Category Archives: Neighborhood

Environmental Education in Place

Many school campuses have portable buildings, eroded soils, and bare landscape areas.  At the School on Wheels High School in the South Valley, our Places We Live team saw an opportunity for a small earthworks project.

During rainstorms, a downspout on a portable building flowed next to the building and the water collected and evaporated in a low area.  A bio-retention basin could protect the building, improve soil, increase infiltration and nurture new plants.

School on Wheels

Terry Dunbar on site before installation

Joanne McEntire of Querencia Green joined Science Teacher Terry Dunbar at School on Wheels and the Environmental Education Association of New Mexico (EEANM) to install the water harvesting project during the workshop series Places We Live.

The series began with an educators’ workshop to provide the place-based environmental education curriculum from Project Learning Tree.  The South Valley MainStreet board chair, James Aranda, provided a cultural overview of the  neighborhood, which created a greater “sense of place” for the group. Barbara Garrity of EEANM and McEntire explored the Places We Live curriculum.

To focus on issues of water and the important values of trees, McEntire provided activity materials and reviewed key components of rainwater harvesting.  To prepare for the earthworks installation, she designed the basin and arranged for the needed installation materials, and a few science students put in some preliminary time on the site.

Photo: Cass Landrum

Photo: Cass Landrum

A multi-age crew of students from Jimmy Carter Middle School and School on Wheels, plus educators and crew chiefs, made the installation workshop an energetic success!  We built a ‘splash basin’ under the downspout, dug a larger, shallow basin for the runoff, lined the sides with rocks, made “sponges” in the bottom of the basin to catalyze microbial activity, and covered the bottom with woody mulch.

Splash basin under downspout

Splash basin under downspout


The crew planted a Desert Willow tree and Autumn Sage on the edges of the basin, which will expand the native plant diversity at the school.

Teacher Terry Dunbar enjoyed the following day with his participating students: “When our crew members came in this morning, they grabbed their friends and took them out to the site to show off their work.  They’re proud of what they accomplished.”

MS students sage plant C

Planting a Sage on basin edge

Future possibilities for students in the expanded outdoor learning environment include observing microbes in the soil sponges, comparing it to the native soil, supplementary watering in the first dry season, and adaptive actions that repair or improve the site.  The other educators who joined the team hope to create water harvesting projects at their schools or homes.

This team project was made possible by the Albuquerque Community Foundation.  Crew

News: Water Harvesting Workshop, Garden Park Views

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The monsoon in central New Mexico has been delightful, frustrating, spotty and intense – we know what “variable” means!  Climate change is leading to more variability in precipitation while average monthly temperatures are on the rise.  We protect and enhance our places when we slow the flow of stormwater and efficiently use it for outdoor spaces.   With the potential El Niño next winter, there could be too much of a good thing!  Fortunately, householders are re-thinking and re-designing gardens and yards, and local classes and community projects are materializing.

Summer Class  – Intro to Water Harvesting and Green Infrastructure

Jeff Adams of terrasophia, LLC is providing an Introduction to Water Harvesting and Green Infrastructure workshop on August 23.  The final in a series of three workshops, Jeff covers a lot of territory about earthworks and catchment tanks, design and installation principles.  Slow it, spread it, sink it!

Jeff will be the lead instructor for the Rainwater Harvesting and Green Infrastructure certification course with the Watershed Management Group in September (the course is currently full).   He brings a practical and integrated approach to each project as a designer.  Jeff has a depth of experience in water harvesting training programs, including lead instructor for the American Rainwater Catchment Systems Association’s (ARCSA) Accredited Professional training.

The Intro class is on Saturday, August 23, 1 – 3:00 pm, at the City’s Open Space Visitor Center, 5400 Coors Blvd. NW.  Register in advance:  

 La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park Grows

Kyle Carr, producer of the local access TV program, Landscaping Southwest, visited the Garden Park on the first planting day in late Spring.  This video segment jump-starts with John Bulten of East Central Ministries (ECM) and Trey Hammond of La Mesa Presbyterian Church, followed by Joanne McEntire of Querencia Green.

The trees that we planted in the two basins with school children and youth are Desert Willow and Privet (NM Olive).  Shrubs include Utah Serviceberry, Sea Buckthorn, Cherry and Purple Sage, and Red Yucca.  After several weeks of hand watering, the plants are settling in with the monsoon.  Neighborhood youth crews have led the way in mulching, weeding and putting in penstemon and sage,  Everyone is welcome to visit the park at 406 Espanola NE.

