Aerial photo of camps in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, June 2010. By Timo Luege/IASC Haiti Shelter Cluster.
Design Observer has an essay by Deborah Gans, an architect and instructor at Pratt Institute. She proposes that today's Haitian refugee camps could become tomorrow's farming villages, an idea that goes hand in hand with the Haitian government's Action Plan for the National Recovery and Development, which was in the works even before the devastating earthquake.
"The Action Plan's vision of a decentralized Haiti makes a lot of sense. ... A part of the current plan is to enhance Port-au-Prince with satellite towns. This seems an excellent ideabut not one to stem the rural to urban influx that has been one of the consequences of a failed agrarian economy. To reverse the flow of population will take the revival of that economy. This is not impossible. ..."
Okay, I'll go along with that. When everybody flocks to the city, it strains infrastructure and results in disorder, which can worsen tragedies like January's earthquake. The challenge, then, is getting people to move back to the rural areas, where they already know it is difficult to make a living there.
Gans has a solution, and here's where I get tripped up. She suggests that refugee camps could be transformed into permaculture villages. ("Permaculture" is a portmanteau from "permanent" and "agriculture.")
"My research on refugee camps and displacement settlements supports the assumption that the refugee camps of today are in fact the cities of tomorrow. ... Why not transform sites of dislocation into test sites of new forms of enfranchisement? ... Here is an opportunity to test strategies of self-organization in agriculture, land management and setlement patterns ..."
There are definitely some valid ideas here, so maybe it's just the language she uses that rankles me. It sounds more like a neat-o experiment, the basis for an academic research paper than an on-the-ground solution. Thoughts?
Heifer International has its own plan for helping to decentralize Haiti and making rural areas more productive. Read all about it in the Holiday issue of World Ark magazine.