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An Investigation of the Utilization of Public Spaces in the

Lower Lempa Region of El Salvador

Brittany Lane, Axel Santana, Sarah Sterling, and Samantha Sidhu

Series Editor: Adele Negro, Program Director

Monterey Institute of International Studies

A Graduate School of Middlebury College
January 2014














We cannot express enough thanks to EcoViva, Asociacin Mangle and the Monterey
Institute of International Studies for establishing this relationship and giving us the trust and
ability to undertake projects for eight years now. It's an honor to continue to be received in such a
welcoming community.
We could not have accomplished this project without the coordination and support from
all members of Asociacin Mangle, but particularly from Carmen Argueta, Walberto Gallegos,
David Marroqun and Maria Elena Vigil, who dedicated their time and energy to our project
specifically. Every meeting was a pleasure and a learning experience.
We extend a special thanks to all of the community leaders from Tierra Blanca, Las
Mesas, Ciudad Romero, Isla de Mendez and Amando Lopez who graciously attended our focus
groups. Without your participation and willingness to share, this project wouldn't exist.
We would also like to thank Josh Feinberg for his amazing work in following all of the
TES teams around to our various project locations to record all the work that we did via his
amazing photos, some of which are featured in this report. With his help, we were really able to
see and capture all of the focus groups, interviews and activities that we performed during our
time in El Salvador.
Our time in El Salvador would not have been the same without our wonderful host
families and the dedicated staff at La Coordinadora. We appreciate everything you do, and you
enriched our experiences profoundly.
Last but not least, we thank Adele Negro for all of your support, patience and investment
in our work and us. Your passion is contagious and genuine.


The concept for the Public Spaces Project, which was implemented in an initial phase by Team
El Salvador 8 in January 2014, originated with a fortuitous conversation between program
faculty director Adele Negro and an Argentine colleague in Buenos Aires during her visit there in
April of 2012. Landscape architect Max Rohm, a practicing architect and professor of
architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, had helped develop, along with other Harvardtrained landscape architects, an urban public space model that revisualizes and redesigns
community space for greater community empowerment through enhanced spatial utilization.
The focus of their work was Villa Tranquila, an informal settlement, or slum, in the greater
metropolitan area of Buenos Aires.
It soon became apparent, during that initial conversation, that a strong synergy existed between
the achievements in Villa Tranquila and the vision and work being carried out by Asociacin
Mangle and the rural communities of the Bajo Lempa, with capacity-building support by Team
El Salvador (TES). In particular, the discussion centered on devising ways for TES to bolster the
efforts made in 2008 and 2009 by several Bajo Lempa comunities (Ciudad Romero, Zamorn-La
Limonera, and San Hilario) to launch a local farmers market that was intended to strengthen their
collective capacity to market and sell their agricultural products. These efforts were facilitated
by the agronomists of Mangles Production Program under the leadership of Program
Coordinator Juan Luna, with assistance at the outset by TES 2 student leader Nathan Weller, who
had remained in the Bajo Lempa to do a 6-month IPSS internship with Asociacin Mangle.
The first local farmers market was held in December of 2009, and community evaluation
sessions facilitated by Mangle were held in Ciudad Romero and San Hilario in January of 2010,
in which the Production Team of TES 4 was invited to take part. The evaluations focused on a
series of questions aimed at identifying areas of success and needed improvements in this pilot
effort, in order to ensure its replicability for the future. Since then, however, a number of
logistical, organizational and infrastructural challenges faced by the communities and Asociacin
Mangle have resulted in the abandonment of this initiative for the time being. Thus the Public
Spaces project was conceived as a means to revitalize this endeavor and, at the same time,
incorporate other related components of Mangles strategic development work, such as
community ecotourism, alternative income generation and resource conservation.
The Public Spaces project was originally broached to Juan Luna and members of the Mangle
board by Adele Negro in January of 2013; it was then more formally discussed during an
exploratory trip by Adele and Max in August of 2013. The essence of the proposed project
centered on the creation of an innovative collaboration between graduate students of architecture
and landscape design (from a U.S.-based school such as UC-Berkeleys Department of
Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning), and MIIS students participating in Team
El Salvador. The aim of this pilot initiative was to help spur improved livelihoods in
communities of the Bajo Lempa, beset by persistent cycles of poverty, stagnation and
environmental degradation, through the redesign of public space for more sustained, effective,
and revitalized community use. By adapting a recognized urban public space model to the needs
of this rural context, the project was seen as a mechanism to expand local community enterprise
and build entrepreneurial capacity; strengthen resource conservation through viable community
ecotourism networks; and connect severely disenfranchised rural producers, unable to compete in

urban markets, with urban consumers.

