Thursday, January 21, 2010

Havana Bombings - a documentary short

Graffiti artists and members of their communities discuss graffiti culture in Havana, which takes very different forms in Cuba than it does in the United States.


In the inner-city housing project of Toronto's Regent Park, Kendell and Mikey, like their surroundings are in the process of transformation; the environment and social pressure tempting them to make poor choices, their mothers and mentors rooting for them to succeed.

Turning his camera on the often ignored inner city, Academy-award nominated director Hubert Davis sensitively depicts the disconnection of urban poverty and race from the mainstream.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'Wavin' Flag' by K'naan (Official World Cup Theme Song)

Please text 'Yéle' to 501501 to donate $5 to Yéle Haiti. Your money will help with relief efforts. They need our help.

(Tweeted by) Wyclef Jean, the text message went out to nearly 1.4 million followers and kicked off what has quickly become the largest text-based fundraising campaign for disaster relief in history.

"This is the first time there has been a major disaster when this type of service has been widely available," says Yéle Haiti executive director Hugh Locke, whose nonprofit will use the funds to send nutrition bars, candles, hand-cranked flashlights and blankets to Haiti on two FedEx planes this Friday. "People want a sense of participating in the response. There is an emotional need to do something," he adds.

For the Haiti crisis, Yéle's technology partners Mobile Giving and Give on the Go have waived their typical waiting period of two weeks to deposit the donations. Firms like Mobile Accord — which manages the Red Cross system, among others — pay out donations on a quarterly basis, after customers have paid their cell-phone carriers (they) forwarded the money, 100% of which goes toward relief efforts.

The Heart of Downtown Port Au Prince, Haiti

Before the January 2010 Earthquake

HAITI 1942

Architecture for Humanity

Please support Architecture for Humanity in their efforts to help rebuild Haiti.

Here is part of their long term plan:

For those of us who are part of the reconstruction effort, we need to think about immediate needs for shelter while planning for the next three to five years of rebuilding.
When we are rebuilding, do not let the media set the time line and expectations for reconstruction. I remember vividly well known news personalities standing on the rubble of homes in the lower ninth proclaiming that 'this time next year we will see families back home.' Some well meaning NGOs, who usually have little building experience, are even worse -- 'we'll have 25,000 Haitians back home if you donate today.' In reality, here is what it really looks like:

- Pre-Planning Assessments and Damage Analysis (underway, will run for a year)
- Establish Community Resource Center and Reconstruction Studio (Week 6 to Month 3)
- Sorting Out Land Tenure and Building Ownership (Month 6 to Year 5)
- Transitional Shelters, Health Clinics and Community Structures (Month 6 to Year 2)
- Schools, Hospitals and Civic Structures (Month 9 to Year 3)
- Permanent Housing (Year 1 to Year 5)

As for a long term plan, our team is growing day by day and thanks to hundreds of individual donations we now have the resources to start enacting a long term reconstruction initiative. The details are being fleshed out, but as here is our plan (so far):

1. Set up Community Resource Centers to bring architecture and building services to folks on the ground. See below for more details.

2. Translate and distribute of our Rebuilding 101 Manual.The manual was originally developed after Hurricane Katrina and widely used in the rebuilding process.

3. Adapt, translate and distribute a Earthquake Resistant Housing Manual for local NGOs and community groups.

4. Provide Architectural and Construction professionals to develop and build community facilities inc. schools and medical centers

5. Train and Educate Incoming Volunteers in building safely and to emphasize the need for sustainable materials and construction techniques.

6. Complete the Youth Sports Facility and Disaster Recovery Center just north of Port au Prince that was developed in 2009.

7. Design, develop and implement community and civic structures for various clients and local community partners. This includes the reconstruction and building schools given the particular loss in structures.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Disaster Planning

As many of you know, the nation of Haiti is facing a horrendous natural disaster of historic proportions. The current crisis of finding survivors, creating infirmaries, finding food, water and housing the displaced will be ongoing crisis for the next couple of weeks.

