Urban Habitat… Port-au-Prince?
December 14, 2010
by Dave Hampton
Greetings from Haiti!
So just what DOES it take to establish an Urban Habitat [insert city here] chapter?
Past-president Mike Repkin has already done it in Bahamas with Urban Habitat Nassau, so, I think it’s only fitting the current President-at-Large go ahead and declare a (so-far one-man) provisional Urban Habitat Port-au-Prince (UHPaP)!
Also, I’ll try to periodically bring you updates on interesting things going on here in the sustainability world.
What I’m doing in Haiti
I am working for Architecture for Humanity as an architect to assist with post-disaster reconstruction.
Specifically, I am helping a client - J/P HRO - meet their design needs. J/P manages a large camp (over 50,000) of internally displaced persons called Petionville Club camp after the golf club at which it resides for now (I’ll be referring to this as the JP camp, or maybe PVC camp). Those design needs are always evolving and will extend to other projects to help Haitians get back on their feet.
Architecture for Humanity has a growing team in Haiti of very talented people here taking on a range of challenging projects - a number of schools, homes, and even assisting with moderate to large development projects.
See some of our work here.
Though I reside sometimes at the JP house and sometimes at the AFH house, I work mostly with my colleagues in The Rebuilding Center, which is intended as a hub for recovery efforts where people from different walks of life and professions - Haitians and foreigners - can gather: we share office space with developers, contractors, urban planners, and have a conference and other rooms where, for example, CAD and Revit classes are taught.
Ravine in Canape Vert neighborhood: stream banks are eroded and garbage flows freely along when it rains
Is there room for sustainability in Haiti?
Short answer: oh yes.
Despite a great history, culture, and fantastic people, Haiti finds itself at the bottom of the economic scale as the poorest country in the Western hemisphere and more dependent than ever on imports of goods, capital, and knowledge.
The earthquake of January 12, 2010 did not help.
However, I see these as circumstances as clarifiers:
In no other place I have experienced more clearly how sustainable concepts and practices could benefit an entire nation.
Realizing that nearly one-fifth of the population of Haiti is experienced either relocation, homelessness, or both, one becomes aware that sustainability is not an option here, not a set of experiments to try out or dip a toe in to test the markets to see if they might nibble…
it is critical.
Why Urban Habitat Port-au-Prince?
Urban Habitat Chicago (UHC) began with realizing two things:
1) We are a part of nature, not apart from nature.
2) Cities are, increasingly, where we live.
This trend is projected to increase - estimates point to over 60% of world population being concentrated in urban environments by 2035.
Port-au-Prince is a highly dense, urban concentration with the same (if not in fact worse) problems such as traffic, pollution, economic disparity, etc. as an American city of the same size.
At UHC, we have learned that by focusing on the city, its people, and how they interrelate and taking on challenging projects that communicate these relationships - such as the Rooftop Victory Garden at True Nature Foods, Joy Garden, or Jack Clark’s Recovering Communities - we can effectively train a populace how to make their own environment work better… and work beautifully.
Members of the Architecture for Humanity Haiti team
Dispatches from abroad
I will be reaching out to my colleagues here in Haiti (and some who have returned to their home countries), to give perspective on things occurring on the ground, their experiences, successes, and lessons learned.
Please stay tuned.
Not trying to plug here, but my blog - A Year in the Antilles - will help fill in some more information and reflections from the ground here in Haiti.
Please excuse me if I link there from time to time, as communications can be spotty and I cannot always reach this website to upload and add content.
I also welcome your comments there.