Hopefully we have learned at least one hard lesson of life, and that is that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. And here right before our eyes we have a case in point with the Occupy movements that are sweeping Europe and North America, a public crisis that is most unexpectedly taking place on “public land”. And then suddenly, with no advance notice, everything starts to morph and the issues involved start to encompass not only the continuing unchecked egregious abuses of the financial community but also important (for democracy) issues of public space — one of our consistent concerns here at World Streets. So in an effort to make sure that we do not miss the opportunity behind this crisis, we pass the word back to Andrew Curry so that he can build further on his article under this title earlier this week Continue reading
From the Editor’s Desk:
This year’s World Carfree Network Conference was organized by the dynamic and fast growing city of Guadalajara, under the title Towards Carfree Cities (Hacia ciudades libres de autos), and with the support and management of two local activist groups, Ciudad Para Todos and GDL en Bici. I was invited to provide the opening keynote address on the topic of “Better Cities with a Lot Fewer Cars”, to kick off a weeklong festival of events, discussions, and presentations in the context of their program. My chosen themes were (a) deep democracy and (b) the need for immediate action. I was wonderfully received and learned a lot during my busy week with them. Continue reading
In today from Gordon Price and Price Tags:
Gladys We sends along a link to a remarkable set of dynamic before-and-after shots of the floods in Brisbane posted by ABC News, Australia’s broadcaster. These aerials were taken in flyovers on January 13 and January 14 – and then matched up exactly. When loaded, you can use your mouse to hover over each photo, and move the line back and forth to view the devastation caused by flooding.
Politicians are reluctant to confront the economic and environmental costs of transport. The task: to reduce the demand for mobility. I probably don’t write about transport as much as I ought to, and that was brought home to me at an event on The Future of Transport in Leuven in Belgium, at which I was also a speaker. There’s a case for regarding transport as a climate emergency, given that it accounts for about a quarter of Europe’s carbon emissions, and that in the last decade (unlike pretty much every other sector) emissions from transport have continued to grow sharply. And before I continue, even if you’re a climate sceptic, this represents a significant policy issue: the transport sector (at least, the non-human powered transport sector) is 97% dependent on fossil fuels. As these become scarcer, more expensive, and more prone to interruption, we will have an incipient social and economic problem which is serious enough to prod policy makers. … Read More
Courage. Not all that terribly hard actually, and certainly not impossible. The leading international edge of policy and practice in our field have over the last two decades developed the tools, experience and technical competence needed to cut fossil fuel dependence by 50% in one year. And if we can do that – if we can come even within shouting distance of this great and obtainable goal – that is going to change everything. But to get the job done we are going to have to challenge our brainpower and collective ability to influence leadership, policy decisions and investments in our chosen field. Lazy folks, bought souls and fatalists kindly abstain.
This special series sets out to tap the considerable competence of people and groups working the leading edge of the field of sustainable transport worldwide, to invite them to provide their best independent strategic counsel for the decision- makers who eventually are going to have to figure out what to do to provide and improve mobility arrangements of Haitians in their daily lives. But before digging into the transport specifics, let’s step back to share an article from today’s International Herald Tribune in which Mark Danner in a few telling pages helps us better understand the extent to which the future of Haiti will not, must not resemble its past.
To Heal Haiti, Look to History, Not Nature
- By Mark Danner, New York Times, Published: January 21, 2010. Copyright
Source : http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/22/opinion/22danner.html
Fair use on World Streets: http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/2009/03/fair-use-and-world-streets.html
HAITI is everybody’s cherished tragedy. Long before the great earthquake struck the country like a vengeful god, the outside world, and Americans especially, described, defined, marked Haiti most of all by its suffering. Epithets of misery clatter after its name like a ball and chain: Poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. One of the poorest on earth. For decades Haiti’s formidable immiseration has made it among outsiders an object of fascination, wonder and awe. Sometimes the pity that is attached to the land — and we see this increasingly in the news coverage this past week — attains a tone almost sacred, as if Haiti has taken its place as a kind of sacrificial victim among nations, nailed in its bloody suffering to the cross of unending destitution.
And yet there is nothing mystical in Haiti’s pain, no inescapable curse that haunts the land. From independence and before, Haiti’s harms have been caused by men, not demons. Act of nature that it was, the earthquake last week was able to kill so many because of the corruption and weakness of the Haitian state, a state built for predation and plunder. Recovery can come only with vital, even heroic, outside help; but such help, no matter how inspiring the generosity it embodies, will do little to restore Haiti unless it addresses, as countless prior interventions built on transports of sympathy have not, the man-made causes that lie beneath the Haitian malady.
