They imagine a historic core filled with low-level buildings and parks. Is this the way to revitalize the devastated city?

This week, writer Emily Badger made the case for loosening height restrictions in many cities. "Density is supposed to be the answer to a whole range of urban challenges, to how cities can become more prosperous, more environmentally sustainable, more livable and more productive," she wrote. "But how do you grow denser if you can’t grow up?"

In American cities, this is an all-too-common problem. Restrictions limit office space and apartments downtown, leading to sprawl and public transportation headaches.

But in some developing world cities, density isn't the only consideration.

Haiti's Port au Prince, devastated by an earthquake in 2010, is an interesting case study. There has never been much of a building code in the city, one of the reasons the earthquake's devastation was so widespread.

In the aftermath, planners saw an opportunity - not only to rebuild, but to create a comprehensive zoning plan. Much of the thinking for that has fallen to architect and planner Andres Duany. Duany's firm has teamed up with the Prince's Foundation for Building Community to recreate a bustling, populated downtown.

The proposal includes:

On ground raised above flood levels by the use of demolition rubble, the plan calls for self-contained blocks mixing one- and two-story residential and commercial buildings to be constructed in small, incremental phases. While street fronts would be public, courtyard interiors would be secure and private and include parking. Small corner parks would dot most blocks.

In his 25-block plan, there is nary a sky-scraper in sight.

Duany argues that Port-au-Prince has never had a culture of tall buildings - even before they earthquake, few buildings stretched taller than a couple of stories. "There is no reason to think that after the earthquake it [buildings] will be four stories," he said at a talk last year.

Duany also believes that low buildings will create a street-level culture and a sense of eyes on the street. He wants to lure Port-au-Prince's wealthy and middle class back into the city, and argues that they'll only come if they feel safe.

And, he said, low level buildings allow planners to create coherent neighborhoods. He explains:

If the government were to adopt no plan, some tall buildings would be constructed, but the rest of the land would have no value for redevelopment. "It does have vitality - it has the vitality of Haiti - but you will not have urbanism, which, by the way, people love."

Not everyone is so keen on the plan. Critics argue that it fails to provide Haiti what it needs most - a space for industry. As Fast Company writes:

The problem with rebuilding Haiti along New Urbanist lines is that Haiti’s is a pre-industrial economy, not a post-industrial one. It needs urban concentration for manufacturing and infrastructure aimed at supporting exports--not a fantasy of self-sufficient agriculture.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Four houses of wood and glass sit on the water.
    Environment

    Are These Dutch Floating Homes a Solution for Rising Seas?

    Houseboats have long been a common sight near Amsterdam, but a new community may signal a premise that could work elsewhere, too.

  2. A woman sits reading on a rooftop garden, with the dense city of Tokyo surrounding her.
    Solutions

    Designing a Megacity for Mental Health

    A new report assesses how Tokyo’s infrastructure affects residents’ emotional well-being, offering lessons for other cities.

  3. Environment

    Visualize the Path of the Eclipse With Live Traffic Data

    On Google Maps, a mass migration in progress.

  4. A city overpass with parked cars and sparse trees
    Civic Life

    How 'Temporary Urbanism' Can Transform Struggling Industrial Towns

    Matchmaking empty spaces with local businesses and the tiny house movement are innovative solutions that can help post-industrial cities across Europe and North America adapt to the future.

  5. Life

    Can Anything Stop Rural Decline?

    Small towns across Japan are on the verge of collapse. Whether they can do so gracefully has consequences for societies around the globe.