Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at 8:59am
I went to the Jacmel area last week and came back both very impressed with what is happening in the Southeast Department and even more worried about what is happening in Port-au-Prince. We had sponsored a two-day workshop to bring together the local authorities and the international organizations to discuss the next steps for rebuilding the Southeast. There was somesquabblingabout where to have the tent cities and what the priorities should be. However, the authorities also had a clear idea of the work that needed to be done and the reconstruction was straight forward. They knew how many houses needed to be fixed and how much support the rural areas needed to support the influx of the population. It is easy to imagine a large reconstruction program in the Southeast that succeeds in building back better.
I can't say the same for the Port-au-Prince area. Port-au-Prince was a chaotic nightmare before the earthquake hit. of the four main roads connecting Port-au-Prince and Petionville, only one is four-lane. All four are basically parking lotsduringthe morning and evening commute. Poor housing are consisted of houses frequently built on top of each other. There were no roads between the houses and frequently no sanitation or running water.
Google Earth images of a neighborhood just off of Canape Verte before and after the earthquake.
Today, I see people rebuilding their houses right where they collapsed. Some argue that it is too early to talk about longer term issues. I fear instead that the window of opportunity is closing. Yes, we need to focus on relief and temporary housing. However, if Port-au_prince is to be rebuilt better, drastic action is needed. Haiti needs strong leadership to clearly state that a new urbanization plan will be imposed on Port-au-Prince. Any houses that do not conform to that plan will be demolished. In the Southeast, people can rebuild where they lived. In Port-au-Prince, they should not. that change will require strong leadership and the order needs to come soon.
In terms of basic reorganization, I would love to see the following:
* A commitment to widen the other three main arteries connecting Petionville and Port-au-Prince: Panamerican, Canape Vert, and Route Frere. This would involve demolishing houses on either side of the road.
* Rehabilitation of the main artery through downtown (Blvd Harry Truman) including limiting access to the road.
* Completion of the bypass through Carrefour (currently blocked since the road passes through the country's fuel depot.
* Widening of the Grand Rue to allow it to take the local traffic that can no longer pass through Blvd. Harry Truman.
* Standardization of the roads through town to allow for parking on the sides of the road and for trucks to pass in Carrefour, Cite Soliel, and the other areas that have grown rapidly.
This would require relocating tens of thousands of people--not an easy or cheap decision. To make this work, neighborhoods would need to be more dense than they are today. Currently, most neighborhoods are still single-family homes (or shacks). Instead, Port-au-Prince needs low rise apartment buildings--five to eight stories. This is a far more efficient way to house city populations and is the solution in nearly every city in the world. I realize that people will not be eager to move into apartments and that it will be critical to build the apartments well. However, the two most seismically active cities in the world are Tokyo and San Fransisco. How many poor people in these cities live in single family houses?
At the same time, there should be a large program to improve the infrastructure in the other main towns in Haiti. We don't want to suck everyone back into Port-au-Prince.
It will take strong leadership to bring about these changes. I believe that it is easier to force changes through during a crisis, as President Obama did, than to wait for the dust to settle and calmly talk about it. I worry that by the time the leadership in Haiti is ready to talk about these changes, it will be too late and we will have rebuilt the chaos.