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Meeting Report: Setting an Interdisciplinary Research Agenda for San Juan ULTRA

November 13, 2008


Tischa A. Muoz Erickson School of Sustainability, Arizona State University and Ariel E. Lugo, Magaly Figueroa, Olga Ramos International Institute of Tropical Forestry USDA Forest Service

Report Summary
The USDA Forest Service and US National Science Foundation recently entered into conversation to establish an Urban Long Term Research Areas (ULTRA) network of cities across the US. The purpose of the research network is to better link the prospects of environmental health and quality of life in urban areas through long-term research, application, and education. The city of San Juan is a candidate city to establish an ULTRA site, and the objectives of this site would be: Create an interdisciplinary research center to understand linkages between ecological and social systems of San Juan and its surroundings. Develop and provide useful and relevant knowledge for management and decision-making. Integrate scientific and local knowledge. Develop a reflexive and learning approach in which we collaborate with communities, decision-makers, managers, and other interest groups in the coproduction of knowledge, synthesis of information, project implementation and education.

The first meetings among San Juan researchers to develop the overarching concept of the proposal took place on August 18 and 19 of 2008. The meetings consisted of a field trip to multiple sites in the Ro Piedras watershed on the first day, followed by an interdisciplinary workshop to develop research concepts, questions and strategies for the San Juan ULTRA proposal. A total of 34 participants attended, representing a wide range of natural and social science disciplines. Prior to the meeting, we consulted with 16 key stakeholders working on urban environmental issues in San Juan, including representatives from communities, nongovernmental organizations, and city and state planning agencies, to assess key issues, concerns, and research needs to help inform and frame the ULTRA research agenda. Based on these deliberations, a number of cross-cutting themes and approaches emerged, including: vulnerability/resilience, networks, historical and cultural legacies, flows (materials, energy, information), and environmental governance. These are addressed through a transdisciplinary approach that focuses on the connectivity of social and biophysical systems at multi-spatial and temporal scales, and their effect on present and future vulnerability and governance of San Juan city and its surroundings. The overall question that emerged from the meetings was:

What is the long term relationship between biophysical and social networks on system vulnerability and governance in San Juan?
In this report we summarize the activities and discussions that shaped this first conceptualization of San Juan ULTRA. Here you will find meeting agendas, presentations, notes, and additional information on next steps in developing the proposal for San Juan ULTRA. We expect the ULTRA RFP to be out soon, at which moment we will distribute and suggest ways of moving forward. For any questions or clarifications, please dont hesitate to contact us. For more information about the ULTRA Network, please go to this link: 2

We would like to thank workshop participants for their participation and enthusiasm in developing a vision and roadmap for the establishment of the San Juan ULTRA. The list of attendees included (in no particular order): Blanca Ruiz, USDA Forest Service Fred Scatena, University of Pennsylvania Carmen M Concepcin, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Jose Seguinot Barbosa, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Ruben J. Hernndez, University of Puerto Rico, Medical Sciences Elsie Aponte Florencianin, Fideicomiso de Conservacin de Puerto Rico Alberto Del Toro, Fideicomiso de Conservacin de Puerto Rico Anbal Seplveda, Fideicomiso de Conservacin de Puerto Rico and University of Puerto Rico Alonso Ramrez, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Diana M. Martin-Cardona, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Jim Ackerman, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Jess Zimmerman, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Rafael Ros, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Rebeca de Jess, Department of Natural Resources Sofa Burgos, University of Puerto Rico Antares Ramos Alvarez, USDA Forest Service Elvia Melndez, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Carlos Garca Quijano, University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Armando Rodrguez Durn, University Interamericana, Bayamn Sylvia Gonzlez, University of Puerto Rico Magaly Figueroa, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry Sheila Ward, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Juan Giusti Cordero, Centro de Accin Urbana, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Germn Ramos, University of Puerto Rico, CAUCE Javier Laureano, Estuario Bahia de San Juan Oscar J. Abelleira, USDA Forest Service and University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Robert B. Waide, University of New Mexico Elvira Cuevas, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Evelyn Rodrguez-Alamo, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Edwin Hernndez Delgado, University of Puerto Rico, Ro Piedras Olga M. Jimnez Osorio, Turabo University Helen M Corts, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry Tischa A. Muoz-Erickson, Arizona State University Ariel E. Lugo, USDA Forest Service, International Institute of Tropical Forestry We also want to acknowledge the individuals and organizations that shared their time and knowledge with us through interviews. This information was invaluable to the ideas 3

