Urban Matters

Urban Matters

Any city, however small, is in fact divided into two, one the city of the poor, the other of the rich.

–(Plato 363 BCE [reprinted 2012])

We have traveled the world to have a great appreciation and understanding of sustainable architecture as well as urban planning. The world is moving at a fast pace of “global gentrification,” and their construction is more innovative and sustainable, some places more considerate of the environment than others. However, within the nonprofit sector operating in Haiti, there is a lack of common sense. Urban planning or sustainability does not seem to play a critical role. When nonprofits fundraise to construct homes, they fail to invest in sustainability. Yes, it is imperative to provide jobs to the locals; however, upon the arrival of the next natural disaster, they will return only to reconstruct the same homes. Would you rather build homes for one-hundred families or would you rather house twenty-five? Any individual would wish to provide homes to one-hundred families; however, if these homes are not being built to be sustainable, to be “livable,” then it is a waste of time and money.

Modern architecture has not reached its important role in the development of Haitian culture; where informal versus formal can be seen from how The Royal Oasis is built to the homes in Cite Soleil. The poor construct their homes with the little they have and with poor infrastructure compared to the rich who want their homes to look like castles and invest in cheap labor with quality construction. In the hope to climate change adaptation and mitigation agendas, the priority is to build long-term climate resilience and sustainable communities. The structure, including any foundation, is to be designed to withstand collapse, lateral movement, and flotation due to extreme weather conditions. Ventilation, air-conditioning, electrical, plumbing, fire suppression, and other utilities, services, equipment, and controls should be constructed or located in areas that would preclude infiltration or accumulation of water within the components or machinery during flooding conditions.

One of the necessities of life is to provide sustainable housing that will supply the basic needs for security, protection, growth, and human dignity. T-Shelters or the Caracol-EKAM Development scheme, an initiative by USAID-Haiti, where “they committed to facilitate the construction of 15,000 permanent homes in Haiti for $50 million. In the end, they’ve built over 900 homes and costs were doubled. But worst of all, 750 of those 900 houses weren’t even built to withstand the next earthquake nor the next hurricane.” Stated in the Caracol assessment report by the Army Corp of Engineers, USAID violated International Building Codes from the very beginning. The report “found no evidence that a formal internal or external review” of the housing design was conducted and further, that “the project was designed with inconsistent application of code and latest design criteria,”  despite the contract mandating compliance with the International Building Code. The lack of any oversight provided at this crucial early stage is a clear indictment of USAID’s role in the project’s failure.

Similar projects from the American Red Cross’ “people around the world pledged $13 billion in aid, $488 million of which was donated to the American Red Cross — the largest branch of the world’s largest relief charity and out of 700 planned homes, only six were built,” which were not sustainable homes that could withstand Haiti’s harsh natural disasters.

Although urban thinking in much of Europe and North America is obsessed with the contours of post-industrial society, urbanization in the Global South is driven by the simultaneous expansion of “old” and “new” spatial economic shifts; cities are being reshaped by the expansion of manufacturing and heavy industrial activities, as well as the growth of high-tech offshoring and outsourcing activities and smaller pockets of service sector innovation.

–Lees et al. 2008: 166

What local governments can do

As the world’s urban population grows, so too does the people of the urban poor. Local governments committed to poverty eradication need to tailor their policies to reflect pro-poor governance, implying improvements in the efficiency of public and social service delivery as well as the transparency and accountability of the institutions implementing the same. “Policies to address slum conditions must go beyond the mere assessment and improvement of the physical condition of dwellings and infrastructure to deal with underlying causes such as poverty. Acknowledgment of housing as a big human right and of the urban policies and programmes to support the livelihoods of the urban poor by enabling informal sector activities to flourish as well as to link low-income development to income generator.”

Local governments can draw potential investment from external sources by creating appropriately conducive policy and economic environments, and by harnessing the untapped resources of the informal economy.

What NGOs can do

With new natural disasters, nonprofits can create sustainable mitigation plans. If you are going to convince your donors of , make sure it is sustainable; invest in research, and have a team of construction workers as well as urban planners involved. If you don’t have the funds, don’t half-a&* it and call it like it is, “a temporary shelter.” If you, as an individual cannot live in it, then do not force it unto others.  



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