The Art of Rebuilding a Community
Posted December 19, 2011
Currently, there is much debate regarding development in Haiti and rebuilding efforts. Architecture for Humanity posted a recent plan for developing the community of Santo in Leogane. Anchoring the discussion of housing, schools, energy and sanitation, was the underlying importance of community. Voices from Leogane, including farmers associations, women’s groups and town leaders were instrumental in crafting the plans for their town and to ensure this new development will contribute to enhancing the community. This has been lacking in many other discussions of rebuilding efforts.
The concept of the value of community to the well being of individuals and their society is not a novel idea.
Writing about health promotion and disease prevention, Syme and Ritterman observed:
“Few topics are more important to health than community development. At first, this assertion seems a wild exaggeration when considered in relation to other important contributors to health, such as high-quality medical care, healthy behavior, and good genetic stock. However, substantial evidence reveals that environmental and community forces also are important determinants of health. This observation is critical for those involved in the development of affordable housing and enhanced community facilities for people living in low-income neighborhoods. The evidence now shows that no matter how elegantly wrought a physical solution, no matter how efficiently designed a park, no matter how safe and sanitary a building, unless the people living in those neighborhoods can in some way participate in the creation and management of these facilities, the results will not be as beneficial as we might hope. It turns out that, for maximum benefit, physical improvements must be accompanied by improvements in the social fabric of the community.”
In their plan for Santo, Architecture for Humanity writes about establishing a thriving community beyond simply design and construction:
“A strong cohesive community promotes a high quality of life and an investment in the future of a settlement. To nurture this cohesion it is essential to collaborate with the community and provide the physical infrastructure that will nurture a sense of place and pride.
The ability to harness a sense of collective responsibility is crucial to the viability of any community.
Vibrant public spaces existed prior to the earthquake and despite years of neglect they maintained an important psychological and social function in the fabric of society."
“While confronting the urgency for immediate permanent shelter in Haiti, a guiding principle of this document is to never lose site [sic] of the goal of developing urban infrastructures that promote permanent communities.”
Madison Smartt Bell wrote a beautiful article in the NY Times last month, “In a Hut in Haiti, Waiting for Spirits.”
“Lakou is the Creole word for “courtyard,” but it means a whole lot more: the dwellings of an extended family group, sharing shelter and water and food and cropland under the aegis of ancestral spirits. Relations within a lakou prove the value of familial blood ties, while relations from one lakou to the others prove the value of universal human kinship. Each lakou is a cell in a network; there is no hierarchy, or no permanent one, so that an enemy can’t destroy any part of it without destroying all the parts.”
There is an urgent need to rebuild Haiti, but that development must honor the vital role of community in the lives of the Haitian people.