El Caño Martín Peña

Photo by Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña.

Puerto Rico

Driven by community leaders from eight adjacent communities along el Caño Martín Peña(CMP) in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the work of the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE offers an equitable and community-driven model for relocation in flood-prone neighborhoods. Residents are voluntarily relocated to resilient infill housing, making space for green infrastructure and keeping the community together. A community land trust protects residents from gentrification while providing a model for collective land ownership.

ENLACE along with the eight communities surrounding the channel, represented by G-8, and the Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña, the community land trust (CLT), work together towards a social and environmental justice model to restore the degraded channel and promote community resiliency.

Collaborative Team

Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña The Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña (ENLACE) is a public corporation set up by the government of Puerto Rico to provide the local residents and organizations a means of collaborating on improving the Caño Martin Peña communities and the canal itself.

MIT Urban Risk Lab  Urban Risk Lab, led by Associate Professor Miho Mazareeuw, develops methods, prototypes and technologies to embed risk reduction and preparedness into the design of cities and regions to increase the resilience of local communities.

Future Visions

Residents of el Caño Martín Peña:

Photos by Larisa Ovalles and Doel.

The transition from agricultural to industrialized economy in the 1930s led a large wave of migration of poor rural families into the urban centers, including the eight communities that settled informally along el Caño: 1) Barrio Obrero (Oeste and San Ciprián); 2) Barrio Obrero-Marina; 3) Buena Vista-Santurce; 4)Parada 27; 5) Las Monjas; 6) Buena Vista-Hato Rey;  7) Israel-Bitumul; and 8) la Península de Cantera. As many as 86,000 people lived there in the 1970s. Communities fought to keep their land and stay in their communities, despite government attempts to displace the dense “arrabales" and the constant threat of speculation for high-end development.

A 3.75 mile Tidal Channel:

Photos by Rafael Luna and Doel.
Aerial Images from 1936 and 2018.

El Caño Martín Peña is a navigable body of water in the San Juan Bay Estuary. It connects San Juan Bay, where the main port is located, to the San Jose Lagoon where the main airport is located. As the majority of residents come from rural areas, a deep connection to the land is embedded into the local culture and way of life in el Caño. The eight communities surrounding el Caño occupy a central location in the heart of San Juan, making them vulnerable to displacement. They have historically been marginalized, exposed to significant environmental and health problems, and lack essential infrastructure.

Clogging and Lack of Proper Drainage:

Photos by Doel and ENLACE.

The deterioration of el Caño was due to the informal occupation of the land and the marginalization and inaction from the government to provide proper sewer and stormwater systems. Once 200-400 feet wide, the channel is clogged with debris, sediment, and waste. Water flow obstruction has also led to increased flooding, exposing its 26,000 residents to contaminated waters. In addition to the looming threat of displacement, these health and flood hazards led to a call for dredging the channel and establishing a long-term vision by and for the communities around it.

Participatory Process:

Diagram by MIT Urban Risk Lab.

The Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña (ENLACE), is a public entity created in2004 by Law 489 to implement the Comprehensive Development and Land Use Plan for the Caño Martín Peña Special Planning District (CMP District Plan). ENLACE works closely with G-8, a non-profit organization that brings together community leaders from the eight communities surrounding the channel and to ensure a participatory process throughout the implementation of the plan. El Fideicomiso de la Tierra Caño Martín Peña - the Community Land Trust (CLT)- aprivate, non-profit organization created to manage the land and prevent residents from being priced out. The CLT is an essential part of the success of the project. It is an innovative model for collective land ownership where each family has individual rights over their plot, protecting residents from gentrification and eviction as a result of market forces. CLT also secures affordable housing and provides housing opportunities for relocating families.The community collectively owns 200 acres (80 ha) of land, allowing them to directly benefit from the improvement efforts of the project. Residents have decisional power over what happens on their land and they can ensure that the plan is implemented as originally intended. Fundamental to these organizations’ agendas is empowering the communities to be the main actors of change, and the plan’s design and implementation revolves around an inclusive, participatory planning process - which included over 700participatory planning activities in two years. This process of empowerment, where residents have a voice and a vote, is written into the policy of Law 489. In order to make room for the channel expansion and restoration, around 1,000 families require relocation. The relocation process is explained clearly and multiple times at meetings, presentations and community participation activities, ensuring that people understand the entire process. Relocated residents are involved from the start. Residents can select three ‘safe, decent and sanitary’ existing housing options and are guided by the “Relocation Committee.”Residents can also choose to move into the new housing developments as part of the Plan. ENLACE provides additional support throughout the process, including mental health services to mitigate the emotional stress relocation can cause.

The District Plan:

Plan by Department of Transportation and Public Works.

Proyecto ENLACE uses an integrated and comprehensive approach to address the social and economic development of the community. The District Plan utilizes green infrastructure to ensure the restoration of the channel and mitigate flooding in addition to the proposed improvements to the conventional drainage infrastructure system. Approximately 600 families have been relocated as of 2020, with 1,300 families more left to be relocated. The plan includes 420 new resilient housing units and rehabilitation of 80 more. However, the focus is not only on changing the built environment but on social and economic development. Empowerment is fostered through education, including a school that exposes future young leaders to critical thinking, social development concepts, and activism. Other social programs reinforce community unity and a sense of pride.

This project is a unique collaborative partnership between the Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña, G-8, Fideicomiso de la Tierra del Caño Martín Peña, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Urban Risk Lab.

Corporación del Proyecto ENLACE del Caño Martín Peña

  • Carlos Muñiz Pérez, Director of Urbanism and Infrastructure

  • Estrella Santiago, Environmental Affair Manager

  • Mariolga Juliá, Public Participation Office Director

MIT Urban Risk Lab

  • Miho Mazereeuw, Associate Professor of Architecture and Urbanism, Department of Architecture

  • Larisa Ovalles, Research Scientist, Department of Architecture

  • Elizabeth Yarina, PhD Candidate, MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning

  • Camila Ostolaza

  • Lynced Torres, Masters of Architecture, MIT Department of Architecture

Additional Resources