In 1804 the free Republic of Haiti was declared in almost unimaginable triumph: hard to exaggerate the glory of that birth. Hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans had labored to make Saint-Domingue, as Haiti was then known, the richest colony on earth, a vastly productive slave-powered factory producing tons upon tons of sugar cane, the 18th-century’s great cash crop. For pre-Revolutionary France, Haiti was an inexhaustible cash cow, floating much of its economy. Generation after generation, the second sons of the great French families took ship for Saint-Domingue to preside over the sugar plantations, enjoy the favors of enslaved African women and make their fortunes.
Even by the standards of the day, conditions in Saint-Domingue’s cane fields were grisly and brutal; slaves died young, and in droves; they had few children. As exports of sugar and coffee boomed, imports of fresh Africans boomed with them. So by the time the slaves launched their great revolt in 1791, most of those half-million blacks had been born in Africa, spoke African languages, worshipped African gods.
In an immensely complex decade-long conflict, these African slave-soldiers, commanded by legendary leaders like Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, defeated three Western armies, including the unstoppable superpower of the day, Napoleonic France. In an increasingly savage war — “Burn houses! Cut off heads!” was the slogan of Dessalines — the slaves murdered their white masters, or drove them from the land.
On Jan. 1, 1804, when Dessalines created the Haitian flag by tearing the white middle from the French tricolor, he achieved what even Spartacus could not: he had led to triumph the only successful slave revolt in history. Haiti became the world’s first independent black republic and the second independent nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Alas, the first such republic, the United States, despite its revolutionary creed that “all men are created equal,” looked upon these self-freed men with shock, contempt and fear. Indeed, to all the great Western trading powers of the day — much of whose wealth was built on the labor of enslaved Africans — Haiti stood as a frightful example of freedom carried too far. American slaveholders desperately feared that Haiti’s fires of revolt would overleap those few hundred miles of sea and inflame their own human chattel.
For this reason, the United States refused for nearly six decades even to recognize Haiti. (Abraham Lincoln finally did so in 1862.) Along with the great colonial powers, America instead rewarded Haiti’s triumphant slaves with a suffocating trade embargo — and a demand that in exchange for peace the fledgling country pay enormous reparations to its former colonial overseer. Having won their freedom by force of arms, Haiti’s former slaves would be made to purchase it with treasure.
The new nation, its fields burned, its plantation manors pillaged, its towns devastated by apocalyptic war, was crushed by the burden of these astronomical reparations, payments that, in one form or another, strangled its economy for more than a century. It was in this dark aftermath of war, in the shadow of isolation and contempt, that Haiti’s peculiar political system took shape, mirroring in distorted form, like a wax model placed too close to the fire, the slave society of colonial times.
At its apex, the white colonists were supplanted by a new ruling class, made up largely of black and mulatto officers. Though these groups soon became bitter political rivals, they were as one in their determination to maintain in independent Haiti the cardinal principle of governance inherited from Saint-Domingue: the brutal predatory extraction of the country’s wealth by a chosen powerful few.
The whites on their plantations had done this directly, exploiting the land they owned with the forced labor of their slaves. But the slaves had become soldiers in a victorious revolution, and those who survived demanded as their reward a part of the rich land on which they had labored and suffered. Soon after independence most of the great plantations were broken up, given over to the former slaves, establishing Haiti as a nation of small landowners, one whose isolated countryside remained, in language, religion and culture, largely African.
Unable to replace the whites in their plantation manors, Haiti’s new elite moved from owning the land to fighting to control the one institution that could tax its products: the government. While the freed slaves worked their small fields, the powerful drew off the fruits of their labor through taxes. In this disfigured form the colonial philosophy endured: ruling had to do not with building or developing the country but with extracting its wealth. “Pluck the chicken,” proclaimed Dessalines — now Emperor Jacques I — “but don’t make it scream.”
In 1806, two years after independence, the emperor was bayoneted by a mostly mulatto cabal of officers. Haitian history became the immensely complex tale of factional struggles to control the state, with factions often defined by an intricate politics of skin color. There was no method of succession ultimately recognized as legitimate, no tradition of loyal opposition. Politics was murderous, operatic, improvisational. Instability alternated with autocracy. The state was battled over and won; Haiti’s wealth, once seized, purchased allegiance — but only for a time. Fragility of rule and uncertainty of tenure multiplied the imperative to plunder. Unseated rulers were sometimes killed, more often exiled, but always their wealth — that part of it not sent out of the country — was pillaged in its turn.
