They’re finally talking about city-building, which is to say building the city, not just a city, here in Port au Prince. On Monday, March 11, the first National Urban Forum discussed dreams and, hopefully, plans for delivery.
In the normal way of things here, there wasn’t much warning of the impending event and now, there isn’t much information on what’s being discussed and how it might form the basis of a presentation at April’s World Urban Forum (WUF) in Medellin, Colombia. Those au fait with the WUF would know that’s a jamboree, “convened” every two years by the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, UN-Habitat. It discusses issues to do with rapid urbanization and how it affects cities, communities, economies, climate change and policies. This time round, the WUF will have “urban talks” from Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, former Vancouver city-planner Brent Toderian and an Atlantic journalist and professor who’s name is a geographical location, albeit a state not a city – Richard Florida.
Tepid though it might sound, it can only be good for Haiti to start discussing how to build a city. Here too, as across the planet, the majority of the population now lives in cities but they can be colder, harder places than the small villages and clusters where most Haitians lived.
In Port au Prince especially, where more than one-third of Haiti is crammed, urban reality is often nasty and brutish with areas boasting invisible borders based on economic and cultural exclusion, while mini-shanty towns remain miserably in evidence and, basic services a distant dream for the many.