Haiti disasterHaitian architects, urban planners say the need is to build a better Haiti

Published 28 January 2010

A group of Haitian architects, engineers, and urban planners has met every day since the devastating quake, discussing not how to rebuild the country, but how to start anew; they should start with the country’s building code; one high government official participating in the meetings says dismissively: “There is a two-page building code [in Haiti]… that nobody used”

The first e-mail went out within hours of the 12 January earthquake, calling together some of Haiti’s most prominent architects, engineers, and urban planners. The next day, fifty people showed up at a house in the hillside suburb of Petionville and went to work.

They have met every day since, gathering around a table in a courtyard under the shade of a spreading almond tree. Their goal is simple. It is also audacious. They want to plan a new Haiti.

Not just new buildings. A new economy, a new political culture, a new way of thinking. A Haiti that would look very different from the one that existed before the quake.

We don’t want to talk about rebuilding,” said the group’s guiding spirit, industrial engineer Jean-Marie Raymond Noel. “We want to talk about a new project, a new vision…. We can’t hope to be in the same situation as before the quake. It was not good.”

Los Angeles Times’s Mitchell Landsberg writes that the structural losses that Haiti suffered in the magnitude 7.0 quake are incalculable. The National Palace is in ruins. So is Parliament, the nation’s highest court, the Roman Catholic cathedral, virtually all of the downtown commercial district, the city’s biggest and most modern supermarket, countless schools, banks, hotels, churches and, of course, homes in what is the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

No one wants to talk about the disaster as an opportunity, exactly. To begin with, it seems insensitive, considering that more than 150,000 people died in the quake and many of their bodies remain entombed in the rubble of the buildings that collapsed.

In addition, no one knows where Haiti will come up with the money to rebuild, or how much it will cost. Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive launched that effort Monday when he appealed to international donors in Montreal for money to recover from the quake.

One way or another, though, this country will have to build a new capital, or at least a big chunk of one. There is talk of moving it somewhere else, starting fresh, but that seems unlikely. And so the people who plan and build are starting to dream.

Landsberg writes that they look to the way Japan and Germany were reborn out of the rubble of the Second World War and think: Why not Haiti? “We want another country,” said Marie Daniele, a Port-au-Prince architect who attends the daily meetings in Petionville. “Everyone