Play Lotería, Combat Climate Change
Every winter the towering waves of “Mavericks” lure expert surfers from around the world to Half Moon Bay, about 30 minutes south of San Francisco. Waves up to 60 feet high, higher than many apartment buildings, crash on the shore, delighting surfers and tourists. Unfortunately, those waves, combined with climate change and sea level rise, are also causing severe soil erosion that threatens the community’s future.
Half Moon Bay was founded as an outpost of Mission St. Francis De Asís (for whom San Francisco is named) and its downtown includes many historic buildings, dating back to 1869. The small coastal town of about 12,000 people on just 6.25 square miles of land, is known for fishing, agriculture and tourism.
A 2020 study found that all major tourist attractions, infrastructure and about 125 buildings in this small city are now vulnerable to sea level rise. In 2022, the City responded with a Climate Action and Adaptation Plan, with actions the City and the community can take to respond to changing climate conditions, along with new programs, services and policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and creating a more resilient community. The City called it “a call to action for residents, community organizations, and businesses to actively participate in our transition to a low-carbon future and clean economy.”
In implementing the plan, the City then faced a common problem: how to fully engage residents, especially its substantial Spanish-speaking community?
The answer came in the form of the very popular Mexican bingo game called Lotería.
“The beauty of this solution is we combined something quite complex with something very fun and familiar,” says Noé Noyola, an MIG senior community planner and co-director of Equity Studio, who developed the game along with MIG community engagement specialist Ana Padilla.
Lotería consists of 54 cards with images in a rustic, hand-drawn style—like a tree, star, moon, melon, musician and cactus. As in bingo, players use a board with a matrix of images and the caller names the image, holding up the visual.
“The visual aspect really helped us leap over language barriers,” Noyola says. “In creating the Half Moon Bay Lotería, we used the same authentic cardboard and the same visual style, that everyone knows and loves. But with a twist. For example, we used a very similar tree, but ours is burning due to drought.”
On the back of the card is information about the issue represented by the visual, which the caller reads aloud (cards are printed in English and Spanish). “And we use beans to mark your cards, which is often how people play Lotería.”
Participants of all ages had fun with the game, learning about the Climate Action Plan (and winning!). “The City liked the game so much they created all sorts of Lotería swag for prizes, like mugs, t-shirts, bicycle bells and stickers.”
While this game was specific to Half Moon Bay and climate change, the concept can be adapted for any City and any type of project—parks, transportation, recycling, equity, community planning—to boost community participation and have fun doing it.
For more information, contact Noé Noyola.