In addition, the recent proposal by Asociacin Mangle to create a Center for the Study of the
Mangrove Ecosystem further expands the scope of this innovative collaboration. The goal is to
establish a center with both local appeal and international reach which would make possible
mangrove restoration research in the biosphere area of the Bay of Jiquilisco, focusing on climate
change and mitigation based in adaptation.
The objective of the Public Spaces Team project was to observe and evaluate the current and
potential utilization of existing and new public spaces in a sample of communities. In our first
meeting with Asociacin Mangle (Mangrove Association), we identified communities to visit in
the Lower Lempa region, and then convened focus groups in each community which elicited
community values, perceptions of how current public spaces are being utilized and maintained,
and ideas for the future that could strengthen the capacity and the effectiveness of the
communitys organizational cohesiveness. Since this was the first year of this project, the
principal objective was to collect preliminary information to guide the planning of future
projects. We focused on such issues as strengthening community identity and the fulfillment of
community needs, improving the conservation of local resources, and increasing economic
opportunities. The aim was to provide the community members an opportunity to express their
visions for public spaces and to articulate how they could be better utilized and sustained in the
During the fall 2013 semester, our team began formulating ideas for what steps would need to be
taken once we actually arrived in El Salvador in January of 2014. We met several times to
brainstorm ideas on how to approach this abstract project. We Skype chatted with Nathan Weller
of EcoViva in order to get his input on potential obstacles, opportunities and general issues we
might deal with during the course of our project. We set up a framework of where to begin the
process, which included a meeting with our liaisons at Asociacin Mangle. Once we arrived in
Ciudad Romero, our host community, we developed a better idea of what our project would
entail, which in turn enabled us to formulate a course of action. We met with the board of
Asociacin Mangle and they explained how the communities in the region organize themselves.
There are five grupos locales (community leadership groups) in the area, which represent the
various communities throughout the Bajo Lempa (Lower Lempa River) region: Ciudad Romero,
Isla de Mendez, Tierra Blanca, Las Mesas and Amando Lopez. We met with the leadership of
each grupo local, and then created a plan of action for the week, which included a guided tour of
each community, followed by a focus group and mapping exercise with the leaders of the
community. Finally, we performed a comprehensive comparative analysis of all the grupos

locales. The processes are explained below.

Our first encounter with each community occurred in a small meeting with the representatives of
the board of directors of each grupo local, during which we introduced ourselves and explained
the purpose of our proposed project. The aim of this meeting was threefold: to get an idea of the
community layout; to give the participants an opportunity to show us buildings or spaces they
considered important to their particular community, and; to enable us to refer to specific
landmarks when we engaged them in the focus groups and mapping exercises.

(Ciudad Romero, Usulutan, El Salvador: Photo by Josh Feinberg)

The local representatives guided us around their community and showed us areas which they
understood as public or communal spaces, describing how each one was currently being used.
Sarah Sterling and Samantha Sidhu took notes for reference. Axel Santana and Brittany Lane
took photos of the important public spaces to archive the visited areas.
During these tours, it was interesting to learn what the community members thought of as
important areas or buildings. Every single tour included a demonstration of the soccer field, so
we quickly became aware of the importance of that space to these communities. They also
emphasized their churches and religious gathering places, schools, and shelters in times of
natural disasters. In communities that lacked such spaces, the tour guides took us to peoples
houses, where we were treated to a variety of perspectives of other community members.
The purpose of conducting focus groups was to gather information in a setting conducive to
sharing perspectives and opinions regarding the conception of public spaces and the utilization of
communal areas and buildings in each community. Each meeting involved a series of questions
in a conversational structure with a group of six to twelve representative leaders. We sat in
approximate circles in order to facilitate discussion among the group. Brittany led these focus
groups while Sam, Sarah and Axel took notes on the responses. We were scattered throughout the

circle in order to capture everything that was being said.

(Focus Group Tierra Blanca. Photo by: Josh Feinberg)

(Focus Group Amando Lopez. Photo by: Josh Feinberg)

We began these focus groups with a brief dinmica (ice breaker) led by Sarah. We would
typically do nombre y movimiento (name and movement), where each person in turn would say
his or her name, while also making some sort of descriptive movement with hands and/or body.
Then, the rest of the group would repeat the name and the movement all together. This
ridiculous, yet effective activity dispelled tension, creating a more comfortable space for
conversation. We emphasized that, although it was a structured set of questions, we wanted it to
be more like a conversation and less like an interview. There were no right or wrong answers.
Some of the focus groups went smoothly, with little distractions or tangents. But many
participants gave lengthy responses, extending the allocated time for each meeting. We were
grateful to have a Mangle liaison present, whenever someone was available, to help us keep the
group on track. We believe that many factors contributed to people straying off topic, one of
which was inherent in the Salvadoran culture: people love to talk to one another, especially when
they are given a forum such as a group setting where they have a captive audience. Another
reason could be that many community members did not see public spaces as pressing issues,
especially in communities where people are struggling to survive on a day-to-day basis. In order

to increase peoples interest in participating in the overall wellbeing of their community, the
more basic and urgent needs of food and job security would need to be addressed first.
In order to facilitate a deeper discussion and analysis of community assets and needs with each
group, we conducted a mapping exercise at the end of the focus group questions. The exercise
was intended to encourage participants to think about their community, not simply with respect
to the physical space, but also regarding their human capital, and how and why every member in
the community plays a certain role. They were asked to draw their community, specifically
indicating public spaces throughout the community. They were allowed about 10 minutes to
complete this task. They were then asked to think about the various groupings or categories of
people within their community. The goal was to enable them to consider all the different
population groups that inhabit their community (i.e. women, children, youth, men, eldersand
any other possible groups).

(Mapping exercise in Ciudad Romero. Photo by: Josh Feinberg)

Next, we asked them to assign colors to each group of people and tape the associated colored
strips of construction paper to the map, wherever these groupings of people would gather. This
identification of places with certain groups of people in different areas of the community helped
participants not only visualize who was using different spaces, but also see which groups were
being marginalized; this then led to an open discussion about why that might be. This exercise
could also be used to categorize groups according to other aspects, for example, occupation, in
order to see how such a category could affect the use of public space. Overlapping the map of
age/gender with that of occupation could give us new insights into how and why public spaces
are used through the work that people do in their communities.

(Above and Below: Mapping Exercise in Tierra Blanca. Photos by Josh Feinberg)

This exercise proved to be more entertaining for the community groups and our team. Some
community members were extremely excited to get up and draw their map, while others
remained a bit shy and strayed away from the activity. We did our best to engage everyone and to
ensure that it was a group effort. In most cases, there were one or two designated artists, while
the rest of the group shouted instructions from their seats. The goal was to involve everyone, and,
for the most part, we were successful.
After the exercise, we would ask follow-up questions and discuss the places where these groups
of individuals gather. This part was important, because it prompted everyone to think about who
benefits the most from certain areas. It also allowed them to realize that maybe they were lacking
a gathering space for, say, women or elders, or perhaps a playground for the children. Some
groups even went on to suggest daycares or recreation centers for their community.