presented in this report, and we hope that we have been responsive to the needs and concern expressed by these stakeholders. Interview participants (not listed for confidentiality) represented a range of institutions dealing with urban environmental and social issues, including: Office of Land Use Plan, San Juan Municipality Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources Puerto Rico Department of Transportation (Ciudad Mayor Project) San Juan Bay Estuary Consortium ENLACE Project, Cao Martn Pea Cool Cities Project, Sierra Club Puerto Rico Citizens for San Patricio Forest Alliance for San Juan Ecological Corridor CEDICE Project Urbanscape, Inc. Finally, we would like to thank all those that have expressed interest and enthusiasm for San Juan ULTRA, but were not able to join us for the meeting. This is just the start of this exciting new effort, so we hope you can all join us in the future.

Meeting Highlights
Meeting Objectives and Process
To help achieve a research program that meets the goals previously outlined interdisciplinarity, utility and relevance, integration, reflexivity and learning we designed an iterative collaborative process to develop the research agenda. The overall objective of this process was to establish long-term learning interactions between science and society such that the development of scientific knowledge is informed by societal needs and other types of knowledge, and vice-versa (Muoz-Erickson in review). As opposed to conventional models of communication and outreach in which diverse perspectives and knowledge are consulted at the end of the process, we used a bottom-up process in which we sought to integrate them a priori in the framing of the research agenda. To do this, we took numerous steps that informed each other, and many of which will continue throughout the life of the program, including: Step 1: Setting the socio-ecological context for San Juan city. Review of scientific, policy, media, and popular literature to identify key social and ecological issues that the city faces. Step 2: Stakeholder and communitys needs and knowledge assessment consultation with key governmental and civic society groups to inform problem definition and knowledge needs, as well as explore and expose the plurality of perspectives and approaches to urban environmental issues in San Juan (ongoing). Step 3: Research needs and knowledge assessment assessment of natural and social scientists problem definition, knowledge needs, and research priorities to explore and expose the plurality of perspectives and approaches to urban environmental issues in San Juan (ongoing). Step 4: Field trip August 15, 2008 Step 5: Interdisciplinary workshops August 16, 2008 Results for Step 1 can be found in Munoz-Erickson (in review). Steps 2 through 3 are still ongoing in the process of developing the proposal, but interview and survey questions are included in Appendix 1 and preliminary results can be viewed in the power point slides presented during the workshop (Appendix 3). Next, we present the highlights from the Field Trip (Step 4) and Interdisciplinary Workshop (Step 5).

Ro Piedras Watershed Field Trip August 15, 2008

The purpose of having a field trip prior to setting the research agenda was to provide an informal space in which researchers with multiple disciplinary backgrounds (natural and social sciences) could deliberate and reflect together on the pressing social and ecological issues of San Juan city. We invited community leaders to meet us at different sites along the main watersheds in the city the Rio Piedras watershed - to present and share their knowledge and experiences of the human and environmental interactions in their area, what factors are affecting them, and what they would like to see in their communities. While the boundaries for San Juan ULTRA are multiple and yet to be determined, we selected the Ro Piedras watershed as a logical starting point to bound the citys socioecological system (this watershed carries some of the major ecological and social flows in the city) for the purposes of a more focused discussion during the field trip. The lay-out of the field trip is also based on an urban forest field trip that the International Institute for Tropical Forestry (IITF) has designed as part of their outreach and educational activities (see Appendix 2 for a description of the IITF field sites). The specific stops for the San Juan ULTRA field trip Caimito, Montehiedra Bridge, Comunidad Borinquen, and Parque Central (shown in Figure 2) - were informed by the IITF field sites and recommendations from community leaders. The group CEDICE (Centro de Desarrollo e Investigacin en Comunidades Especiales) a group that serves as a link and support to various low income and marginal communities across San Juan, was especially useful in choosing sites and helping arrange the participation of the community leaders. FIELD TRIP MAP

