Tucson residents are strengthening bonds within their communities by building habitats for wildlife with the help of a University of Arizona program.
Pamela Pelletier encourages central-city neighborhoods to recognize the potential for life in their roadways, yards and vacant lots and to build an environment that sustains not just humans, but also plants and animals. She's currently working with several neighborhoods near Tumamoc Hill.
"There's really just some magic to seeing this wildlife in your own backyard or in your own neighborhood. People get really excited about seeing wildlife," said Pelletier, the community planner at the UA's Tumamoc: People and Habitats.
She is giving central-city residents the tools to enhance neighborhoods by redesigning urban environments to create spaces that can sustain wildlife.
With her help, residents in the Barrio Kroeger Lane neighborhood are developing wildlife habitats in residents' yards and in the neighborhood's park, right-of-ways and washes.
Tumamoc: People and Habitats Director Michael Rosenzweig said, "Maybe we can find ways to meet nature halfway. So...you say, ‘How can I design my backyard so that I'm not the only one that enjoys it?'"
The UA's College of Science program Tumamoc: People and Habitats is based on Tumamoc Hill, which also houses the UA's renowned century-old Desert Laboratory.
Pelletier said, "What really makes a community is the connection between people and their desire to improve their neighborhood."
On the edge of a city park in the Silvercroft neighborhood, two big, brown dumpsters sit on a barren dirt lot that is owned by the City of Tucson's Parks and Recreation.
Gloria Manzanedo, president of the Silvercroft Neighborhood Association, learned about Pelletier's work and saw the potential to transform the lot from its current unwelcoming state.
"Silvercroft Wash used to be full of desert vegetation, trees and there was a lot of bird habitat and just a lot of wild creatures," Manzanedo said. "Several years ago they cleared out the entire wash and now it's mainly used as one of the ways for ‘unsavory characters' to get away."
Manzanedo has been collaborating with Pelletier for a few months. Pelletier attended neighborhood association meetings to discuss the plants needed to create habitats for the wildlife that once existed in the area and to develop a better place for the neighborhood.
With Pelletier's help, the lot will eventually become a pocket park with habitat for butterflies, water harvesting systems, shade ramadas and a tile mural.
Manzanedo said, "The park is going to benefit the community because it will be a means to get to know our neighbors better. The more you know your neighbors, the more you take care of each other."
Pelletier, who is also a lecturer in the UA School of Landscape Architecture and Planning, created a list of 15 native bird, butterfly and hummingbird species and their habitat requirements. By working with local scientists, she developed a "plant palette" of the plants needed to create habitats for those species.
"I see my role as bridging the gap between the science work and the community and providing them with the tools to empower them to improve their neighborhood," she said.
Just like ordering off a menu, residents can choose species from the list and then construct habitats for those species. Residents can also build habitats for species that are not on the list.
Pelletier works with local nurseries to find the needed plants and occasionally the nurseries donate plants or sell them at a discount. She also uses Web sites such as Craigslist to find free resources.
Pelletier plans to expand these projects throughout Tucson. She said neighborhoods have been very receptive to these projects in "reconciliation ecology," a term coined by Rosenzweig to mean designing human uses of land so it also supports many other species.
"Most people find it a lot more fun to live in an area that isn't sterilized," said Rosenzweig, who is also a UA professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "The job of reconciliation ecology in places that have lots and lots of houses and lots of residences is to make every day seem like you're waking up to a vacation."
The National Audubon Society and the City of Tucson helped fund the Barrio Kroeger Lane project.
Pelletier collaborates with the Tucson Audubon Society and residents on the Barrio Kroeger Lane project and the residents of the Silvercroft neighborhood for the pocket park project.