(Mapping Exercise in Amando Lopez. Photo by: Brittany Lane)

With the information we received from the focus groups and the mapping exercises, we created
profiles for each community, comparing and contrasting their ideas and insights. This helped us
visualize which communities were the most organized, which utilized their public spaces most
effectively, and which ones could use improvement.
During this process, each team member took turns transcribing, while the other three read aloud
their notes from each focus group and mapping exercise. This expedited the process of extracting
the most important information from these meetings and compiling it into one document. It was
helpful to review our individual notes and highlight main points from each prior meeting, since
much of the content was lengthy and sometimes irrelevant to the project aims. There was a
certain amount of overlap between our notes, but it proved to be useful when one team member
had missed something that was said and another member was able to record it.

(Ciudad Romero. Photo by Josh Feinberg)


By the third week, after the community tours of the first week and the focus groups held during
the second week, we began to compile our observations by community in order to eventually
make recommendations.
In each focus group, we raised several themes relevant to public spaces by asking a consistent set
of questions (see Appendix 1.0). In this section, we provide a synopsis of important facts that we
discovered and noted in each community tour and focus group. We also discuss unique obstacles
faced in each community during this process.
Focus Group Responses (Compiled)
According to community representatives present at the focus group meeting, a public space is
defined as a social place where community members can meet, play and interact socially. Some
examples given for these community public spaces were parks, childrens playgrounds, or spaces
owned by the municipal government. The people of Tierra Blanca value many things in their
community, such as solidarity, family and people who possess skills for projects, to name a few.
The success of these community spaces depends on elements such as having the competence and
knowledge needed in order to carry out community projects and bring community members
together, as well as having a place to hold meetings and resolve problems when they arise. The
most important factor for the successful use of these spaces by community members is location.
The barriers to successful use and maintenance of public spaces mentioned were the lack of
organization; lack of knowledgeable people in the community; a local government that does not
support community activities; despondency of the community (people not wanting to participate
because of lack of interest); and the lack of spare time for people to coordinate community
projects. The opportunities for success of public spaces were the trainings provided by La
Coordinadora (the grassroots community organizing body that works in tandem with Asociacin
Mangle); the organization of the community itself; the political and financial support from the
mayors office and Asociacin Mangle; and access to electric energy and running water. The
majority of people responded that in order to maintain the existing public spaces, the ADESCO
(the leadership team of each community) helps to create work groups to clean, repair and guard
the spaces.
The community of Tierra Blanca sees the Bay of Jiquilisco as a source of food, commerce, and a
resource to be protected, but they also noted that it is more important for the communities
located closer to the Bay. The residents of Tierra Blanca had several ideas for how a communitywide center could be utilized, including a pool, games for young people, and a meeting place.
This was also the only community to mention the logistical aspects of such a center, namely the
need to organize a responsible committee, generate funds and establish a budget for maintenance.


(Tierra Blanca. Photo by Josh Feinberg)

Obstacles to Focus Group

Even though in the end our focus group in Tierra Blanca had an ideal number of people, only a
small number of the large group of people we invited attended the meeting. Low yield rates
reflected some of the concerns about time constraints expressed by several communities,
including finding ways to encourage participation in community life and public initiatives. This
will present a challenge for Asociacin Mangle and the various juntas directivas, however, as the
populations living in all the communities we visited live at or below the poverty line and must
commit a majority of their time to simply subsisting and providing for their families. There
seems to be very little free time available to devote to community service and projects. Another
issue in Tierra Blanca was the communitys small size; many centers of public life, such as the
school, were located in other communities or in the more urban town center, far from where we
conducted our focus group and community walk. Therefore, it proved difficult for us during our
tour to develop an idea of all the public spaces considered important. Lastly, another difficulty
we encountered in many communities was soliciting the participation of women in the focus
groups. Nevertheless, community leaders insisted that womens empowerment was a priority. It
is to be expected that overcoming cultural constraints on gender roles will be a slow process, but
it might be advisable for the community leadership, and perhaps even Mangle, to develop more
strategies for ensuring that womens voices are heard.
Focus Group Responses (Compiled)
According to residents of Ciudad Romero, a public space fulfills various purposes, such as a
place where children can play, where people can resolve problems and express themselves, and
that helps to strengthen the community. Aspects the community valued most were the family,
agriculture, human life, and a dignified place to live. According to community representatives,
the factors that most contribute to the success and effective use of a public space are the actual
utilization of the space itself: that it serves as a communal space, that it complies with the use
defined for it by the community, and that it has value for the community. Some barriers to the
success of a public space were the lack of community organization, the inadequate utilization of
the existing spaces for community functions, the fear of violence from gangs, the inconvenient


placement of the space itself (on the outskirts of the community instead of in the center), and the
lack of capable, knowledgeable people to carry out projects. Reasons given for the success of a
public space was its central location, support from La Coordinadora, and communication
between La Coordinadora and the youth in the community.
The community members of Ciudad Romero see the Bay of Jiquilisco as a crucial natural barrier
to disasters such as floods and hurricanes. It is a vulnerable area, a source of life and food, and it
serves as a symbol of the community itself. Meanwhile, in what would become a trend we noted
in subsequent focus groups, the community members had difficulty envisioning a community
center for the entire area of Jiquilisco. Instead, they suggested situating one center in each zone.
They conceptualized such a center as either a disaster relief shelter or a meeting place for local
committees and workshops.