A. Key socio-ecological issues and observations identified at each stop of the field trip: Note: Some of the points include quotations from community leaders. Stop 1- Caimito (Sector Morcelo, La Curva) Hayde Colon, of the community group Comisin de Ciudadanos al Rescate de Caimito, joined us at this highest point of the Rio Piedras Watershed (to the north) and headwaters of Rio Guaynabo and Rio Grande de Loiza watersheds to the South and West respectively. She then joined us for the rest of the field trip stops. Some of the issues discussed at this point include: The land use at this point is rural over steep slopes. Urban sprawl is affecting water bodies. Regulation 25 dealing with tree removals is not followed by developers. Housing developments for the rich cause floods in the poor communities. In the past the land was used for agriculture. Products were sold at the Plaza del Mercado de Rio Piedras. From 1936 to 1960 the concept of agriculture schools was promoted. Agriculture schools then disappeared, which discouraged agriculture and benefit development. The flooding problem in the basin is not the rain, but what we did to the land. For example, the burial of Quebrada Chiclana to build houses is a sources of downstream flooding. In the Chiclana example, the burial of the creek was reversed in court in the year 2000. Caimito was established when free slaves moved to the area. After that, the land was divided in parcelas. New comers are professional couples that started rehabilitating abandoned houses due to their economic situation. They returned to Caimito because of land inheritance. We have no homeless people in Caimito, there is a sense or community here.

Stop 2- Montehiedra Bridge You can see the Ro Piedras below this bridge. It has sediment due to soil erosion caused by upstream development. The riparian zone is mostly a natural forest of yagrumo with few introduced species. Reactive environmentalists, owners of newly constructed houses that are now affected by new developments. Developers constructed houses over the streams that flowed to the Ro Piedras. In the urbanization rboles de Montehiedra, there are seven (7) streams buried in the area.

Stop 3- Comunidad Borinquen Doa Gloria is a community leader of the Comunidad Borinquen that voiced community concerns about the flooding problem, its causes and consequences. This community is in the lowlands and receives flood waters from Caimito and the metropolitan area in between. One of the areas in San Juan that is most vulnerable to flooding risks. Before they built the highway and canalized the river, the area was a mangrove system. Filling was placed over the mangroves and the Quebrada Margarita was contained in a channel. The community is flooded by the Ro Piedras. Originally, the mangrove controlled the flooding, received and absorbed the extra water. Now the channeling makes the water go inside the houses. The hydraulic capacity is not enough. A pumping system was installed and managed by the community. Industries in the areas drained polluted water into the stream. A meeting with the communities is proposed to discuss flooding situation.

Stop 4- Parque Central Final point and intersection of the Ro Piedras and San Juan Bay Estuary. At the Cao Martn Pena, we saw water hyacinths floating from as far away as Carraizo Reservoir, many kilometers upstream. Ro Piedras has more sediment than most rivers in Puerto Rico and drains it in the San Juan Bay Estuary. Underneath one of the busiest avenues in the city, residents fish for tarpon, a native mangrove species.

