MARIA GARCIA, KARLA MARTINEZ and BRENDA RINCON/Coachella Uninc
MECCA — The children of the San Antonio del Desierto no longer have to worry about getting hurt while they play because a safe playground has replaced the rocky dirt patch at the center of their mobile home park.
“I’m relieved there is finally somewhere I can take my two little brothers to play and not have to worry about them getting run over or falling and getting hurt,” said young resident Ashley Sandoval, age 9. “Now it will be easier for me to entertain them having this park here.”
Sandoval and her family joined their neighbors at an opening celebration of the play and community space on March 15, 2014.
Pueblo Unido Community Development Corporation (PUCDC), which manages the 95-unit park, had long envisioned a park for its residents. The project picked up steam after The California Endowment (TCE) awarded a grant to Kounkuey Design Initiative, a non-profit organization, to help make the residents’ vision a reality.
“The idea was a formulation from PUCDC way before we formally engaged in rehabilitation process of the park. Our experience with ‘polanco’ mobile home park rehabilitation gave us the perspective to study the site and begin the design to locate different components, including the proposed new spaces, community park, playground and child care and community center,” said Sergio Carranza, executive director of PUCDC.
Construction began in spring of 2012, after a series of community meetings that identified access to affordable food, a central gathering space, and safe recreation for youth as priorities.
Carranza added, “PUCDC introduced KDI with community members to seek feedback and recommendations for the actual space components…additionally, PUCDC mobilized residents on weekends to do light volunteer work at the park. Other more complex construction activities were done by PUCDC’s team of contractors.”
“This project would be KDI’s first ‘productive public space’ — formerly underutilized spaces, like vacant lots or dumping sites, transformed into active, attractive community hubs that simultaneously improve people, place, and environment — in the United States,” said Jessica Bremner, program director with KDI.
KDI has built similar productive public spaces in Haiti, Morocco, and Kenya.
“Our hope is that the new public space will allow a space for community growth and support. Through our time working with residents over the last three years, we have come to know them as people who fully embrace the word community – whether it is caring for each others’ children, sharing food, or encouraging each other through hard times,” said Bremner.
The park includes a community garden where this community of farmworkers can harvest and share their crops with each other.
“We hope that the community garden will provide new sources of income and nutritious food for the community, whether through new businesses connected to the garden (such as a salsa making business explored by one of the women in the business development training program),” said Bremner.
The KDI grant is part of TCE’s Building Healthy Communities (BHC) initiative.
“BHC [believes] that a child’s residence should not determine their quality of life and their health,” said Silvia Paz, manager of Eastern Coachella Valley BHC. “We all know that in the Eastern Coachella Valley there’s a lot of inequality when it comes to equitable access to recreational spaces, and that is why BHC will change this by making investments such as this.”
Longtime resident Manuel Vargas, 69, hopes living conditions continue to improve at San Antonio del Desierto.
“I have been living here for 10 years and there have been many changes. The electricity went out and the water wasn’t very safe…now, they made a new well,” said Vargas. “There are new plans to put pavement, as well as better roads and a different entrance for safety. There will be less danger for the kids that go to school and have to wait on the road.”
Liz Arredondo, age 7, is happy she will no longer be stuck at home watching television all day long.
“I’m excited to finally be able to hang out with my friends in the playground because I was always bored at my house,” she said. “I feel lucky to live here and play games with my brothers and sister.”