Nicolai Ouroussoff’s March 31, 2010 article in the New York Times Arts Section brings to light a plan to reconstruct Haiti’s urban infrastructure by breaking up the population of over-crowded Port-au-Prince into smaller cities. These compact towns, if realized, are termed “smaller urban growth poles,” and could dramatically change Haiti’s economic, social and political future.
If you haven’t already, you can click on the above link and read the entire article. If you are short on time, here’s a bare-bones synopsis:
- The new urban distribution plan centers on the idea that many smaller cities would be established in areas of Haiti least likely to be struck by natural disaster. Port-au-Prince would no longer be the dominant city. Currently, Port-au-Prince has almost no sewage treatment and its building code is “barely two pages long.”
- Ouroussoff says these plans, still being developed, already best early rebuilding plans post-Katrina and post-Tsunami.
- Haiti’s woes go back a century, when America began concentrating trade ops in Port-au-Prince, shutting down other existing Haiti ports. By 1960, François Duvalier shut down any remaining ports in a bid for total political control via a single power base.
- Over 20 years, the city’s population almost doubled, to 3 million people. The “effect of the shift was an urban disaster – one that has put more and more pressure on the capital while draining the provinces of economic opportunity.”
- The quake has made redistribution away from Port-au-Prince’s major fault line and its exposure to landslides and floods a logical step. Thousands of the city’s buildings were destroyed, practically leveling it, as the world has seen. Refugees have fled, moving to other regions of Haiti.
- Planners hope relocation services like hospitals and schools will encourage re-establishment of new urban centers. They propose organizing new buildings around public parks and the like, which would provide sorely needed civic center points. Similar plans would be applied to rural areas, with farms surrounding central core services areas. Public structures would be paid for by the government.
- Light rail is proposed. Earthquake debris (millions of cubic tons) would serve as shoreline landfill, that could be turned into parks.
- One planner noted that “We should think in terms of the city’s urban evolution rather than large-scale development.”
- Haiti planners need access to money and ideas; the University of Miami’s “new urbanism” proponents can advise.
- Ouroussoff ends his article by observing that “….a connection between good urban planning ideas and political realities on the ground was never made (in New Orleans). The best plans went nowhere. Let’s pray that doesn’t happen in Haiti.”
Besides being an accomplished artist, Abel is able to write with languid beauty about his work. Working to connect with a father he has no conscious memory of, Abel incubates his native landscapes, giving them new life that exists in binary-colored melancholy.
“In a time when oral history is diminishing I cling to the histories passed on to me by family members. My interpretation of those memories exist between the unconscious and the conscious mind. Through my work I explore the common ground that I feel I share with my father whom I never consciously knew. I utilize the rural landscape (where I grew up and still feel the most at home) in juxtaposition with integrated personal archetypes. The images exist as a dialogue between memories of the old family farm, photographs my father took, and my own personal narratives.”
Through his printing process, Abel is building what he calls a “dialog of history.”
“Wyoming” connotes thoughts of vast, wind blown space. Memories, in pictorial and written forms, sift their way through the ages. Abel is a highly conscious artist, taking history seriously. This is the true road.