Change the Game, Not the Rules: The Role of Community Gardens in Disaster Resilience


  • Heather McIlvaine-Newsad Western Illinois University
  • Rob Porter Western Illinois University- Quad Cities
  • Gloria Delany-Barmann Western Illinois University



Community gardens, social networks, cultural identity, disaster resilience, recreation


This study illustrates how the creation of community gardens in four distinct communities in Puerto Rico led to a wide variety of socially just benefits (e.g., recreation, food production) for those involved. Ethnographic research was conducted in Puerto Rico from 2016–2019 on the role of community gardens before and after Hurricane Maria. The authors conclude that while the gardens may have been established for one purpose, that purpose evolved to meet the multiple needs and desires of the participants over time. The main reason for the creation of these gardens was the desire to grow vegetables in a manner that emulated the practices of Taíno and Jíbaro ancestors. Replicating a sustainable and environmentally friendly way of farming was not only a statement about wanting to live in harmony with the land, but also a political statement about the status of Puerto Rico in relationship to the United States. People learned about agroecology farming practices while creating spaces for leisure and social activities. Over time other forms of environmental and cultural education were included. Gardening together, people engaged in environmentally and socially just causes such as creating renewable energy, strengthening intergenerational social bonds, and engaging in environmental and social activism. In the end, these actions strengthened relationships that undoubtedly contributed to the ability of these communities to withstand the onslaught of a major disaster, Hurricane Maria. As the results of this study suggest, the bonds formed in these recreation-based spaces prior to the storm resulted in the creation of knowledge, labor, and an infrastructure that helped these communities navigate the effects of Hurricane Maria. Implications for recreation practitioners are discussed in the context of social justice and the role of recreation in building sustainable infrastructure to respond to disasters. 

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Author Biographies

Heather McIlvaine-Newsad, Western Illinois University

Department of Sociology and Anthropology


Rob Porter, Western Illinois University- Quad Cities

Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Administration

Associate Professor


Gloria Delany-Barmann, Western Illinois University

Department of Educational Studies






Special Issue: Social Justice Issues in Park and Recreation