World Streets / Haitian Streets: Part I. What to do once the emergency has been met.

No city, no place in the world can hope for a fair future if it does not have safe streets that work for people in their day to day lives. Streets are the circulatory systems of our towns and cities, They are not “roads” which tend to be treated as more or less isolated conduits down which we try to channel as many vehicles as fast as possible. No, streets are rather highly idiosyncratic, hugely varied human spaces in which people move and mill around but also do a lot of other things as well. Roads are for vehicles, streets are for people.

The strategic context of city transport policy and practice in Haiti:
A thinking exercise

Soon it will time to start to lay the base for transport policy and practice in post-trauma Haiti. In fact now is the time to start this rethink. Fully aware that others are getting to work on this, World Streets has decided to make its voice heard as well on this. The following posting is the first in a series, both by our editor and others who will surely be stepping forward, to develop a broader open discussion of how to build sustainable transportation into Haiti’s cities.

We start here by looking at what we believe to be the broader context within which the issues of transport, mobility and access need to be understood and sorted out.

The importance of safe streets: But in their rightful place: We all know the old one that to a man with a hammer all problems look like nails. So of course we have to make sure that all that we think is important is properly understood in the broader context of the needs and priorities of the people in that place. Alanna Hartzok of Earth Rights Institute sent us this morning their list of priorities for rebuilding Haiti. Putting on my hat as an development economist, let me share with you my own revised read of the situation.

The overall priorities as I see them then, in some kind of rough order . . .

1. Public safety
2. Potable water
3. Access to basic food supply
4. Sanitation
5. Habitat
6. Jobs, income opportunities
7. Appropriate transport (safe, affordable, clean, available to all, sustainable)
8. Low cost first-line health care
9. Public schools
10. Reforestation

And not even one nanometer behind these:

1. Land reform
2. Agricultural fields (rice and root crops) and appropriate technology
3. Transparent public finance
4. Wind and solar energy
5. Dairy farms (goats, cows)
6. Cotton and hemp fields for fabric and building material
7. Mangosteen, mango, pineapple, papaya, trees
8. Nut trees/ coconut trees, ground nuts (peanuts)
9. Cooperatives.
10. Small industries

Debt Forgiveness: A critical step to help Haitians build a better tomorrow will be to convince global creditors to cancel Haiti’s $890 million international debt. This I believe should extend to all debts held by the poor. After bailing out the biggest banks on the planet we are not talking about huge numbers here. Doing so will help make sure that every possible future dollar goes towards rebuilding a stronger Haiti, not to servicing old debts.

United Nations Trusteeship Council: To all of which I have to add a much stronger role on the part of the much-neglected Trusteeship Council which needs a far more aggressive mandate for overseeing the next ten or twenty years in democracy and peace. In many parts of the world we have for far too long been fooling ourselves about the importance of that trip to the polls as a guarantor of democracy. The facts speak for themselves. True democracy requires a full stomach and a safe walk to the polling place. And there are times in life when we all can use a little help from outside.

International Partnerships for Sustainable Transport: And in this, our partial bailiwick, I hope that our collaborators around the world will now turn their eyes and hearts toward Haiti, not only for a bit of help from our wallets today but more actively in the months and years ahead. Already and in part in reaction to the great chaos that soured COP15 in Copenhagen last month, a broad range of groups and programs are already beginning to get together lay the base for more effective international collaboration in our field, and World Streets is but one small example of this. The OECD’s International Transportation Forum is also an important force for international collaboration and support. The new International Partnerships for Sustainable Transport ( already groups brings together come fifty of the most active international, bi-laterals, NGOs and other actors in our field. Others are emerging and hopefully will be regularly introduced and tracked in the pages of World Streets.

So let’s all of us get together to work on the fair transport agenda for poor Haiti. Because if we do not do it, what will happen? More of the old mobility thinking and investments that are far from the most important priorities of the people on the street? We can’t let that happen. Can we?

Eric Britton

PS. I warmly recommend that you also read the following Comments just below. Very interesting and useful.

Haitian roads too: Which is not to suggest that roads and transport to and from cities and towns is not a significant economic and sustainability challenge in itself. In addition to the largest cities of Port-au-Prince, Carrefour, Cap-Haitien, and Petionville, there are in Haiti a hundred smaller towns which, in this author’s view, require a consistent sustainable transport approach to their internal circulation challenges. But once you get beyond the limits of the central areas, a new transportation challenge takes over, one that is of great importance in Haiti where the links to the country side have greater economic and social significance . And while there too there is plenty of room for the values associated with sustainability, the basic strategic approach is very different. Another but related policy paradigm. But to each their métier.