Youth Design Charette

On a beautiful, sunny, Wednesday afternoon, young Haitian students from the Flanbwayan Haitian Literacy Project gathered with their mentors on the second floor of the Flatbush Avenue Branch library. Their task was to identify, build, and present a project that would contribute to the sustainable development of Haiti.

The session was facilitated by ArchForKids, a firm that provides young people with engaging, hands-on learning experiences grounded in architecture, design, engineering and urban planning.

Ms. Janny Gedeon, co-founder of ArchForKids and facilitator of this design charrette, introduced the challenge: “Your team has been hired to design a sustainable structure or system that would benefit the country – for example, an eco-adventure park on the waterfront, a community center, houses, hospitals, schools, renewable energy systems, infrastructure, or anything else – it’s up to you, the young designers. Use your ideas andimagination to make a great contribution to the development of Haiti.

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from l. to r. Lorsende Sanon, Alexis Metshanaelle, Elshanone Alcindor and Sanabria Alcindor

To drive home the idea of the task at hand, Ms. Gedeon, ordered, “Today you are architects, urban planners, and engineers.” With these words, the room transformed into a design studio. The students were divided into groups of four with one or two mentors assigned to each group. As the brainstorming began, the room became abuzz with exchanges, discussions of what was most needed in Haiti. As I walk ed around the room, I heard questions like, “What is the most important thing that could help Haiti right now? Should the structure be located in the capital or another city? Who will benefit from it?” Hospitals, schools, childcare centers and a bridge to link two communities separated by a large river were among the concepts discussed, sketched, and designed.

 

After a short break for lunch, the students dove into the building stage. Using mostly recycled materials, each group built models of their designs. It was a delight to see some of the buildings and communities powered by solar panels. One building even included an entire roof as a rainwater cistern. How is that for rainwater harvesting?

 

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from l. to r. Angy Delinois, Pavarotti Absalon, Dadeshky Zamor

The afternoon culminated with each group presenting their model, explaining their process in coming up with their ideas as well as obstacles that they have encountered during the design and building phases.

It was a fun afternoon for all. Paul Celicourt, a mentor currently pursuing a PhD in Environmental Engineering at The City College of New York said, “These types of activities are crucial for the children’s intellectual development. By challenging the children in their early age to design and conceive infrastructures that can sustain life in a community, they are growing up animated with problem solving skills, with the spirit or the willingness to serve the community where they live and elsewhere.”

For four hours, the second floor of the Flatbush Avenue branch library was transformed into a space where learning was nothing but fun; a place where discovery, camaraderie, collaboration and cooperation prevailed. Valery Angy Christina Delinois, a sophomore at Clara Barton High School who is currently interested in the medical field, puts it best: “Today was fun, I did not know what to expect when I came here but it was good. I got to work in a different field, but I used my talents to solve a problem in Haiti. We came up with a great idea that could help the children and we think that it is possible to build it. I also liked the fact that I got to work with people my own age that I didn’t know before.”

I could not have said it better!

By Nelly O. Gedeon

Water Resources

Outfall at Boulevard Harry Truman, Port-au-Prince

Why is Stormwater Management rarely mentioned in the reconstruction of our cities and surrounding areas?

Flood waters have been inundating our cities and surrounding areas for years causing significant damages throughout the country, from the destruction of houses, buildings, roads and plantations to the killing of residents, including children. Yet when we talk about the reconstruction of Haiti, proper drainage design and stormwater management are rarely mentioned. Some engineers have contained that, in some instances, the implementation of a comprehensive maintenance program which includes erosion and sedimentation control as well as proper solid waste management can alleviate the adverse impact of flooding.

Port-au-Prince, with an existing comprehensive drainage system of ravines, canals/open channels, culverts, piping network, outfalls, and sedimentation tanks, is a good example. The drainage system is elaborate but rendered inefficient due to debris, silting, garbage and so on. A cleaned system would help convey flood waters and minimize negative impacts. Clearly, there are other fundamental issues that affect the performance and adequacy of the system, including demographic explosion and anarchic urban development, which require long term solutions. But proper maintenance will be an important factor.

Rudolf J. Gedeon, PE

Transportation

Transportation System in the Port-au-Prince Area
For the past 30 years, there have been numerous transportation studies on the Port-au Prince area by the Haitian Government and international organizations. Yet we witness the conditions of the capital today: congestion, delays, anarchy, chaos, accidents, etc. As we all know, transportation does not exist in a vacuum; it is part of a dynamic system that involves a number of elements including urban planning, zoning, land use, economic development, energy, safety, and so on. Therefore, several questions come to mind: Is it possible to solve the transportation/traffic issues in Port-au-Prince without a significant overhaul of the city based on an integrated approach? Can we afford to provide scarce resources for improvements of the Port-au-Prince area at the expense of the rest of the country which has been deteriorating? Considering that Port-au-Prince is over populated, will any improvements in Port-au- Prince be sustainable without a genuine effort at decentralization? Will improvements in Port-au-Prince induce more traffic from surrounding areas?

Rudolf J. Gedeon, PE

Urban Planning

The question of what to do with the shantytowns (or “bidonvilles”) that have come to define Port-au-Prince over the years has haunted politicians and urban professionals alike. Le Nouvelliste, Haiti’s oldest daily newspaper, has reported in an article published on March 12, 2013 that the Martelly-Lamothe government has decided to adopt the notion put forward by Georges Anglade in 1991 that these communities are here to stay, and therefore should be retrofitted with the infrastructure that is sorely missing. These communities would be provided with common resources such as water, electricity, sanitation, etc. without moving anyone or questioning land tenure.

For anyone who has seen any one of these communities with constructions done with no particular order, one can appreciate how daunting the task of retrofitting these areas will be. More importantly, however, is whether such an undertaking will be done within a larger plan that will prevent future shantytowns in the first place. I for one cannot imagine shantytowns (even with access to water, sanitation, electricity, etc.) being the model for development for the country. Many questions come to mind; would there be zoning laws enacted, building construction codes established, if they do not already exist? Would these rules be strictly enforced and uniformly applied?

Nelly O, EE, MBA