(Church in Ciudad Romero. Photo by Josh Feinberg)

Obstacles to Focus Group

Ciudad Romero was one of our first focus groups, and partly because of our inexperience and
partly due to some miscommunication, far too many people attended. In addition, most of the
extra participants arrived over 30 minutes late, which slowed down the session considerably.
Furthermore, it was a challenge initially to guide the conversation and ensure that no individual
monopolized it.
Focus Group Responses (Compiled)
The community of Isla de Mendez envisioned public spaces as those where important services
are provided to the community and where community members can meet for casual
conversations. Among the examples they gave were the communal center, the soccer field, the
sea and the beach, and the recently installed waste disposal/recycling center on the outskirts of
the community. These spaces contributed to the communitys overall well-being in different
ways, be it through income generation from tourism, proper disposal of waste, or the availability
of a space for young people to spend their leisure time. Above all, Isla de Mendez valued the


people that make up their community and their cooperative spirit. The future of their community,
as embodied by the education of children, is crucial, and the new vocational study tracks offered
by the local secondary school have been received with enthusiasm. The fishing cooperatives, as
well as the tourist center called Villa Tortuga, demonstrated through their use and vitality that
public spaces and their corresponding sources of income for the community are dependent on the
protection and management of the areas natural resources. The community identified several
assets or opportunities for growth and development, including the new highway, free education
at the secondary institute, potable water, and community organization through the ADESCOIM
(community development council). Various donors and organizations supported the building of
the new health clinic and provided new fishing equipment for the cooperatives. The maintenance
of the equipment and the public spaces was organized by the community; however, only school
employees were paid, and parents fund the custodial personnel.

(Isla de Mendez, Bay of Jiquilisco, Bajo Lempa, Usulutn. Photo by Josh Feinberg)

Because of its location directly on the Bay, Isla de Mendez is extremely conscientious about
preserving its natural resources, including fish and mangroves. The bay is the main source of
work for those living in that community. In recent years, the community has taken several steps
towards becoming more sustainable and in harmony with the environment, including establishing
a blast-free fishing cooperative, building a center for monitoring the endangered turtle
populations, and working with scientists from the University of El Salvador to researching the
local ecosystems. As in other communities, the residents of Isla de Mendez felt they lacked a
center for senior citizens. They also mentioned their desire to have a disaster shelter, a library,
and a daycare center. They shied away somewhat from the idea of one center that would serve all
the communities in the area and instead suggested having a center for each zone of Jiquilisco
(serving 6 or 7 communities).

Obstacles to Focus Group


This focus group was particularly successful and cooperative; no major obstacles existed besides
the time limit placed on the focus group and mapping exercise by the community members who
had another meeting to attend after they met with us. As a result of this time constraint, we were
not able to complete the full mapping exercise with the community representatives.
Focus Group Responses (Compiled)
The community of Amando Lopez considered a public space as one where community members
can have access to education, workshops, or childcare. Examples provided were the library or the
community center. They valued their public spaces, including the medical dispensary. Above all,
the community prized its compaerismo, or spirit of solidarity and collaboration. They have
benefited from the help of various foreign NGOs in constructing and maintaining their public
spaces, including the schools new computer room. The pride of the town is its organization:
there are groups for women, young people and farmers, as well as a very active ADESCO
(community development association). In our focus group, community members highlighted the
importance of good coordination, communication and the representation of each segment of the
population during decision-making. They were particularly proud of the harmonious relationship
between Catholics and Evangelicals in the community. In general, public spaces of Amando
Lopez are maintained by the entire community, or more specifically, by those who use them. The
staff of the preschool/child care center, the library, and the dispensary receive some
compensation donated by foreign organizations, while the schoolteachers are subsidized by the
Ministry of Education (MINED).
The community members were quick to bring up the importance of the Bay of Jiquilisco and its
natural resources for their community. While they were grateful to the various groups and NGOs
that are helping to restore and preserve the bays mangrove swamps, many individuals expressed
suspicion and hostility towards those who want to develop the bay for tourism. They claimed that
these developers did not prioritize the protection of the bays natural resources and were only
seeking personal profit. This attitude probably stems from the Salvadoran governments (as of
yet incomplete) plans to turn the bay into a tourist attraction by the end of the decade.
Our last question drew unusually specific answers from this community. One suggestion for a
Bajo Lempa-wide center was a large multipurpose center that could be used as a disaster shelter
or, possibly, as an alternative market for local producers. Other ideas included a space for youth
activities, vocational skills workshops and artisanry tutorials for women.


(Natural park space, Amando Lopez, Bajo Lempa, Usulutn. Photo by Josh Feinberg)

Obstacles to Focus Group

The principal difficulty with the focus group in Amando Lopez was getting community members
to identify problems and weaknesses in their management of public spaces, or in how they dealt
with community issues in general. Participants focused only on the positives of their community
organization and development, claiming there were no obstacles or barriers to furthering the
progress of their community.
Focus Group Responses (Compiled)
Las Mesas defined public space as a place accessible to the entire community, with a mission
that could range from social to religious. Certain spaces, like the local disaster shelter, provide
refuge during emergencies. The natural reserve park, parks and soccer field were described as
multi-purpose spaces. The community placed great importance on human life and on the
sacrifices of community members resources and time, which allow them to live together
harmoniously and work together to complete projects. The interest and engagement of the
community make it possible to complete these projects. In addition, it was noted that good
planning for community projects is essential, along with the help of organizations like Mangle.
Community members indicated that projects always involve a contribution of labor by the
community if there is outside funding. Maintenance of public spaces is organized on a
community level through committees, or simply according to the different groups who use the