A grant proposal for the Garden Park was chosen as a finalist for the August vote by ABQ Involved members.   ABQ Involved works with community groups  and creates short videos for members to view before they vote for their favorite – a fun, online way to support local organizations!





Designing to dig: La Mesa Garden Park

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Our second demonstration project reached an important milestone: Alicia Petersen presented the rainwater harvesting design plans for La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park to the community partners.

The plan features two basins along the sidewalks to collect stormwater from the site and support native trees and shrubs with edible berries. The Desert Willow and New Mexico Olive are drought tolerant trees, yet they’ll take advantage of occasional flooding. Certain plants are adapted to desert precipitation patterns and the trees that we selected are also favorite natives.

The design plan also features a circular area with fruit trees in a basin that nearly surrounds the space. In time, the circle will create a sense of enclosure and become an inviting space for picnics and neighborly gatherings. A small basin planted with sage and yucca on the primary corner of the site will feature a low wall along the edge.

While developing the plans, team members also met with Jim Brooks of Brooks Terrain Systems. Jim has the local experience and equipment to move earth while thinking of water.

With the team’s acceptance of the design plans, we lost no time in moving some dirt. On a bright day we marked key areas with flags, and Jim set up his Dingo machine and started the grading work.  Two other team members arrived with needed supplies and energy.  Better yet, it wasn’t windy!

The Garden Park team continues to reach out to volunteers in the area. Joel Wooldridge, a team member from La Mesa Presbyterian Church, talked with local residents during their annual neighborhood meeting.  He noted that “Every one of them was thrilled about the project and its prospects for improving the area.”

The team will soon announce work parties to move rocks, plant trees and shrubs, and carry out an efficient watering plan. Students and neighbors will also be involved in creating gardening and art projects, shade structures and seating areas. To receive news about work parties, send a note to Winona at

Greener neighborhoods, especially those with green common areas, can encourage social bonding between neighbors and improve the social setting. Residents that are more attached to their community have higher levels of social cohesion and social control, less fear of crime. (University of Washington, Green Cities: Good Health)

La Mesa Neighborhood Garden Park: A Green Infrastructure Demonstration Project

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.

Graph monthly precip ABQ

Albuquerque precipitation, 30 year average amounts

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.

Calle del Pajarito Update: Designs for Green Infrastructure

When it rains hard on bare ground in the valley, most of the stormwater pools or flows on top of the thick layer of clay soil.  Calle del Pajarito is a typical local street with paved traffic lanes and dirt shoulders.  The stormwater collects along the side of the street, flows into lower spots or pools and evaporates.  Result: wasted water and hazardous conditions for walking.

During the first workshop and subsequent meetings, the neighbor team selected sites for design plans.  Kurt Capalbo, UNM Landscape Architecture student, consulted with the team, researched ways to effectively drain the stormwater and use some of the water for new plants, then provided the design plans.  Two sites are featured below.

Parking area on shoulder: porous pavers with plant basins

A commercial property on the south corner is impermeable; covered with rooftops and pavement, stormwater cannot drain into the ground.  Water that flows toward the shoulder from the property and one side of the street presents an opportunity!  The dirt shoulder is frequently used for parking cars and trucks.

Design strategy

  • Remove clay soil from shoulder. Fill with layers of sand, soil mix, and gravel.  Cover with layers of sand and porous pavers.
  • Plant trees in deeper basins filled with structural soil to support healthy root growth.  Emory Oaks are shown in drawing at full maturity.
  • Plant Bush Muhly (Muhlenbergia porter), a native bunchgrass, around a wall that surrounds a utility.

Street shoulders: infiltration trenches, walkway, and plants

An area of the street that curves as it enters the residential area floods with stormwater from uphill areas.

Design strategy

  • Remove clay soil from shoulder. Install infiltration trench with layers of sand, soil mix, gravel and cobble rock.  Cover with layers of sand and porous pavers.
  • Install walkway with porous pavers on top of layers of fill material.
  • Plant bunchgrass, Alkali Sakaton (Sporobolus airoides).

