How the Urban-Rural Divide Is Playing Out in Puerto Rico - CityLab

MARTÍN ECHENIQUE FEB 1, 2018

In Ponce, Puerto Rico, 92 percent of urbanized areas have electricity, but not a single rural neighborhood does.

If there were another hurricane like Maria this year, would the island be better prepared?

We could be more prepared, but still not recovered. How is it possible that after four months there are still communities that do not have electricity? I'll give you an easy example: My city, Ponce, is the second largest in territorial extension [116 square miles]. It has 19 rural neighborhoods and 12 urban neighborhoods. The urban ones have 92 percent of energy, the rural ones do not have energy. We have seen in the plans that there are communities that will have electricity in 30 more weeks. And the hurricane season begins on June 1. So we can be prepared, but the city and the island aren’t rebuilt, and FEMA says it's going to take three to five years.

Today, almost 90 percent of Puerto Ricans depend on their car, and the island in general cannot live without gas. Do you think that the path of reconstruction will lead to a more sustainable Puerto Rico? Will Ponce be a more sustainable place after Maria?

I've been looking at options, we've been talking along with other government officials. And the governor already understands that he must modernize the systems. There is solar energy, water, wind, and yes, we are going to modernize those systems. It is important.

More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island for the continental United States and are evaluating whether or not to return to Puerto Rico. What is the biggest problem that this exodus generates for the cities and municipalities of the island? Does Puerto Rico have to make an effort to stop this situation?

I think it creates social problems that we haven’t touched on. People who leave their family, who leave their homes, who leave their culture and come to a place without knowing, then there must be information. There has to be some way for the government to take them and tell them: 'Here are opportunities, here are areas where you can live, what are the credentials you have, if you have studies or not.’

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