The representatives from Las Mesas were very conscious of the role of the environment in their
lives and the local economy. They identified the important role of the Bay of Jiquilisco for both
tourism and subsistence. Several of the focus group participants were employed as
guardarecursos (park rangers), and told us how their livelihoods depended on the preservation of
local natural resources. However, community members seemed very resistant to the idea of a
new center for the use of the entire bay area; instead they repeatedly suggested either scaling
such a center down to the community level or using the Centro de Interpretacin in Las Mesas.
Obstacles to Focus Group
Las Mesas was in certain respects the most difficult community we met with. Because of
differences in opinion between the community leadership and Asociacin Mangle, our meeting
was initially cancelled, but was later rescheduled several days later, thanks to diplomatic steps
taken by Mangle. We also noted during our focus group that this community, in comparison to
others, seemed less committed to the idea of self-help and more dependent on donor aid. This
may be related to the comparatively large population of Las Mesas and the extreme poverty of
some sectors of this community.
Toward the end of our trip, on January 21, 2014, we met with four Asociacin Mangle leaders
(Carmen Argueta, don Luis Ramos, Walberto Gallegos and Maria Elena Vigil) at their offices, to
conduct a modified version of our community focus groups. Having explored the perspectives of
community leaders in the five communities visited, we considered it important to learn how
Mangle viewed its role in the development and maintenance of public spaces. (For the complete
list of focus group questions please see Appendix 2.)

First, the participants agreed that the communities themselves retain the responsibility for
leading the construction and maintenance of public spaces. More than anything, Mangle exists to
support the leaders, give direction when needed and involve the local people. Usually, the
organization becomes involved with projects focused on green spaces, such as the conservation
and protection of the local forests and mangroves. Secondly, we selected three different

community public spaces to evaluate in a more in-depth manner: La Coordinadora community

center in Ciudad Romero, El Centro de Interpretacin in Las Mesas, and El Centro Infantil (CBI)
the child care center-- in Amando Lopez. These locations span the spectrum from well utilized
to underutilized. For each public space, we asked questions regarding the initial objective of the
space upon its construction, its use currently, and other uses that could potentially be made of it
in the future.
For La Coordinadora space, the respondents explained that the initial plan was to create an office
for multiple activities, such as holding meetings, tending to a community garden for the
experimental planting of seeds and trees, and housing visiting delegations and exchange
programs in the dormitory-style rooms during their stay. Currently, La Coordinadora continues
to house visitors, and the experimental plant and diversified crop nursery continues to be
cultivated there. Additionally, it serves as an emergency center where community members can
take refuge during major floods and other natural disasters. One of the main activities is the
broadcasting by the community radio, which operates daily and informs community members of
current events and community affairs. For the future, Mangle leaders expressed the desire to
better integrate and incorporate the existing spaces into the community so that all community
members are involved in the planning process, construction and maintenance of such spaces, as
well as establish a farmers market where local producers could sell their produce or
The community members of Las Mesas created El Centro de Interpretacin (Multipurpose
Center) with the objective of providing office space to different committees, such as a womens
bread-making group, a community health worker, an artisan group and the park rangers. They
decided that this location, with its proximity to the mangroves, would be suitable to educate
tourists about the regions biodiversity and local environmental issues in general. Currently,
however, the space is not used as often as originally planned. Committees occupy only a few of
the rooms and hold occasional meetings. Community members have generated many ideas, but
no clear vision or plan of action has emerged, due to a lack of leadership, organization and
economic resources. In the future, the community leaders wish to use the space to develop and
carry out environmental trainings and capacity-building workshops for locals and tourists alike.
The community of Amando Lopez built El Centro Infantil (CBI) to create a space for working
mothers to bring their children at the pre-kindergarten level. No space existed for children of this
age before, so it was supported by the local residents. They envisioned a space large enough to
accommodate children from communities beyond Amando Lopez as well. Currently, CBI
functions successfully with a strong physical infrastructure and teaching staff. A lack of reliable
and healthy food provisions remains the biggest obstacle to the successful and sustainable
functioning of the center. The Mangle leadership could not suggest other uses for the center
beyond making it bigger or undertaking more frequent exchanges of resources, staff and
knowledge with other schools.

After performing the above-mentioned exercise for the three specific spaces, we returned to a
more general discussion about maintenance, community spirit and motivation. The Mangle
leadership understood maintenance as ensuring continued functioning of electricity, water, and
funding for these services. The common problem regarding maintenance was identified as a lack
of defined or established responsibility. Although it is often assumed that the many sectors of a
community work together, the focus group agreed on the importance of a more centralized
management system. Nevertheless, the community still retains the responsibility for and right
over the maintenance of its particular public spaces. In terms of community spirit, the group
defined it in a number of ways: support, interest, inclusion, participation of the people and
willingness to serve others without expecting anything in return. One Mangle leader described it
as a feeling of something spiritual. At times, improvements require sacrifices; the general
sentiment expressed was that if egoism and a lack of values replace community spirit, it is
difficult for the community to thrive or accomplish anything.
When asked what motivates the people in the Bajo Lempa, the Mangle group stated that the
economic growth and progress made in different communities in recent years has led to a shared
sense of accomplishment and solidarity. Furthermore, the people who live in the regions where
Mangle operates feel supported and not alone, because they believe in the current political party,
which most of the community also supports and believes in. Feeling like equals does a lot for
motivating community members and Mangle staff as well. Our counterparts within Mangle
believe that the work Mangle does motivates the people of their constituent communities, as it
represents a continual encouragement towards improvements in the community. When asked
how they could optimize the productivity of public spaces, the group responded that the
communities needed to identify with the spaces and give life to their unique purposes. This
requires responsible people in well-defined roles. Despite the challenges, Mangle believes it is
contributing significantly to the development of infrastructure, projects and leadership in the
communities where it works. Its primary roles are to support and facilitate capacity building,
while educating, organizing, and mobilizing the communities when needed.
Through our investigation, we found that the processes described below are key factors for the
successful utilization of a public space. Although Mangle may already implement some of these,
the following can serve as a list of efficient and proactive verification methods to maintain and
improve existing public spaces and to guide potential future projects. In order to further
Mangles aims to facilitate and assist the grupos locales in the development and maintenance of
community public spaces, we offer the following six recommendations:
1) Location and Objective: For future projects, a central and accessible location should be chosen
through discussions with the communities. Community leaders should establish clear and