B. Field trip highlights: Set the context through a mountain and communitys view of San Juan. Scientific and local knowledge exchange Spanning disciplinary boundaries among natural and social sciences Building bridges between science and society Initiated long-term interaction between science and the community through San Juan ULTRA

Interdisciplinary Research Workshop August 16, 2008

Following the field trip we held the interdisciplinary workshop at the International Institute for Tropical Forestry (IITF) located at the Botanical Gardens. The objective of this workshop was for researchers from diverse disciplinary and professional backgrounds to collectively generate a research concept for San Juan ULTRA that addresses key socio-ecological issues in San Juan city and concerns from stakeholders and communities. A total of 29 researchers from various academic institutions in the region attended (about half of which also attended the field trip) and contributed a wide range of disciplinary perspectives, including: forest ecology, aquatic ecology, community ecology, landscape ecology, environmental science, geography, sociology, history, anthropology, environmental policy and governance, environmental economics, and planning, among others. The first part of the meeting consisted on identifying the pressing socio-ecological issues that San Juan ULTRA should address. Tischa Muoz-Erickson gave a power point presentation (Appendix 3) with a summary of the review of scientific, policy, media, and popular literature on socio-ecological issues in San Juan (Muoz-Erickson, in review), and preliminary analysis of the stakeholder and researcher assessments identified through interviews and surveys (described in Appendix 1). The group then deliberated on these issues, as well as missing aspects, and generated a more extensive list of issues (see list below). Before prioritizing issues and developing research questions, the group asked for more information about the ULTRA Network goals. Because the Request For Proposal (RFP) is still in development, and therefore unavailable, the group was concerned about the lack of information as to the conceptual frameworks and research requirements of ULTRA, as well as its funding and institutional structure. Some were also confused as to the relationship between ULTRA and the Long Term Ecological Research Program (LTER), of which there is one established in the Luquillo Experimental Forest Two US Forest Service representatives clarified the objectives of ULTRA (as known at the time of the meeting) and its overlap with the LTER. The LTER is a scientific research program of the National Science Foundation that began in 1988 with the purpose of establishing long term ecological research sites across the United States. The Luquillo LTER was established in the Luquillo Experimental Forest and has been conducting ecosystem ecology research for 20 years. This research site has collected extensive meteorological, physical, and biological knowledge which is available for reference for this proposal. ULTRA draws on similar research ideas to establish a network of urban sites for long term socio-ecological research through a long term funding infrastructure. The unique aspects of the ULTRA network is its interdisciplinary focus to understand social and ecological trends and processes in urban sites (the LTER has only two urban sites), and its commitment to provide useful and relevant knowledge to address environmental health and quality of life issues in cities. The ULTRA Network (and RFP) is being developed and will be supported 9

by both the US Forest Service and the National Science Foundation. The International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF) will host the San Juan ULTRA and be responsible for the administration of the project. It is anticipated that most of the funding will go to the maintenance of the scientific infrastructure in San Juan and collaborative research will all ULTRA participants. Given this background, the group then discussed concepts and cross-cutting themes that would serve as the overarching framework that will inform more detailed research questions and approaches for the San Juan ULTRA once the RFP is distributed. Suggestions included consulting existing frameworks, such as the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment by United Nations ( and the Urban Resilience Framework by the Resilience Alliance (Barnett et al. in review), for categories and indicators that can be used as reference. It was also suggested that we identify issues or questions that we already have information for and we are able to answer. The group also did a listing of concepts that seemed to transcend disciplinary boundaries (cross-cutting themes), such as: Vulnerability (opposite of sustainability), related to resilience and efficiency. Concept that can be used and worked with. Legacies (historical and cultural) Trans-disciplinary (mechanism) Connection flaws or how does connectivity of biophysical and social networks influence the system: o Vulnerability o Flow o Energy o Governance o Environmental management and governance We then formed two working groups (consisting of a mix of natural and social scientists for each) to generate conceptual ideas and research approaches based on the themes listed above (see below for a detailed list of themes that each group developed). Once the entire group came back together and reflected on these ideas, we synthesized the emerging themes and formulated an overarching research question and approach,

