NGOs in Port-au-Prince are preparing to roll out thousands of transitional shelters — timber structures that they hope will withstand the hurricane season better than the tents, plastic sheets and other makeshift coverings currently being used.
However, while many NGOs are trying to incorporate basic urban planning principles in the layout of transitional shelter settlements to provide for livelihood opportunities, they are being frustrated by other authorities who hold that these settlements will be replaced by permanent buildings in a mere matter of months.
Yet after the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 it took Kobe authorities five years to move residents from transitional shelters to permanent homes. Learning from their experience of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina, Architecture for Humanity expect that Haiti won't start building permanent structures at a significant rate before next year, and will continue for the next four years, and that even transitional shelters will still be getting built two years from now.
If great powers like Japan and the USA can't complete permanent housing in less than five years, who can expect Haiti to do it so much faster?
Even one year is a very long time for a poor household to be kept waiting in transitional shelters if those shelters do not provide for their livelihoods. Livelihood opportunities can be planned for now without any additional cost just by following some basic principles in the layout of shelters and streets.
Two principles must be held above all — the right to work from home, and the right to live near work.
Every resident must have the right and the opportunity to turn their shelter into a place of work or a place to sell goods and provide services. No-one must be asked to wait one year or five years before establishing an income from home. In all developing countries, many residents depend on their houses to act as economic bases, and if this is frustrated even for a few months, the livelihoods of many residents may collapse.
In self-build environments, it is not necessary to plan the location of individual shops and work units; every shelter must be thought of as a potential store or workplace. It is more important to lay out the streets such that every shelter receives passing traffic, so that every resident can turn that traffic into passing trade if they wish. Every shelter should open onto a minimum 3-metre wide street. Every shelter should be close to a street that carries vehicular traffic, and should be immediately accessible by tricycle and handcart.
There must be no cul-de-sacs or dead ends; every street must be a thoroughfare connecting to larger streets within the surrounding city. Transitional shelter settlements must not be planned in isolation of the surrounding street network; they must be grafted into the existing network of streets, transport routes and commercial precincts. Residents who depend on their homes for their livelihood will benefit from the regular flow of foot-traffic past their homes, and residents who obtain their livelihood outside the settlement remain in close proximity of their places of work. In this respect the local authorities are to be commended for understanding that residents must remain in the city and not relocated to its periphery.
Another easy way to provide for sustained livelihoods is to provide land for each household to grow its own vegetables and rear a couple of animals behind their homes or within the block, and this is possible even in seemingly dense urban areas.
Unfortunately, the bulk of transitional shelter planning literature describes the economic role of the shelter as an add-on, instead of seeing this role as essential, and more specific guidelines about livelihood planning — how many shops will develop per hundred homes, how much market space is required, etc. — are hard to come by for NGOs in the field. If you know of any quality documents, please get in touch with us.