Rico are currently being suffered tenfold, while receiving much less coverage in the news. When asked what he thought was missing from coverage, Martinez had an immediate response: "The degree of desperation is not being expressed properly. People don't know when food, medical care, or power will come back. People need aid immediately." In Puerto Rico, there are a number of groups doing on-the-ground recovery work, including:

Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico), led by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, is one of the largest initiatives garnering funds for recovery.

ConPRmetidos (Committed) is a non-profit completing impact and needs assessments and seeking to provide power and structural repairs to the communities most in need.

Fundación Comunitaria de Puerto Rico (Community Foundation of Puerto Rico), based in San Juan, is a philanthropic foundation awarding grants for, among other things, housing and economic development in local communities.

Comité Diálogo Ambiental, Inc. (Environmental Dialogue Committee, Inc.) is the Salinas-based group that Santiago works for, housed under an umbrella organization bringing together community groups, fishers associations, and others, called IDEBAJO–Iniciativa de Ecodesarrollo de Bahia de Jobos, Inc. (Jobos Bay Ecodevelopment Initiative).

In the stateside diaspora, here are a few groups participating in recovery work:

El Puente | Enlace Latino de Acción Climática (Latino Climate Action Network), based out of Brooklyn, has been holding fundraisers to raise awareness and support for Maria recovery efforts.

Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños (Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY) have been pooling community voices, news, and fundraising opportunities since the storm.

Note: We know this list is not comprehensive, and encourage you to leave additional resources in the comments section.
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National Endowment for the Arts awards nearly $75 million in grants across all 50 states

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on Wednesday announced the latest round of its Art Works and State and Regional Partnerships programs, funding a symphony in Alabama, StoryCorps in Brooklyn, and more than 1,000 different projects across the country. NEA said it will make 1,023 awards totaling $74,326,900 to nonprofit arts organizations in all 50 states—plus the U.S. jurisdictions of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the District of Columbia—by the end of their fiscal year in September. Here's the full list of 1,023 awardees by city and state. The recipients run the gamut from established museums—Tucson Museum of Art will get $15,000 to support an exhibition exploring the art of the American West in popular and mass media, for example—to smaller arts councils and community initiatives. Civic programs are also among the winners. Public Schools systems in Boston, Seattle, and Nashville will receive grants of roughly $100,000 each to expand arts education. Collectively 263 panelists reviewed 1,794 applications for funding, according to an NEA press release. This week's announcement brings NEA funding awarded to date in fiscal year 2015 to $103.47 million.