Redevelopment plan presented for historic Port-au-Prince


Robert Steuteville

New Urban Network

A plan was unveiled January 25 to reconstruct the historic city center of Port-au-Prince with a better urban environment than existed prior to the devastating January 2010 earthquake. The Haitian government commissioned The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment of London, England, and Miami-based Duany Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) to develop the plan.

The plan envisions a rebuilt government center around the presidential palace with civic/administrative buildings, museums, concert halls, schools and green spaces. A form-based code aims to ensure that new buildings are designed with pedestrian-friendly frontages. The historic street grid is retained with new small parks on street corners that “come together to form complete squares of tremendous elegance,” explains planner and architect Andres Duany.

A rebuilt waterfront would include mangrove trees to protect against storms. The plan calls for building housing on top of rubble. The team calculated that if the rubble from the demolished buildings is used as a base for new buildings it would raise them up 80 centimeters — more than two and a half feet — enough to protect against a 100-year flood, Duany says. The water is then channeled into streets and would not affect the houses or the parking.

The planners focused on how middle-class and wealthy residents can be lured back into the urban environment — which is the only way that a proper rebuilding can be “amortized,” Duany explains.

“The people who have to rebuild require three things — security, parking, and a predictable environment,” he says. Toward those goals, the plan proposes a sub-governmental level of management at the scale of the urban block. Each residential block, dubbed by the team an “urban village,” would be designed to provide its own utilities and parking at the center of the block.

A structure at the block center would provide dependable electricity, water, and sewer, Duany explains, surrounded by a common parking area accessible by alleys. The central block would be watched over by residents, all of whom have a personal stake in security. The utilities and parking would be owned in the form of a cooperative or condominium.

The generous size of the historic Port-au-Prince blocks provides space for central infrastructure and parking while allowing some private space for residents. Many of the blocks could be designed with neighborhood greens at the corners. “We expect every block to have a park,” Duany says. “So in fact every view has trees.” He adds: “This is the virtue of your large blocks — only a large block can tolerate including a park on the corner.”

The architecture of new buildings would be based on local precedent, the planners say.

The team envisions initial development of 1- to 2-story buildings, which was the condition of the downtown prior to the earthquake — “so there is no reason to think that after the earthquake it will be four stories,” Duany explains. However, it could evolve to four stories over time, he says. The form-based code will ensure good urbanism even at a low height, he explains. If the government were to adopt no plan, some tall buildings would be constructed, but the rest of the land would have no value for redevelopment. “It does have vitality — it has the vitality of Haiti — but you will not have urbanism, which, by the way, people love,” he says.

The plan identified three possible levels of regulation. The minimum would be a form-based regulation of building frontages — but property owners can do whatever they want in the back. There would be no parking and a probable disorganized mess of mid-block buildings, but there would be urbanism in front. The second level would create collective mid-block infrastructure, but no parking. The third level would offer collective infrastructure and parking — 1 car per unit.

Traffic-calming measures such as small roundabouts on the corners would help to keep traffic flowing at a pace that is not disruptive of pedestrians. The plan looks at options for transit, including a bus loop, a streetcar loop, and/or bus rapid transit. “You do have a problem with congestion — but it creates a level of driving skill that I have never seen in America,” Duany told the crowd, prompting laughter.

In addition to government administration, tourism could be a source of employment, Duany says. Essential to that occurring would be developing a retail-oriented quarter near the port with small, pedestrian-scale blocks, Duany explains.