Potential Results

  • Stormwater drains through the porous pavers and trenches, increasing groundwater recharge.
  • Native plants provide shade and wildlife habitat, and trees improve air quality.
  • Traffic may slow down (traffic calming) with more defined spaces along the street.
  • The gateway to the residential area is more pleasant and feels safer.

These two sites are on Village of Los Ranchos right-of-way.  A presentation of the design plans was provided by Joe Craig from the neighborhood and Joanne McEntire for Querencia Green to the Village Board of Trustees in December 2013.  Neighbor team leaders are considering the next steps to identify costs and find support for the demonstration project.  Team members have also met with staff from the NM Department of Transportation to discuss a flooding area owned by the NMDOT.

Querencia Green and the neighbor team was supported by the UNM Landscape Architecture Program, Richard Zita, Linda Seebach of the Village of Los Ranchos, and the Ciudad Soil and Water Conservation District.  Thank you to all of our supporters and participants!

Seasonal Notes

The autumn season arrives at its mid-point in early November, when we return to Standard Time and clean out the garden.  While the sun seems to tilt to the south, my querencia includes the Growers Markets all through the area, to exchange smiles with farmers and buy local squash, beans, chile and apples.  Upcoming seasonal market days are posted in COMMUNITY EVENTS until Nov. 9.

Halloween has changed over the years, with fewer homes and neighborhoods embracing “Trick or Treat!” and community organizations taking up the slack with indoor events.  Social norms may change, but the pleasure of displaying ourselves in costumes hasn’t budged.  Dia de los Muertos is celebrated with altars and the Marigold Parade through the next week.  One of my favorite memories includes Halloween nights in chilly upstate New York, when all the kids would walk the local streets as dusk became very, very dark, with real jack-o-lanterns and lit doors welcoming us at many houses.  While walking, I watched the sky turn dark, and began to love the night.

If you have real pumpkins this week, share the remains at the Pumpkin Smashing Festival at the International District Community Garden on Nov. 2.  Celebrate fall, contribute to their composting system, and be part of a community project in the Southeast Heights.

Compost happens!

Our gardens and farms hold beauty as the process of decomposition becomes apparent.  In our arid landscape, compost is an essential component of productive soil.  Start composting this fall, when there are plenty of plant materials to mix with your kitchen’s green waste.  Collect dry  leaves and store them in a wire cage or in a pile covered by a tarp.  Do some research to select your composting method before you start; composting classes and useful information are easy to find at Bernalillo County Master Composters.

Too much plant material to handle?  Ask a gardening neighbor if they can use it to build up their compost piles.  The City picks up brushy and leafy plant materials on green waste pick-up days for their compost and mulching operations, which is a better way to decompose than in the landfill!

What’s your activity to participate in the changes of autumn and care for your favorite place?

Between Monsoon Storms: Workshop on Calle del Pajarito

Fifteen neighbors and designers walked along Calle del Pajarito in early September, just before historic rainstorms poured down from the sky.  The neighbors gathered with Querencia Green to kick-off a rainwater harvesting and green infrastructure demonstration project. 

Stormwater from large rain events collects in pools on the street, in driveways and in yards, often turning into habitat for insect larvae and tadpoles.  Joe Craig, a neighborhood leader who hosted the workshop with his wife Pamela, described the street as “a channel for stormwater to collect in pools—if it rains a quarter inch or more.  During this monsoon, we’ve really had the chance to walk in the rain and think like water.”

Like much of the North Valley, the neighborhood is at or below the elevation of the Rio Grande.  The valley’s network of streets and irrigation ditches, many of them historic acequias, collect rainwater that evaporates or slowly infiltrates into the ground.

During the workshop, we walked, made maps and ate lunch while considering this question: where are the stormwater problems that offer opportunities for rainwater harvesting and green infrastructure?  Green infrastructure promotes the controlled movement and use of water, while creating beneficial outcomes.

There are many issues to tackle, and the team worked on narrowing it down to a couple priorities: suggest strategies to correct the flooding problem on the uphill corner of the street, and a method to capture and use water that collects in driveways and yards.  The neighbors would like to see several benefits, including a safe, definable entrance to the street, where school children wait for their bus.

Querencia Green is guiding the workshop, design and action plan processes.   Kurt Capalbo, the team’s Project Assistant and a graduate student in the UNM Landscape Architecture Program, is now working on site designs.  The demonstration process is also supported by the Village of Los Ranchos and Richard Zita, a Landscape Architect.