Luna y Sol: Building Community Through Thriving Habitat

By Stephanie Kopplin

On Friday, October 20th, Tucson Audubon joined forces with the City of South Tucson’s Public Works Department, Barrio Restoration and 100+ United Way volunteers to “pour love into the soil” at Luna y Sol Cafe in South Tucson. Cafe owner, and native South Tucsonan, Selina Barajas first met Tucson Audubon staff at PARK[ing] Day and was inspired to transform a vacant lot, adjacent to the forthcoming cafe, into a community gathering space and habitat hub.

The cafe is located in the City of South Tucson, one of the most heat vulnerable communities in the Tucson metropolitan area. Opportunities to access nature and relax in cooling habitat zones are extremely limited and reflect a history of inequitable distribution of green infrastructure across the region.

This 1.2-square mile city within a city is often ineligible for Federal funding, like that being dispersed through the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, because it doesn’t meet the “city” designation criteria required for the grants. As such, communities in South Tucson have encountered barriers when trying to secure consistent funding to invest in parks, access to open space, and ongoing maintenance of shared community spaces.

To help her neighborhood connect with nature despite these challenges, Selina has worked tirelessly to advance a vision of community health and wellness for the site and build a coalition of partners invested in addressing environmental injustices to create a community oasis. In pursuit of this collaborative vision, Tucson Audubon worked with Selina to develop an overall site plan and select the wildlife-supporting trees that were planted during the United Way volunteer event.

Buoyed by cumbias and birria, the team successfully planted five trees and prepared the soil for future rainwater harvesting features and native plants to increase habitat diversity and create a rich sensory experience for cafe visitors.

Partners are pursuing additional funding to move the Luna y Sol project into the next phase of earthwork and planting to fully realize the vision of a thriving habitat hub where people and wildlife can find refuge and build community through enhanced connections to nature.

Stephanie Kopplin is the Director of Urban Conservation & Sustainability at Tucson Audubon.