A city between the forest and the reef
Updated: Jun 15, 2018
Many weeks ago I was invited by Mansi Jasuja, my dear friend and President of IHS Alumni International Board to write an urban blog for the makingcitieswork IHS blog. A BLOG !!! Oh dear… I was in trouble. Specifically a blog about a city and a blog about my work! Thats where things got out of control and I realized my mind wrongly associates the word city with high rise buildings and concrete. A city… yes, like Rotterdam, full of wonderful bridges, good transportation system, many houses, train stations, theaters - the list would go on and on. Thoughts about a city were also linked to extreme traffic, urban pollution, poverty and people on the run to be successful. A city… how could I write about a city and how will my blog be judged by architects, urban planners, sociologists, etc?
Time passed and today in the morning, after reading another message from Mansi, reminding me of the blog I never sent, something finally clicked and I decided to give it a try and to understand why I felt blocked to write. For nine long years I was pampered living in La Ceiba, located in the north coast of Honduras, Central America with a population of approximately 200,000 people. It is a city that doesnt felt like one, or at least my old concept of a grey city.
Its a place full of history, flavors, smiles, interesting stories, good schools, good hospitals, an international airport, five universities, shopping centers and all the services you might need. Many people cycle to work, even under the hot sun and even without all the bicycle paths and proper rules that should be in place for such a way of life. Traffic jams were never an issue in this wonderful place. Leaving home and dropping my son in school would only take 10 minutes driving and 6 more to get to my office. I could even go, almost daily, back home and enjoy lunch with my family. What a treat! Of course its far from perfect, many things could and should be improved such as city planning, local markets, roads, climate change adaptation, public spaces, protection of historical buildings, sanitation coverage are some of the many things that I can think of, plus a very long and important list of social issues that deserve on their own a whole new page.
But today with this blog, I wish to focus on a specific situation of a city between the Nombre de Dios mountain range with and altitude of 2,435 meters above sea level and the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the largest in the American continent. In the same day you can wake up early and go diving to experience the wonderful underwater world and its coral reefs and in the afternoon you can drive up the mountain and rest in the forest or reach your adrenaline peak white water rafting in the Cangrejal river. What if you´re completely stressed? Just leave your office and drive or take a bus for 15 minutes to encounter breathtaking mountains and a lovely clean river you can actually swim in. Honestly, these lines are not meant to be a tourism advertisement for La Ceiba, I am sure many of you know of similar cities or have had the joy of living in one. But at our rate of destruction and alarming threat to biodiversity, we can almost come up with a Red List of Endangered Cities.
These lines are just a reminder that quality of life in a city should also be determined by its closeness to nature in a good state of conservation. In the end, the possibility to merge the best of two worlds. The possibility to escape to a very near and unbuilt environment.
Hoping to contribute to the existance and prosperity of these kind of cities, I share a video (spanish with english subtitles) that presents how the organizations and communities in Honduras, and specially those living in and around this city, have worked towards tropical forest conservation. The tropical forests that I hold near to my heart, for the peace I gain when I am there and the tropical forests that mean life and economic and social development to those whose livelihood depends on them.
Some of the lessons I have learned in the past 6 years through this work were that people will protect what they value and love; capacity development and empowerment are crucial; conservation divorced from social development is in the end just short term conservation; communities know so much more than what we think and they should be real partners not just a number to have our projects approved; we should listen and involve women and men equally in our work; private sector can lead conservation initiatives if they understand their link to nature; and that forest management and sustainable tourism organizations have far more reasons to work together than apart. In the end, its all just common sense, which is, as my father constantly reminds me, the least common of all the senses.
I no longer live in La Ceiba, but some of my best memories will always be there, protected by the best guardians, our lovely mountains and the most amazing Caribbean Sea. Life continues, we grow and change, just as my concept of a city. Sistematizacion Honduras Mix y BdM (04 2016)
Yanu is an environmental engineer and obtained in 2002 her masters in urban environmental management as part of CUE 6. She works as the environmental officer of the cruise ship dock in Roatan and the solid bulk terminal in Puerto Cortes, Honduras. Yanu is part of the SAM Leadership Program since 2010. She is also a volunteer advisor of La Ceiba's Tourism Chamber.