Consider a vacant lot on a neighborhood corner: flat, barren ground. A school is across the street and a church is on another corner.
Imagine a park that’s a garden, an outdoor classroom, and a community gathering space. Its name is La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park.
Seventy-five people gathered at La Mesa Presbyterian Church in late 2013 to add their voices to the Garden Park vision and to volunteer. Partners from the church, East Central Ministries, La Mesa Elementary School, and Escuela Luz del Mundo are planning activities for students from the local schools, working families who live nearby, and older residents who want more contact with nature and neighbors.
Querencia Green sponsored a workshop to explore rainwater harvesting and green infrastructure for the Garden Park’s design plan. We gathered on a warm January afternoon and walked around the site with stormwater, sun, and wind on our minds. Then, fortified with juice and cookies, we sketched ideas on aerial maps and explored a few questions:
- Where does the water from heavy rainstorms flow on the site? Does it flow off the site?
- How can we design for stormwater to support new trees, forming the foundation for vegetable garden boxes, pollinator-friendly habitat, art projects and a gathering space?
Water to trees
Everyone wants trees in the Garden Park; most people living in the high desert love their natural beauty. Trees provide habitat and shade, absorb pollutants, “lock up” carbon, and generate positive effects on people. They are also water catchment strategies by storing water runoff in their root systems and conveying it upward to branches and leaves.
Every type of tree and shrub has its own water needs. A Desert Willow is a native resident in Albuquerque’s urban forest, and it’s not water greedy. It requires a minimum of 12 inches of water per year. But Albuquerque’s average annual precipitation totals 8.7 inches. So the desert willow will need supplemental water of three to four inches. How do we provide it? The workshop crew agreed that the design plan should feature tree basins to collect stormwater and prevent it from running into areas where the water is not needed.
Alicia Petersen, Querencia Green’s Project Assistant and a graduate student in the UNM Landscape Architecture Program, is preparing the design plan, and we’ll provide a presentation to the team by early spring. John Bulten, director of East Central Ministries, remarked, “Our team has been planning activities for volunteers to connect and work on the Garden Park site. The green infrastructure design will lay a foundation for success and introduce them to methods of using water where it’s needed the most.”
A vision of neighbors, students, and community partners designing, digging, planting and building is becoming real.