Thom Mayne with Eui-Sung Yi_Advanced Topics Studio
Course: 401.2 Advanced Topics Studio
Thom Mayne, Distinguished Professor
with Eui-Sung Yi Lecturer
What is the role of culture in reconstruction? Can planning and design infuse resilience in a community to guard against the effects of disaster?
Haiti had difficulties prior to the earthquake, but the sheer scale of destruction and rawness of the January 2010 earthquake left it in a heightened state of devastation and urgent emergency needs. The influx of international aid delivered to the country in following months is widely thought to have been well-intentioned, but poorly managed. What happened in post-disaster Haiti?
After a region experiences disaster, a process of Relief, Recovery and Planning attempts to re-establish a safe sustainable environment for all those affected. Relief is reaction — immediate, urgent, life-saving. It is an injection of soft goods, the flow of outside products and services to meet emergency needs. Recovery is strategy — prodding local systems back to life. Recovery targets the incremental strengthening of pre-existing local physical systems so a devastated region can stand again. Planning is prevention — long-term vision that anticipates solutions to latent problems. Planning sets an overarching direction for development. Now, nearly 3 years after the quake, the transition from relief efforts towards more visionary strategies for recovery and future planning is apparent and appropriate.
The Now Institute approaches this scenario with the question – what native resource can be employed to be a long-term engine and authenticator of the rebuilding effort in Haiti? The identity and vitality of any nation lies in the distinct flavor, confidence and vibrance of its unique local culture. In Haiti, across all sectors of society, age levels and regions, it is clear that culture is in joyful abundance. An approach of cultural reconstruction is also adopted by major players in the development world, including UNESCO and other highly-regarded NGOs. The strategy calls for prioritizing long-term development through investment into embedded cultural resources and encouraging the growth of auxiliary services and industries that serve them. The authenticity, dignity and identity of local communities is enhanced while the development of regionally-appropriate industries is encouraged.
The fortification of culture yields the opportunity for coupling it with strategically identified needs. One possibility links the richness and creativity of the Haitian arts and crafts culture with a strategy for improved access and quality of basic education. A radically Haitian embodiment of an institution of higher learning is another opportunity, which attempts to understand and stave the alarming departure of educated graduates from the country. A macro strategy for improved international recognition and domestic income generation suggests the development of an eco-cultural tourist experience that credits Haiti’s fragmented rural infrastructure with protecting and preserving the Caribbean’s last remaining virgin beaches. The umbrella theme of culture, as opposed to a singular elemental product or checklist, is rich with opportunities for locally-accepted propositions for stable, healthy development beyond simple reconstruction.
The final aspiration of any post-disaster strategy is the maturation of the affected region into a resilient society. Resilience, the ability to guard against or absorb the effects of hazards and risks, is a product of complex social, infrastructural and economic factors. In Haiti, the absence of many typical commodities and services again highlights the role of culture as a vital force in developing future resilience against disaster.