What is the long term relationship between biophysical and social networks on system vulnerability and governance in San Juan?
With this approach, the study aims to describe physical, ecological, and social connectivity of San Juan's socio-ecological system in the context of its natural and social vulnerabilities. In so doing we aim to improve the environment and quality of life of the people of San Juan We agreed that the next steps should involve further engagement with stakeholders and researchers. The group pointed out the imbalance of the natural and social sciences and that we should continue efforts to engage social scientists in the development of the proposal. We also discussed how to continue and expand the stakeholder engagement process through interviews, invitations, as well as, collaborative meetings or workshops. A meeting in December, when we expect to have a fleshed out outline of the proposal but before it takes full shape, would be an appropriate time to have such a meeting. 10

The next steps in the development of the proposal include gathering more feedback from potential research collaborators, specially those that were not able to attend the meeting, initiate a literature review of the concepts and approaches discussed at the meeting, and organizing working teams and meetings to piece together an integrated research proposal A. List of social and ecological issues identified by the group. Regional climate change, north Caribbean drought, change in temperature 5 degrees. 1-1.5 mm of rainfall, water available, and rain pattern changed. Soil infrastructure change and relationship with available water, waste water, and water runoff. Rain and septic systems- shared, affect the estuary and San Juan Bay. Marine part has to be considered, watershed goes beyond the shore. Corals are markers and are also important for tourism and safety (hurricanes). San Juan Bay Estuary needs to be considered as part of the project. Community- need to educate them on the importance of the ecosystem and its relation to quality of life. Need to consider connections: o Green spaces o Connectivity o Access o Diversity patterns o Scale issues People use and accessibility. Public housings- important to take them in consideration. Power structure- drug dealers. Moving people and materials along the watershed: o Drug points o Anti drug points o Geography o Obstacles, barriers. Politicians, policy makers- how to communicate and relate to them. Community pressure is important. Fisheries: o Fishermen aware of changes. o Know fish moved because of runoff and sediment. o Crab fishing and tropical estuaries. o Overharvesting. o Coast Guard regulations, keep fishermen out of business. Historical legacy, cultural, highway divided communities. Cupey exampledevelopment happened so fast and without any special considerations. Rain and sewage system overloaded. Development indicators, for example, fish native species that are in the Rio Piedras. Study of the urban forests in the presence of pollution. Change sensors. Pride on local resources, people feel good about the environment. 11

Efficiency, better term than sustainability (use of resources, integration of ideas, implementing projects). Need to establish proper terminology. Taxes, industries dont pay taxes, industry reform designed to benefit industries. Tax code/ property value, Land use/land value.

B. Key themes and approaches that emerged from the small group discussions Group 1: Connectivity general social term, everything is connected (definitions and metrics, top down vs. bottom up) Physical, ecological and social community influence social and ecological vulnerability. How does physical, ecological, economic and social connectivities influence governance or environmental management? How to measure and what? - river (hydrological) - road network - changes in stream/road/and community network - micro-climate - gated vs. ungated communities - flooded vs. upland communities - social organizations Group 2: (Related to connectivity and adjacency) Ecological/corridors (can be bad, as in the spread of invasive species) Social Isolation (gated, high rises) Degree of connection not always good. History for example, how does class adjacency of the poor and middle class neighborhoods affect connectivity? Urbanization (gated communities) Information management how does word of mouth affect what people do (positive or negative)? Jobs, construction sector, fisheries laws. Transportation lack of public transportation and its effect on community wellbeing (Related to networks) Jobs networks, transportation, traffic Social and physical network overflow (e.g. water, people) Difference between studying vs. restoring connectivity (e.g. hydrology storage) Development, permit approval, impact of footprint Experiments (e.g. impact of green roofs, low development construction) Perceptions. 12

References Cited
Barnett, G., T. Elmqvist, C. Redman, B. Walker, A. Kearns and X. Bai. In review. Exploring urban resilience: a research framework focusing on urban landscapes as complex adaptive systems. Ecology and Society. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. United Nations. Muoz-Erickson, T. A. In review. Establishing an urban ecology site in San Juan, Puerto Rico: Where do we start? Cities and the Environment Journal ULTRA Network link:


