Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador
On the day of the sixth anniversary of its Ecological City Declaration, Bahia de Caraquez flashed bright signals of evolving its truly own version of urban sustainability. It was eco-semana (ecology week) with events in vernacular earmarks such as a night-time Carnaval pregon (parade) with some marchers painted as earth features and animals, a cleanup of Rio Chone beach, a tour of prominent ecology projects, and a Baile Verde (Green Dance).
Falling at mid-week in the festivities, the anniversary started with an exposition by relevant non-government and private groups in the breezeway substituting for a first floor under City Hall. Arte Papel (Art Paper), the remarkable womens’ collective that makes recycled paper stationery and encompasses three separate barrios, brought ten of its two dozen members to ring tightly around a small table of its best cards, boxes and albums. Eco-club kids from nearby Fanca showed painted recycled plastic flowers. Eco-paper also showed up there and at a table for privately-owned Eco-papel which introduced this handcrafts industry locally, and on display by a brand new company from La Cruz barrio who had been unselfishly trained by Arte Papel women. (Ecuadorians are infamous imitators of successful small-scale enterprises. There is a town nearby where one person started a roadside stand selling homemade versions of archeological artifacts several years ago that is now lined on both sides of the highway with copies. Bahia’s future may include a reputation as the Eco-paper City!) Planet Drum’s Renee Portanova and replacement-in-training Heather Crawford exhibited saplings of native trees with identifying labels, compost made from organic wastes, and posters showing how revegetation reduces erosion, an explanation and small model of our new passive solar hot water installation at Genesis School, and even a definition of “bioregionalismo”. The newish branch of the UN volunteer-promoting organization Caring Cities boasted the most polished explanatory display. A standout for me was a simply painted fifty-five gallon steel drum set-up by the recently minted Eco-amigos group from Maria Auxiliadora barrio to show examples of their recycling and compost making efforts. With a membership of younger children from that neighborhood’s marginally employed households, this wild throng is the product of Elva, a small all-purpose storeowner who was inspired by our efforts to build a “wild park”. When I asked how it was funded Elva made a characteristically frank gesture of slapping her front pocket. Only a year old, Eco-amigos is increasingly active and even helped clean up and repair trails in the erosion abating park (named Bosque en Medio de las Ruinas) for this week’s eco-tour. Perhaps the greatest significance of Eco-amigos spontaneous occurrence is the undeniable validity it brings to popular acceptance of the ecological city idea, similar to the appearance a little over two years ago of Bahia Ecologico, a company of triciclo (three-wheeler) pedal-taxi drivers who have since been joined by two more new groups of tricicleros with “eco” in their company names.
A “Sesion Solemne” to commemorate the anniversary was held in the Municipal Theater that afternoon. It was typically full of surprises. To a dais comprising several city council members, the mayor, the vice-mayor, and the Captain of the Port, and an audience of about three hundred people including the Queen of Sucre County, Vladir Villagran recounted the history of founding the eco-city and implored the new officials to make it a reality. Flor-Maria Duenas followed and unexpectedly called for me to take a seat on stage with the others before recounting the successful growth of the Eco-clubs she has helped lead. Marcelo Luque gave a resounding bioregional description of this unique equatorial place and next the vice-mayor invoked Bahia’s potential as a model for the world. Then the new mayor Dr. Carlos Mendosa, who along with political leaders everywhere recently from Washington State in the US to Ukraine had survived a close election and vote count challenge, rose to state the extent of commitment for his administration. As a professional medical practitioner no one expected great familiarity with environmental ideas, but he indicated more concern and presented more specific details than the previous two mayors who served during the Ecological Declaration era. He shifted easily from Bahia’s problems to those of the world, and gave evidence of personal interest by referring to the amount of seawater that could be polluted by a single discarded battery and the decomposition time for plastic bottles. “It isn’t enough to be ecological in words alone but in deeds. I will seek to follow through with what we have said we will do and more,” was the gist. Finally, awards were given to ecology workers such as those representing an agency that makes compost and several women from Arte Papel.
During this visit I presented Mayor Mendosa with an invitation from San Francisco’s mayor to the UN World Environment Day observance there in June this year with the theme “Green Cities”. He and Patricio Tamariz, a founder of the Eco-Bahia Center for Environmental Studies, intend to attend to sign the Urban Sustainability Accords with mayors from at least a hundred of the largest world cities (see www.wed2005.org). Planet Drum is hoping to raise the travel costs for both of them since they wouldn’t be able to attend otherwise. They could attract major attention because although Bahia is rated as a small to medium size city, it is represents the greatest number of cities in the world that are in the same category.
The newly elected city council is also the greenest yet. When I addressed the group with a request to renew the original declaration by adding a point citing the 2002 Ecological City Plan as a guide, the members concurred unanimously and several made personal pleas to further enhance Bahia in ways such as reducing pollution in the river. Today I assisted Councilwoman Christina Ruperti in drafting the ordinance to create a Department of the Environment, and also consulted about revitalizing the county wide recycling program. Environment Week isn’t just a hopeful event anymore. It has just proven to be a genuinely productive time, perhaps the most productive seven days so far.