Public Spaces

Quick Facts

Project Objective

To deliver designs and planning models for the rehabilitation of critically needed public spaces in two partner communities of the Lower Lempa River Watershed region, and thereafter lay the groundwork for assembling a diverse team of architects, engineers, planners and community leaders to begin the implementation process.


2013-15 (original surveys) + 2019-22 (design presentation/implementation)

  • Asociación Mangle
  • Asociación Cincahuite
  • Professor Rachel Berney of the UW-Seattle
  • Professor Max Rohm of the UBA-Argentina
  • Technical experts (US, El Salvador)
  • Local municipalities
  • $12,500 USD for Phase IV: March 2019 (accomplished)
  • $35,000 USD (estimated), Phase V, 2022 (preliminary implementation)


The communities of the Bajo Lempa are located in the fertile delta region of the Lempa River watershed and the Bay of Jiquilisco, a designated Ramsar Convention Wetland of International Importance and a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Nevertheless, ever since they settled in this area at the end of the devastating civil war in 1992, these communities have continued to deal with multiple challenges:

  • the daily struggles for subsistence;
  • the ravages of floods and droughts brought on by climate change;
  • the need to build community cohesion in order to help repel violence, above all gang violence;
  • and the trickling loss of community members who are migrating to larger cities or other countries in search of work and security.

For most rural communities in El Salvador, and with a particularly devastating impact on youth, the twin realities of violence and the struggle to survive have created persistent patterns of spatial segregation and fragmentation.

By adapting a recognized, urban public space design model to the needs of this rural context, ECOPA’s Public Spaces program work, in collaboration with our forward-looking Salvadoran partners, has become a mechanism to help spur improved livelihoods by:

  • expanding local community enterprise and building entrepreneurial capacity;
  • strengthening natural resource conservation through viable community ecotourism networks;
  • and connecting severely disenfranchised rural producers, unable to compete in urban markets, with urban consumers.

Road Map

The concept for ECOPA’s multiyear Public Spaces Analysis and Design Studio arose from the efforts by our grassroots partner, the Mangrove Association, to launch a local network of farmers' markets in the Bajo Lempa communities in 2008-2009.

The intention was to strengthen their collective capacity to market and sell their agricultural products, thus boosting their ability to generate income. However, they faced a number of logistical, organizational and infrastructural challenges which resulted in the abandonment of this initiative.

Our Public Spaces project was conceived as a means to revitalize this endeavor, but it also took on a much broader, more multifaceted scope. In a first-ever collaboration, ECOPA worked in 2015 and 2016 with professionals and graduate students of landscape architecture, environmental planning, and urban design at the University of Washington-Seattle.

With advisory input from a top professor of architecture at the University of Buenos Aires, we provided detailed, creative designs and planning models for the rehabilitation and revitalization of critically needed public spaces in two partner communities of the Lower Lempa River Watershed:

  • the inland agricultural community of Ciudad Romero, which has served as our “home base” in El Salvador since 2007;
  • and the small fishing cooperative of El Flor, on the Bay of Jiquilisco.

The designs respond to the needs and desires expressed by community members and leaders surveyed between 2013 and 2016.

In March of 2019, ECOPA led a team of architects, planners, administrators and former student project participants to present the designs to the intended beneficiaries, so as to receive their feedback about the relevance of the work for their communities. The team engaged with local leadership, municipal authorities and academic institutions to determine the viability of implementing the designs, and the requisite next steps for concretizing them in a phased manner.

The response was enthusiastic, but necessarily tempered by the mutually recognized need for extensive resources, both financial and human.


  • Both communities are provided with ways in which concrete, multi-purpose spatial design that is responsive to their wishes can be creatively and pragmatically utilized to strengthen and expand their sustainable, integrated development strategies.
  • Educational, experiential opportunities are provided to students of landscape architecture, urban design and environmental planning.
  • Understanding is enhanced among community leaders regarding the significant role public space design can play in empowering their communities.

We believe that it is not solely a matter of building buildings, but of using landscape design and architecture as vehicles for socio-economic and environmental betterment of community life. In communities coping with limited resources and subsistence living, it is crucial to target the investment of time and money into projects that, first of all, are wanted and envisioned by a community and, secondly, that benefit the entire community, addressing multiple processes of development.

Next Step(s)

  • Leverage the 4-member delegation trip to the Bajo Lempa in March 2019, which presented the Studio Book designs and planning models to the leadership of the two “pilot” communities selected during Phase III of the project, in order to assemble a cross-border team of experts to help launch the implementation phase;
  • Identify, with community input, potential new aspects of public space needs, particularly key places of vital importance for daily community life that can be created, restored, or revitalized by means of the proposed design models;
  • Assemble a translation team to prepare key documents (technical, legal, educational, etc.) to share with all stakeholders in both Spanish and English;
  • Continue to engage with professors and students of the Master’s Program in Urban Development at the University of Central America (la UCA), as well as with local municipalities, to determine the potential for setting up an in-country team that can implement the approved designs in collaboration with community leaders and residents.
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