Appendix 1
San Juan ULTRA Needs Assessment Survey
Recently, the USDA Forest Service approved the establishment of Urban Long Term Research Areas (ULTRA) in cities across the US to better link the prospects of environmental health and quality of life in urban areas through research, application, and education. The city of San Juan has been proposed has a potential ULTRA site. The purpose of this survey is to better understand the range of perspectives on urban environmental problems in San Juan and what information and knowledge is most needed to address them. This information will assist in the planning process for developing the San Juan ULTRA as a collaborative research program aimed at meeting stakeholders needs and concerns. This survey will take approximately 20 minutes to fill out. Your participation in this survey is completely voluntary. We greatly appreciate your valuable time and participation in this effort. 1. Please list up to five urban environmental issues that San Juan city faces. a. What do you think is the most pressing urban environmental issue? Please briefly describe the causes and potential solutions to this problem. 2. In order to understand urban environmental issues broadly in San Juan, do you think we need more information or knowledge? ____Yes _____No _____No Opinion a. If you answered yes, please list up to five urban environmental information gaps? 3. At what geographic scale or spatial units do you think research should focus on the most to understand the urban environmental issues in San Juan? Why? 4. Please list any information, datasets or tools you or your organization might be able to contribute in order to better understand and manage the urban environment in San Juan (and if possible, the scale of analysis that the information or data was taken). For the following questions, please check the response that best fits your view. 5. Policy-making in San Juan is informed by science. ___ Always ___Most of the time ___Sometimes Opinion ___Rarely ___Never ___No


6. Scientific research in San Juan is informed by social and policy concerns. ___ Always ___Most of the time ___Sometimes Opinion ___Rarely ___Never ___No

7. Considering your answer to the previous questions, please take a brief moment to explain your response. In other words, how would you describe the existing relationship between science and decision-making in San Juan? What is working and/or not working? 8. Many terms are used to describe urban environmental issues. In the spaces below, please briefly describe in a sentence or two what these terms mean to you and then check whether your work addresses related issues. (If you are not sure how to describe these terms, please list any words or phrases that come to mind when you think of the term). a. Urban forestry: Applies to your work? ____Yes ____No b. Urban ecology: Applies to your work? ____Yes ____No c. Urban sustainability: Applies to your work? ____Yes ____No d. Are there any other terms that you would find useful to describe urban environmental issues? 9. Please list 5 organizations/institutions that you consult with the most (or ask questions more frequently) to obtain information and/or data about the San Juan urban environment or ecology?


10. Please rank the research themes listed below based on how important you think they are for urban environmental research in San Juan. Please rate the potential research topics below by checking the appropriate box. Scores of 5 indicate highest priority and scores of 1 indicate lowest priority. 1 (lowest)
a. Air quality b. Biodiversity and habitat c. Built environment d. Economic growth and development e. Environmental justice f. Environmental attitudes and behavior g. Global climate change h. Land use and land cover change i. Open space and parks j. Public health k. Water quality l. Water quantity m. Resilience and sustainability n. Urban forests o. Urban heat island p. Other? __________________________ q. Other? __________________________

5 (highest)

11. Background Information a. b. c. d. e.


How many years have you lived in the San Juan area? ____________ What is your profession/occupation? What is your area of study or scientific discipline? What is the name of your employing institution/organization? How many years have you been working on environmental issues in San Juan? _______

What is your age? ___20-30 years ___31-40 years ___41-50 years ___5160 years ___>60 g. Are you: __ Female ____ Male

12. Finally, as we prepare for planning meetings, we are trying to assess the priority research areas for the ULTRA efforts. If you have any research ideas or questions of interest on urban environmental issues in San Juan, please take a moment to describe them briefly here. Thank you for your participation! We will keep you informed of ULTRA efforts.


Appendix 2


Appendix 3