In 1915 the whites returned: the United States Marines disembarked to enforce continued repayment of the original debt and to put an end to an especially violent struggle for power that, in the shadow of World War I and German machinations in the Caribbean, suddenly seemed to threaten American interests. During their nearly two decades of rule, the Americans built roads and bridges, centralized the Haitian state — setting the stage for the vast conurbation of greater Port-au-Prince that we see today in all its devastation — and sent Haitians abroad to be educated as agronomists and doctors in the hope of building a more stable middle class.
Still, by the time they finally left, little in the original system had fundamentally changed. Haitian nationalism, piqued by the reappearance of white masters who had forced Haitians to work in road gangs, produced the noiriste movement that finally brought to power in 1957 François Duvalier, the most brilliant and bloody of Haiti’s dictators, who murdered tens of thousands while playing adroitly on cold-war America’s fear of communism to win American acceptance.
Duvalier’s epoch, which ended with the overthrow of his son Jean-Claude in 1986, ushered in Haiti’s latest era of instability, which has seen, in barely a quarter-century, several coups and revolutions, a handful of elections (aborted, rigged and, occasionally, fair), a second American occupation (whose accomplishments were even more ephemeral than the first) and, all told, a dozen Haitian rulers. Less and less money now comes from the land, for Haiti’s topsoil has grown enfeebled from overproduction and lack of investment. Aid from foreigners, nations or private organizations, has largely supplanted it: under the Duvaliers Haiti became the great petri dish of foreign aid. A handful of projects have done lasting good; many have been self-serving and even counterproductive. All have helped make it possible, by lifting basic burdens of governance from Haiti’s powerful, for the predatory state to endure.
The struggle for power has not ended. Nor has Haiti’s historic proclivity for drama and disaster. Undertaken in their wake, the world’s interventions — military and civilian, and accompanied as often as not by a grand missionary determination to “rebuild Haiti” — have had as their single unitary principle their failure to alter what is most basic in the country, the reality of a corrupt state and the role, inadvertent or not, of outsiders in collaborating with it.
The sound of Haiti’s suffering is deafening now but behind it one can hear already a familiar music begin to play. Haiti must be made new. This kind of suffering so close to American shores cannot be countenanced. The other evening I watched a television correspondent shake his head over what he movingly described as a “stupid death” — a death that, but for the right medical care, could have been prevented.
“It doesn’t have to happen,” he told viewers. “People died today who did not need to die.” He did not say what any Haitian could have told him: that the day before, and the day before that, Haiti had seen hundreds of such “stupid deaths,” and, over the centuries, thousands more. What has changed, once again, and only for a time, is the light shone on them, and the volume of the voices demanding that a “new Haiti” must now be built so they never happen again.
Whether they can read or not, Haiti’s people walk in history, and live in politics. They are independent, proud, fiercely aware of their own singularity. What distinguishes them is a tradition of heroism and a conviction that they are and will remain something distinct, apart — something you can hear in the Creole spoken in the countryside, or the voodoo practiced there, traces of the Africa that the first generation of revolutionaries brought with them on the middle passage.
Haitians have grown up in a certain kind of struggle for individuality and for power, and the country has proved itself able to absorb the ardent attentions of outsiders who, as often as not, remain blissfully unaware of their own contributions to what Haiti is. Like the ruined bridges strewn across the countryside — one of the few traces of the Marines and their occupation nearly a century ago — these attentions tend to begin in evangelical zeal and to leave little lasting behind.
What might, then? America could start by throwing open its markets to Haitian agricultural produce and manufactured goods, broadening and making permanent the provisions of a promising trade bill negotiated in 2008. Such a step would not be glamorous; it would not “remake Haiti.” But it would require a lasting commitment by American farmers and manufacturers and, as the country heals, it would actually bring permanent jobs, investment and income to Haiti.
Second, the United States and other donors could make a formal undertaking to ensure that the vast amounts that will soon pour into the country for reconstruction go not to foreigners but to Haitians — and not only to Haitian contractors and builders but to Haitian workers, at reasonable wages. This would put real money in the hands of many Haitians, not just a few, and begin to shift power away from both the rapacious government and the well-meaning and too often ineffectual charities that seek to circumvent it. The world’s greatest gift would be to make it possible, and necessary, for Haitians — all Haitians — to rebuild Haiti.
