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Welcome to the August Edition of the Best Practices monthly feature. In this read, we highlight how Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) have built three public spaces in order to respond to the scarcity of communal urban spaces in Haiti, which suffered extensive damage following the 2010 earthquake. The project shows how public space is used to enhance community resilience by improving quality of life, providing access to services, ameliorating social cohesion among the youth and community at large.

Each month, we feature one of the Best Practices winners from the 11th Cycle of the Dubai International Award endorsed by UN-Habitat and Dubai Municipality. We hope that these best practices will inform and inspire you on initiatives that are making effective interventions to improve the lives of urban residents around the globe. The 11th cycle comprised of the following categories:

Name of organization: Emergent Vernacular Architecture LTD (EVA Studio)

Country: Haiti

WINNER of the Private Sector Award for Contribution to Territorial Planning Urban Planning and Design

The award is given to a private sector organization that has successfully given technical assistance and advice to local government for the development and implementation of effective territorial and urban design plans to act on the form, character and functionality of the city, increasing prosperity and sustainability.

74.4% of the urban population in Haiti live in informal settlements, this is according to 2014 WHO’s estimations

The 7.2 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 is widely considered to be the most challenging natural disaster in recent history. Much of the destruction centered in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, leaving over one million Haitians displaced.

Carrefour-Feuilles is one of the many Port-au-Prince’s informal neighbourhoods which suffered extensive damage in the earthquake. Even prior the earthquake, the population of Carrefour-Feuilles was living in vulnerable conditions, mainly due to extreme poverty, limited access to safe infrastructure and services, and uncontrolled urbanization.

The neighbourhood is characterized by a dense and poor urban fabric. The houses clinging to the slopes of the ravine lacked basic services such as electricity, running water and sanitation. There is little formal infrastructure which makes the homes only accessible by a network of narrow corridors winding up the slope. It is only among the tight corners and between the walls of neighbouring houses that social life usually takes place.

Creating safe public spaces to promote social cohesion and improve community resilience

Due to weak planning practices and scarce law enforcement, during the past 30 years, the urban fabric of the metropolitan area of Port-au-Prince developed informally and predominantly configured into private space. Public spaces resulted in crowded, dangerous and unhealthy circulation environments, a problem that existed in Carrefour-Feuilles.

Emergent Vernacular Architecture (EVA Studio) was awarded the design and the construction supervision of three public spaces in Carrefour-Feuilles within the framework of the LAMIKA Program. These public spaces include:

  1. Place Tapis Rouge
  2. Place Kay Alfred
  3. Terrain Campeche

The Lavi Nan Miyò Katye Pam (LAMIKA) Program is a joint American and Haitian reconstruction and recovery program implemented in Carrefour Feuilles. Following the priorities identified through a participatory urban study, the American Red Cross has upgraded infrastructure efforts to improve housing and other living spaces were established.

These include activities such as ravine clearing to mitigate the risk of floods and landslides, the construction of quality public space and the improvement of pedestrian walkways to create safer transit.

1. PLACE TAPIS ROUGE

Place Tapis Rouge, Tapi Wouj in Haitian Creole, is one of three public spaces in Carrefour-Feuilles, part of the LAMIKA program.After the earthquake, the vacant site of Tapis Rouge had been occupied by a tent camp of displaced people.

Through a participatory approach and by placing community engagement at the core of the design process, this public space aims to give transformative power to its community and to provide the residents of all ages and gender with a sense of ownership, identity, and pride.

The project is strategically located in respect to the existing community’s dynamics and flows. It is adjacent to the main road which makes it easily accessible by vehicles. The site hosts the only public water distribution station in the area. It provides safe access to a public school.

2. PLACE KAY ALFRED

The Place Kay Alfred site is located at the bottom of a ravine and was previously used as a small soccer field. This site, equipped by a wooden bridge functioning as the only connection between two areas of neighbourhoods, is prone to flooding during heavy rains.

This public space is aimed at transforming a much needed site mitigation project (the bridge as well as a dangerous slope at the south of the site had to be secured) into the architectural design of a public space with a minimum increase of the project budget. The project entails bridging the ravine with a meeting place, which will eventually host a basketball court, a playing ground, seating areas, and green spaces, with the total area doubled from the space previously used by the community.

3. TERRAIN CAMPECHE

The football pitch of Campêche is well known in the area for hosting many tournaments where the youth can showcase their talents.