concrete objectives for projects and ensure that they are documented. These site objectives
should be based on the needs and wishes expressed by the community residents, who should
have access to the site and take advantage of its benefits.
2) Organization and Planning: A committee of interested parties should be selected and should
meet at least twice a month, if schedules permit. Each committee member should have a specific
task to monitor, and an official document should be drawn up that includes the budget, expenses,
the number of contracted workers, a timeline and interested stakeholders.
3) Communication: A Mangle liaison should be assigned to the committee for the proposed
public space. The designated liaison would ensure that the committee has everything it needs to
function effectively. This can be assessed in weekly meetings, during which assistance with
facilitation and support could be provided.
4) Leadership and Training: Mangle should facilitate the creation of committees in those
communities that do not have them. Where they already exist, Mangle should facilitate the
delegation of specific tasks to each of the leaders involved in the daily functioning of the
community space. Emphasis should be placed on continual training of potential future leaders
who will replace the current leadership, with a specific focus on the development of youth
leadership. This will help ensure the availability of qualified candidates to assume a management
role. Leadership workshops for youths and adults, as well as youth leadership campaigns
organized and promoted by Mangle during the school breaks, can help further this goal. Such
activities could take place at the headquarters of La Coordinadora in Ciudad Romero.
5) Maintenance: In coordination with the designated committees, it is recommended that Mangle
facilitate a meeting in which a specific timeline is established to maintain and/or improve the
public spaces. One or two people from the community should be assigned to the daily
maintenance of a particular space. If funds are available, these community people should receive
financial compensation; if funds are not available, these individuals should receive compensation
in the form of refreshments or some other contribution that the community and/or committee can
make to the volunteers. At least once a month, a committee participant should be assigned to take
notes and observe the work that is being done by the person(s) in charge of maintenance.
6) Monitoring and Evaluation: We recommend that Mangle take into account both short-term and
long-term goals. We noticed a number of spaces in different communities that were falling into
disrepair simply because there was a lack of vision for the long term. Once the purpose of these
abandoned and neglected spaces was explained, it became apparent to us that they were founded
with only short-term goals in mind; no long-term goals had been set for their sustained use by a
particular community group. The fact that a construction project is completed, for example, does
not mean that the planning process for that project is finished. It is recommended that an
evaluation method be formulated to assess the project before, during and after its completion; it


would also be advisable to take into account the fact the leadership roles may change throughout
the phases of each project. Furthermore, during each stage of evaluation, time should be allotted
to assess the previous phases of the project, in order to successfully implement the next
appropriate stages. During these evaluations, it may become apparent that changes need to be
implemented before it is possible to proceed with the next steps of the project. Note-keeping
should occur during these evaluation meetings, so that a thorough record of the process can be
maintained. Even if the project has come to an end, there should be an evaluation of all its past
phases, as well as an outline of potential future steps to be taken for maintenance and monitoring.
Essentially, the evaluation process is never-ending; it is a cycle that continues throughout the life
of a project and must be ongoing to ensure the success of any public space.
The following recommendations are based on observations made by Team El Salvador Public
Spaces Group 1 during their work in the Bajo Lempa region, as well as recommendations
received from Max Rohm, a professional architect who has visited the Bajo Lempa with
Professor Adele Negro to see the work that Mangle and Team El Salvador have done in the past
eight years.
1) Women in public space might be a very interesting investigation topic for future work, as it is
example From the observations of the Public Spaces Team, often
women were not as represented in numbers as men at the focus groups and community meetings,
and even if they were present, did not contribute to the discussion as much as the men. At times
they did not contribute at all. An expanded project could investigate the role of women in
conjunction with public spaces to see if this relationship affects how well a space is being used,
and how it is maintained. What are the roles for women in the community beyond their role as
mothers? What role, if any, do they have in community leadership? How can women become
more active and involved in their communities? What barriers exist to women being a part of the
community leadership and projects?
2) The notion of a place where people can resolve problems is worth noting: the public as the
space for debate and social interaction and accord should be present in every community as a
base for its development. How can incentives be provided for the incorporation of this notion
within these communities?
3) Referring to the idea of a Mangrove Center or for the existing Center for Interpretation in Las
Mesas: What would the functions be of a public space for the whole community? Why is it
important? In what other ways could public spaces like the Center for Interpretation be used?


4) It is a fact that most people from the communities farther away from the Bay of Jiquilisco do
not even go to the coast (actually, many have never been there). Consequently, they do not feel
part of the eco-tourism iniatives that are being sponsored by the government (or Mangle). How
can public space become a vehicle to change this sense of involvement?
5) There seems to be a lack of knowledge about the role of public space as a founding
component of communal/town life. This may be due to the fact that these communities suffered a
displacement due to the civil war and had to be founded from scratch in short periods of time. In
these fast re-urbanization processes, private property is the seed of growth, while communities
that have grown naturally over time seem to thrive thanks to public property organization. Can
we think of introducing this conception of public space as the seed for communal growth rather
than more private necessities? How might this be implemented at the ground level?
The information gathered in this study can be used as a guide for future Team El Salvador
projects in the Bajo Lempa region in coordination with Asociacin Mangle. A recurring theme in
the communities we visited was the importance of constant and consistent communication
between Mangle and the communities. Many public spaces in the area are falling into disrepair
because of a lack of communication between leaders and the community in regards to
maintenance and overall use of the spaces. An emphasis on the day-to-day details of maintenance
and overall project development we found to be of utmost importance as well. It is recommended
that community leaders be encouraged to consider daily details of planning and communication
as key to the continuation of any community objective. Lack of communication and inattention
to these daily details can and do act as barriers to the overall success of projects and community
initiatives. Finally, we were shown many public spaces that had been constructed and then used
only for their intended purpose, if at all. Little if any effort was made on the part of community
members to envision other purposes and uses of their spaces. Instead of seeking funding to create
new spaces for different purposes, community leaders should be encouraged to consider ways in
which an already existing space can be used in multiple and invigorating ways for the life of the