Putting money in people’s hands will not make Haiti’s predatory state disappear. But in time, with rising incomes and a concomitant decentralization of power, it might evolve. In coming days much grander ambitions are sure to be declared, just as more scenes of disaster and disorder will transfix us, more stunning and colorful images of irresistible calamity. We will see if the present catastrophe, on a scale that dwarfs all that have come before, can do anything truly to alter the reality of Haiti.
# # #
Mark Danner is a writer and reporter who for twenty-five years has written on politics and foreign affairs, focusing on war and conflict. He has covered, among many other stories, wars and political conflict in Central America, Haiti, the Balkans, Iraq and the Middle East, and, most recently, the story of torture during the War on Terror. Danner is Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and James Clarke Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs, Politics and the Humanities at Bard College.
Paris. Sunday, 17 January 2010. I: What we can do today
Greetings from a city living this mid-January 2010 day in peace, health and security. Our children are safe, our neighbors about to sit down to a full Sunday meal, and most of us will venture out onto the streets of our cities tomorrow morning to another full and peaceful day. You too I hope. But that is not at all the case in Haiti and its tragic streets. What can we do?
[Summary: Take 5 minutes, go to http://www.msf.org/msfinternational/donations/, and make your donation. You will be glad you did.]
I: What we can do today
But why do I interrupt your peaceful weekend with this unasked-for message? Because I am sure that somewhere in your heart you feel it is important that you take some kind of action in such an agonizing case. But what to do from so far away?
Here’s a thought. As it happens over the last couple of decades through our work with The Commons (since 1973), the New Mobility Agenda (since 1988) and over the last year on World Streets, I have had the great luck to meet, correspond with, get to know, and on occasion work directly with several thousand highly creative and engaged people in some eighty countries on all continents, just about all of whom know about adversity, and who I know have big hearts and are good neighbors in all senses of the word. Now that’s a lot of the right kind of people to know at a time of great need.
* Click here for video presenting MSF emergency report
Paul McPhun, MSF operations manager, gives a briefing here on the situation for MSF and our patients in Haiti, including damage sustained to MSF medical centres, our medical focus, the types of injuries and traumas we are seeing, further response plans, how medical teams are overwhelmed, having worked all night and concerns over staff and patients unaccounted for.
So following the latest from Haiti, here is the idea that struck me. Suppose you and I and the couple of thousand others we have come to know and resepct, come together to bond and carry out the same simple neighborly act that takes just a few minutes — and which I am sure every one of us, even the most modest, can afford with no great pain? If I do it, if you do it, then others will do it too. We may amaze ourselves. Let’s see how this might work.
It’s simple: We move to our computer or “smart” phone, click to Medecins Sans Frontières/Doctors without Borders at www.msf.org and make a donation, large or small. Say ten or twenty Euros/dollars as a symbolic statement. Or perhaps the price of a meal this evening with someone you love, that latest iPhone that you may not really need, or more, That will be your choice, but the important thing is that we make our donation here and now, or in some other way no matter how small. And if you already did it, well go ahead and do it again.
I had already been thinking about Haiti of late for several reasons. Recently we started work with an NGO — EcoWorks International who maintain a small office in Port au Prince, where only two of their ten colleagues on the ground there have yet to report in– to lay the base for what we hoped were going to become a series of collaborative workshops with local groups, agencies and operators in support of low cost, high impact appropriate transport innovations across the country. The situation we were originally looking at on the ground was already about as tragic as you can imagine. But even that has been catastrophically cut short, for now, though we are ready to go as soon as circumstances permit. However as you are aware there is a great deal that must be done first.
So what about this, old friends and colleagues from all over this troubled planet? What about joining hands today in clicking to MSF’s donation page at http://www.msf.org/msfinternational/donations/. Once there all you have to do is pick your country and whip through their efficient donation cycle, using credit card or PayPal. I just did it here through their French site just now: it took all of five minutes, lightened my purse by a few Euros, and hey! I feel just one small bit better already. I am not just one more passive soul sitting this one out next to a blabbing TV. Of course I want to have done more, but we each do what we can afford.
May I then invite you, may I encourage you, may I entreat you to do the same? You will know that you have done the right thing. And once you have, if you find a minute please do drop a quick email to us here to email@example.com to let us know that you have stepped up to the challenge, we can add your name to our World Streets honor roll.
If World Streets in all its forms and extensions and rhetoric and bustle does not care right down to our guts about what happens on the streets of the world, we are no more than idle chatterers.
Thank you for proving otherwise,
PS. We next invite you to look to: World Streets/Haitian Streets: What to do once the emergency has been met