Reinventing the Sidewalk in Haiti

“Have you ever walked in Port-Au-Prince under the rain? How was the experience? It is wet, right?” asked Marion Nonglaton, Pure Water for the World’s Interim Country Director in Haiti, when she stood to address a crowd of young architects and urban designers at the “Reinventing the Sidewalk” event held in Port-au-Prince in May.

The “Reinventing the Sidewalk” workshop event was hosted by Kafe Ayetipik, a Haitian-based non-profit that holds events featuring architecture and art that support the development of Haiti. The goal of this event was focused on developing alternative solutions for sidewalks in Haiti.

PWW was invited to participate in the event to share expertise regarding the sanitation aspect of the sidewalks in Port-au-Prince, issues with drainage, how to better manage flooding, and how to effectively treat water.

Participants responded to Marion’s initial questions with laughter. Yes, indeed, they knew of this “wet” experience. The fact is that most of the sidewalks in Port-au-Prince are convex and domed in the middle. Because of this, when it rains, the sidewalks and all of the surrounding areas quickly become flooded. The situation is further impacted because of the trash on the streets becoming trapped into the drainage systems.

The rain and flooding situation creates several major issues for the city and the country. There are significant economic issues for local merchants, whose stands are located on these very sidewalks. Merchants are forced to take their stands away when it rains; and, as long as it rains, they cannot sell.

What’s more, when it rains, schools are delayed and/or closed, and most economic activities in the city are also delayed or, worse, completely stopped. This results is a comprehensive negative economic hardship that impacts the entire country.

“So, what needs to be done to address this?” Marion asks. She goes on to share one idea for the architects and designers to consider. “If a drop of water falls over pavement, 100% of this drop runs off and directly contributes to flooding. Now, if the same drop of water falls on grass, only 80% of it runs off. Even better, if that same drop of water falls on a tree, only 15% runs off!”

A street in Cité Soleil after a rainfall.

One of the most significant issues in Haiti are the natural disasters and, particularly, the flooding. Floods kill hundreds of people every year. The rain, itself, is not the cause of the fatalities. The deaths are due to poor urban planning and a lack of waste management, which results in widespread flooding and the transmission of diseases.

PWW works in Cité Soleil, located on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. This urban slum is home to some 400,000 residents, the majority of whom live in extreme poverty. This is one of the areas most devastated by floods each year. The primary reason for the flooding is that the urban run-off from Port-Au-Prince ultimately ends up in Cité Soleil, a direct result of poor urban planning and drainage design. The situation has been getting increasingly worse.

That’s why events such as “Reinventing the Sidewalk” are so important to the future of this city and its surrounding communities. The day was a great success, with many ideas and potential solutions discussed. At the end of the workshop, participants worked together to develop a feasible plan for the sidewalks to be presented to the municipality of Port-au-Prince.

Marion was honored to participate in the event, working to inspire young architects and urban designers to consider the impact of water and drainage in their future designs, as well as help to inspire solutions for the greater good of the municipality.

She shares, “During this event, I felt I had the chance to influence the future designs of architects and urban planners in order to prevent these issues and make Port-Au-Prince a greener and safer city for all!”