Please note: all of the survey questions were asked in Spanish, and all responses were given in
Spanish. What is included here is the English version but was never administered as such.
1.0 Most commonly found results among all the communities of Tierra Blanca, Ciudad
Romero, Amando Lpez, Isla de Mndez, y Las Mesitas
1. How do you all understand the meaning of public space (How would you characterize a
public space?)
A place where people can get together
Something that provides the opportunity for further development (of the community)
A social space
A place where children and youth can have fun
2. What do you all value in your community?
The solidarity of the people
External help (aid or trainings from NGOs, non profits or the local government)
The community coming together to work on projects
3. What makes a public space productive and/or successful?
The location of the space
When the space satisfies the purpose that the community defined for it (that people are using it
for its intended use)
When the space provides an opportunity to organize and educate those within the community
When there exists a spirit of cooperation between everyone in the community
4. What factors could be barriers OR opportunities for the success of a public space?
Lack of community organization
Lack of resources (financial, human capital, knowledge)
Violence in the community and the fear of that violence
Lack of willingness of community members to give their time to community service projects
(Access to and availability of) Electricity and running, potable water
Good community organization and coordination


5. In the past or with previous projects, how did the community come to work together on
Everyone came to work and worked in formalized work groups that were organized by a
committee or the community leadership
6. How are the public spaces that already exist in your community maintained?
Everyone lends a hand in maintaining the spaces
The community leadership team is in charge of maintenance and organizing groups of people to
NGOs and other foreign organizations help maintain the spaces either with funds or personnelle
7. Is the Bay of Jiquilisco important to your community? (Can you give us an example of why or
how/explain with more details?) How and in what way?
One can buy shrimp at a lower cost (when it comes from the Bay)
We are going to defend that which is ours (referring to the Bay and the resources it offers to the
It is a place that contributes to the overall survival and well-being of the people and it needs to be
taken care of by the communities that surround it
The Bay is a special place in Central America (for Central America, the mangrove system can
only be found in El Salvador)
There is a lot of fear that other organizations or communities will come to the Bay and destroy it
8. If there were to be a Community Center for all of people in the municipality of Jiquilisco, how
would it be used? For what purpose?
As a space of learning (for trainings, classes, and workshops) and as a safe place where the youth
can also enjoy themselves, learn and stay out of gangs
1.1 Commonalities found among all communities during the mapping exercises
The majority of women in the communities are found in the home taking care of the children.
There are womens groups in some of the communities, but the majority of these groups do not
have their own place to hold meetings, classes, workshops, etc. Some women do work outside of
the home, but most of them are single mothers. It is difficult for women to leave the home to
work because few if any places exist for them to leave their children. Women end up having to
leave them at home by themselves, with neighbors, or with older relatives or siblings.
The majority of men in the communities work in the agricultural sector. To have fun, they play
soccer. They would like to see a park or playground built in their communities where they can
take their children to play and spend what little free time they have with them.


The majority of youth attend school. There are some groups of youth that are doing bad things
in the community for lack of anything else to do. When they get together to have fun, they play
soccer and go to the community centers for meetings of youth groups. Some youth work in the
agricultural sector. It would be great to have an illuminated soccer field so that they could play at
night. It would also be good to have a public space built just for the youth to use for trainings,
workshops, and meetings.
The Elderly
There are no services in the community to which the elderly have access. They usually stay in
their houses by themselves. Many communities believe that the elderly should have a space
where they can get together in a group or with other community members, such as the youth, to
share their stories, memories, and life experience; maybe in a community center or a cafeteria
type setting.
In general, community members think it would be good to have a safe place where children can
play and where there is someone to watch over and take care of them.
People with Disabilities (mental or physical)
There are no public spaces that exist solely for the use of persons with disabilities. Few special
services are provided for this population. The majority of people with disabilities stay at home
and do not participate in community activities. Sometimes they make it to meetings at the
community center or to the storm shelters in times of natural disasters.
1.2 The Mapping Exercise
Objective: this exercise should be used as a resource that can open the minds of people in the
community and get them to think about their community and its resources in a different way. It
also can help them brainstorm ideas for what they would like to see in their community in the
There is no right way to go about this exercise, and it can be different every single time it is
done, depending on the community and the participants. The most important thing to remember
is that everyone should participate and be heard. Sufficient time should be allotted for this
exercise, so that everyone can share their ideas. Also, one facilitator should be in charge of taking
notes of what people say during the exercise, so that everything is recorded.
Total time for the exercise: At least one hour
Butcher paper, or a large sheet of white paper


