Rebuilding Haiti

Experts Convene in NYC for Haiti Symposium

June 8, 2010

By Jenna M. McKnight

Haiti is beginning to fade from the headlines, five months after the 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck the impoverished island country. But many in the design and construction industry are determined to stay involved.  

On Friday, June 4, more than 150 people filled a Cooper Union auditorium in New York City for a five-hour symposium dubbed “Rebuilding a Sustainable Haiti.” Organized by the Institute for Urban Design, the free event was open to the public and was intended to present an overview of redevelopment strategies for the struggling Caribbean nation.

Panelists included representatives from key entities such as Partners in Health, the Clinton Foundation, and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT). Several architects also participated: R. Steven Lewis, president of the National Organization of Minority Architects; Deborah Gans, of Gans Studio; James Dart, of DArchitects; and Toni Griffin, a prominent urban planner now working in Detroit.

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The Haitian government was represented by Ambassador Leslie Voltaire, who presented the country’s official “Action Plan for National Recovery and Development.” As a special envoy to the United Nations, Voltaire, who is trained as an architect and urban planner, is responsible for managing foreign aid and developing a rebuilding plan for Haiti.

A wide range of topics were addressed during the symposium, from land ownership problems to lessons learned in other post-disaster situations. While opinions varied, there was consensus among the speakers that Haitians need to be heavily involved in the reconstruction effort. “It has to be a homegrown solution,” said David Evans, chief technical officer for UN-HABITAT in Sri Lanka. Many also agreed that the thousands of foreign groups now in Haiti need to work together. That’s not easy to accomplish, noted Voltaire. “Everyone is for coordination,” he said. “But nobody wants to be coordinated unless they are the coordinator.”

The Institute for Urban Design intends to create a publication based on the symposium. For more information, visit

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