A vacant lot in the International District became a park this past weekend, with the help of the Nature Conservancy and community volunteers.
The sun beat down relentlessly, but volunteers still cheered when the first tree was planted. Neighborhood kids painted handprints on fences around the water containers. Other volunteers planted wildflowers, herbs and medicinal plants.
The park is meant to be mobile, with movable benches and water storage, and wooden planters for trees. Rocky Mountain Youth Corps volunteers built the park components.
Sarah Hurteau is the Nature Conservancy’s Albuquerque Urban Conservation director. She said the pop-up park on the corner of San Mateo and Southern Avenue will be a public space for neighborhood residents to escape the heat and enjoy nature. The park will sit on the lot for a year while the Nature Conservancy works with the property owner to secure a permanent park space.
“We’re taking a vacant lot and transforming it into something beautiful,” Hurteau said. “The community helped design this park. I think we can show people in this neighborhood that someone cares and is investing in them.”
Karen Cathey has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. She said the area often has a bad reputation, so it was refreshing to see community volunteers beautify the neighborhood with the pop-up park.
“People want beautiful things in their neighborhood,” Cathey said. “It’s good for the community to celebrate these positive projects and come together as a family.”
The park will feature sculptures and murals created by neighborhood artists.
“Every community deserves art,” said Valerie Martinez, founder of Artful Life, which helped the pop-up park idea come to fruition in Albuquerque. “This area is an urban heat island. The park is a unique way to give more shade and more art to this area.”
In urban areas, asphalt and concrete trap heat during the day and radiate heat at night to create heat islands. A Nature Conservancy study showed that Albuquerque’s urban areas are five degrees warmer in the day and eight degrees warmer at night than the surrounding natural desert.
Hurteau said many of the city’s heat islands are in Albuquerque’s low-income communities.
“There is a gap in equity of green infrastructure in the city,” Hurteau said. “These low-income neighborhoods tend to have more concrete, fewer trees and a high population density.”
Heat islands increase electricity demands and runoff water temperatures, and exacerbate health problems.
The project is part of the Nature Conservancy’s efforts to bring nature back into the city. In March, volunteers planted more than 60 native and desert-adapted trees in seven Albuquerque neighborhoods. Hurteau said they will plant more trees in the South Valley in the fall.
The Nature Conservancy partnered with Artful Life, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Bernalillo County, City of Albuquerque Parks and Recreation, New Mexico State Forestry, Rocky Mountain Youth Corps in New Mexico, Soilutions and the Dovetail Community Workshop for the pop-up park.
The park will have a grand opening celebration today as part of National Neighborhood Night Out.