Markers of different colors and/or little squares of colored paper (using as many different colors
as possible). These will be used for identifying groups within the community
Scotch or masking tape
A wall or board on which to tape up the large sheet of paper where everyone can see and draw on
The Activity
To begin, the facilitator should have everyone in the group stand up near the white sheet of paper.
Every person in the group needs to participate and have a marker (or a pencil) in his/her hand at
the beginning of the exercise. To present the activity to the group, start with a phrase like, now
we are going to imagine that I/we (the facilitator(s)) are new to this community and have no idea
where anything is. We need you (the participants) to draw us a map of the entire community,
including every street, building, soccer field, etc., so we can find our way around. This map
should include all of the public spaces that exist in the community, including but not limited to: a
health clinic, stores, churches (or places of worship), houses, community centers, schools,
marketplace, and cemetery. The group will have about 10 minutes to draw a map of your
community. (In reality, the facilitator(s) should give the group about 15 minutes +/- to do this
part of the activity.)
NOTE: The group should start with a list of places that they want to draw on the map in order to
be sure that all public spaces are included, and the facilitator(s) can mention some examples if
need be (see explanation above). Ideally, the participants should come up with the list and then if
anything is missing, the facilitator(s) can offer suggestions.
After the map has been drawn, the facilitator(s) will continue the activity by identifying groups
within the community. These groups are not meant to be formal, specific community groups
like a youth group but rather informal and general categories of people divided up by gender,
age, or ability. For example, some groups that might exist in a community could be women, men,
children (boys and girls separated into different groups), youth, the elderly, or people with
disabilities. Every identified group should be listed in an open section on the map. The
participants can start with a brainstorming session of all the groups within their community, but
in the end it is best if no more than six groups are used for the activity as it takes too much time
to do the activity if there are more that are discussed for the exercise. After all the groups have
been identified and written on the map, a color or symbol must be placed by each group (the
color or symbol can be anything - it is only to identify where these different groups of people can
be found on the map/in the community). Either markers or cut squares of paper can be used.
After all the groups have been classified with their own color or symbol, the facilitator(s) can
begin to ask the participants where each group of people can be found on the community map.
The question that can be asked is, Where are the.(insert the group here, for example, women)


in the community? Where do they meet, where do they work, and where do they go to have fun?
The group should place the corresponding group color on the map in every spot where that group
can be found.

After all the colors of every group have been placed on the map, the group analyzes the results.
The questions asked in this section of the activity can be different with every community. The
final question in the group of questions below should always be asked of every group in every
community. For example, if there are women in the community, the facilitator(s) could ask the
following questions:
What do the women do in this community? Do they mostly work inside or outside of the house?
What kind of work do they do and where? If the majority work or can be found inside the home,
why is that?
What do women do for fun?
Where do they meet? Is there a place for women to have meetings? Where? or, if not, why? What
do you all (the participants) think about that (if no space exists)?
Do you all think that there might be something that the women in this community would like to
have that doesnt already exist? Why or why not? And if yes, what would that something be?
After each group has been analyzed in more or less the same way, the activity comes to a close.
2. Questions from Focus Group with Asociacin Mangle
1. What has been the role of Mangle in terms of the public spaces that exist in the Bajo Lempa
2. The following questions were asked about each community space: La Coordinadora (Ciudad
Romero), Centro Infantl (Amando Lopez), and Centro de Interpretacin (Las Mesas)
a. What was the original purpose for this space?
b. How is this space used today? What are some aspects, either positive or negative, of the use of
this space by the community in which it is located?
c. How else could this space be used by the community? What other purposes could it have?
3. How would you define maintenance? How is each of the spaces discussed above maintained
and cared for?
4. How would you all define community spirit? How do you see it manifested in the
communities in which you work if you DO see it, and if NOT, why do you not see it manifested?
5. In your opinion, what motivates people to work together in the communities of the Bajo
6. What does Mangle do to motivate people? What more could be done to motivate people?


7. Keeping in mind all the public spaces discussed previously, how can you optimize their use by
community members and their overall productivity? What can Mangle contribute to this effort?
2.1 Questions (in Spanish) for Focus Groups
Focus Groups
Bienvenidos a todos, gracias por participar en esta discusin. Les
proponemos de tener una pltica* sobre la utilizacin actual de los espacios
pblicos en su comunidad. Nuestro objetivo ac es explorar cuestiones tales
como: Qu es para Ud. un espacio pblico? Cmo se manifiesta una
comunidad? Cul es su visin para el futuro de su comunidad?
1. Cmo entienden Uds. un espacio pblico? (Cmo se caracteriza?)
2. Qu valoran en su comunidad?
3. Qu hace que un espacio sea productivo y/o exitoso?
4. Qu factores son barreras u oportunidades para el xito de un espacio
5. En el pasado/con proyectos previos, Cmo trabajaron juntos para llevar a
cabo los proyectos (las personas en la comunidad)?
6. Cmo estn mantenidos los espacios pblicos en su comunidad que ya
7. Le interesa la Baha de Jiquilisco a su comunidad? (Nos podra dar algn
ejemplo/explicar con ms detalles?) Por qu/de qu manera?
8. Si hubiera un Centro Comunitario para toda la gente del municipio de
Jiqulisco, como se utilizara?
Qu ha sido el papel de Mangle en cuanto a los espacios pblicos del Bajo
Para los espacios pblicos: La Coordinador, El Centro Infantil en Amado
Lpez, y El Centro de Interpretacin:
Cul era el objetivo original del espacio?


Para qu se usa hoy en da? -Cules son los aspectos positivos o negativos
de la utilizacin de este espacio?
Qu otros usos se le podra dar a este espacio por parte de la comunidad?
Cmo se define "el mantenimiento"?
Cmo funciona el mantenimiento de cada uno de estos espacios que
acabamos de discutir?
Cmo definen Ustedes "espritu comunitario"? Cmo lo ven manifestado en
las comunidades (o no)?
Segn Uds., Qu motiva a la gente de las comunidades del Bajo Lempa?
Qu hacen Uds. para motivar a la gente? Qu ms podran hacer?
Dado todos estos espacios pblicos, Cmo podemos optimizar su uso o
productividad? Qu puede contribuir Mangle?


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