Terrain Campeche offers a service, an equipped fenced football pitch, that attracts people from other neighbourhoods to Carrefour-Feuilles. The project’s goal was to give a new life to the existing field with a new artificial turf (easy to maintain) and to provide the community a new main road accessible by vehicles. The space is maintained by its users on a regular basis.

Over 6000 people are beneficiaries of the three public spaces

Completed in September 2016, other achievements include:

  1. Improved accessibility - The three public spaces strengthen the connectivity of the pedestrian paths, ease orientation, facilitate and secure displacement in the neighbourhood.
  2. Reduced environmental risk and health related risk - EVA Studio design has turned the site-mitigation measures into an opportunity to build quality public space to prevent health-related issues. Furthermore, in order to prevent health-related issues, the design ensured functional drainage along paths, stairs and open areas to avoid zones with stagnant water and entailed the installation of waste collectors.
  3. Mitigated climate condition - The design foresaw an investment in planting trees, bushes and pocket green spaces to create shaded and fresher outdoor spaces. The community engagement activities helped selecting culturally- appropriate plants species, suitable for public spaces and a vegetation resilient to the harsh climate condition. Programmed public spaces.
  4. Safe and secured spaces - Beside following international design recommendations for safety and security in public spaces, the design was integrated with suggestions from community members to increase their sense of safety. The design includes fences which limit the interference of vehicles with outdoor activities. Following community feedback on fear perception, solar lights were installed along the pedestrian paths and in the public spaces.
  5. Developed ownership of the public space - The process followed by EVA Studio allowed community members to participate actively in the conception, design and implementation of the three public spaces. The art workshops in Place Tapis Rouge created a space of exchange dialogue among community members and highlighted the, often forgotten, value of traditional art in the community.

LESSONS LEARNT

  1. Building quality public spaces: a low extra investment for a bigger impact - In fragile informal neighbourhoods occupying vulnerable urban areas, rehabilitation interventions generally give priority to the construction of mitigation infrastructure aimed at reducing environmental risk. On the other side, financing public spaces is often neglected by local authorities and donors as simplistically considered a “nice thing to have” for a community, rather than an essential element of the urban fabric. The project has demonstrated that architectural design can merge beautiful and functional public space with mitigation infrastructures. Quality public space does not demand a high investment in addition to that for mitigation measures. It requires, instead, design appropriateness to local culture, environment and climate: this not only to the definition of design features, but also to the identification of the design process.
  2. An inclusive process increases the durability of the intervention - The active participation of community members in the process can help overcome the most common issue of implementation of the construction of public spaces in informal settlements: from land tenure to site safety and to maintenance in the longer term. In this sense, public space becomes a way to empower people and an opportunity to develop social capital. The post-occupancy evaluation of three public spaces in Carrefour-Feuilles, have highlighted that in Haiti, the more public places provide space and comfort for outdoor activities, the more they acquire value for community members and the more they will provide an unsolicited maintenance.
  3. In-situ improvements and better access to public spaces significantly improve life in informal settlements -According to the post-occupancy evaluation, children and youngsters are those in the community most benefitting from the public spaces. Women much appreciate the safe environment in which children can spend their time outdoor, increased by the presence of lights after dusk. The upgrade and the creation of public space functioned as a way to organise the privatised fabric of the informal settlement. Public space can enhance community resilience by improving quality of life, providing access to services, ameliorating social cohesion around the care of a common good.

TRANSFERABILITY

The 3 main components that enable access to quality public space in a given country are: national and local laws and regulations; financial plan of the responsible authority; an appropriate design.

In Haiti, these three components are not strong enough. Experiences and lesson learned for local implementation of public spaces, and more in general of upgrading strategies for fragile urban setting, are rare. A way forward, for the implementation of public spaces in informal settlements such as those in Haiti, would consist in:

  1. Formulation of good practices show-casing successful and appropriate detailing and approaches.
  2. Creation of programs that encourage community-driven public space implementation for scaling up the impact of the good practices.

In case you missed the July edition of our Best Practice Monthly Feature, we highlighted the winning initiative for the Best Practice Transfer Award in Monitoring Mechanisms for the New Urban Agenda and the Urban Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) category. Learn more about how INFONAVIT (Institute of the National Housing Fund for Workers), the largest social mortgage company in Latin America, has implemented a national strategy to measure prosperity and sustainability of 153 municipalities in Mexico.

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