While I most certainly send my sincerest hopes and prayers that Haiti can overcome their most immediate crisis as quickly as possible, I wonder about what will be the fate of Port Au Prince, one year from now, five years from now and ten years from now. There are a lot places around the globe that have been impacted by natural disasters and have chosen not to rebuild because of the staggering costs of repairs. More recently, the location of development that are prone for natural disasters has come into question, leaving many government officials and the public wondering if the development should be rebuilt at all.

Haiti does not have that option. Even though the infrastructure to their capital has been destroyed they do not have the option of abandonment. Port Au Prince was not only the capital but also the hub of government services for the entire nation. Port Au Prince was also Haiti’s largest city that made it the commercial, industrial and social hub of the nation as well. The city has to be rebuilt…but how?

The city will need planners to come up with an immediate disaster plan along with a new Master Plan for rebuilding and growth for the future. Part of the reason why this disaster is so catastrophic is that there was no Master Plan in the city to begin with and growth occurred anywhere and everywhere haphazardly. Now whether a city with a weak central government can enforce that Master Plan is another story. However there are more than a few cities in developing plan that have been able to control growth and development through a Master Plan. And right now, Port Au Prince does not have a choice, in order to save the future of the city and perhaps the nation, a Master Plan is needed to sort out the chaos and shock of a complete government breakdown and destruction.

The immediate concerns are that the city needs everything right now. But when the immediate crisis is over, be it months or years from now there will have to be a plan on what, when and how the city will be rebuilt. There is no functional starting point to build off of right now in Port Au Prince. Do you rebuild housing first to shelter a city where all the residents have been displaced. Or do you focus on rebuilding stores since there is nowhere for people to buy food, clothing or cleaning supplies. Or do you rebuild the hospitals first? And in what order do you rebuild government buildings, schools and job sectors? All of these questions must be in accordance of a disaster plan and a future Master Plan.

The city cannot be rebuilt all at once. There are certain segments of the city that planners and residents are going to have to choose to rebuild first. The city will have to be rebuilt at a segment at a time, block-by-block, neighborhood-by-neighborhood at a time in accordance to a plan. If the city rebuilds in a piecemeal fashion then there will be properties in the city that will be left as unstable rubble for years and decades by property owners who cannot afford to rebuild or have gone missing.

There will also be some hard questions that planners and residents of the city will have to face in rebuilding the city. There is going to be questions of whether a city on a major fault line should be rebuilt. Because of that question, the city cannot rebuild in the same pattern and function as it did before the earthquake. While many who rebuild may not be able to have expensive earthquake retrofitted buildings like in Los Angeles and Tokyo, new building standards can be set in place to reinforce concrete construction with steel. If this cannot be done for all construction it should at least occur in major government institutions, hospitals and schools.

Other questions the city will have to face is whether construction should be allowed on the hill tops closest to the fault line. Housing construction on the hill and mountaintops would not only be a potential hazard it has also contributed to deforestation, which has also contributed to massive flooding. The placement of the city’s transportation infrastructure may have to relocate. While the airport only received moderate damage, the blockages to this vital transportation hub has made it almost impossible to deliver resources to the rest of the city. These ports in the future will need to be isolated and not located in the heart of the city. Lastly, what will the city do with the tons of crushed concrete slabs? What took generations to build by piecemeal will not have to be cleared in a massive fashion.

All of these questions are all apart of major disaster planning and city master planning that has to be addressed soon. Without a plan on how to redevelop the city’s current plight and its future reconstruction, the city will not be able to recover by piecemeal construction.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Harlem: Gentrification or Addition?

The New York Times ran a great article about how Greater Harlem in New York City is no longer majority black. For those who do not know, Harlem was the long cultural epicenter for black folks throughout the 20th century. Not only was Harlem the home to many world renowned black writers, artists, musicians and intellectuals, the Harlem Renaissance helped defined the black experience in America in the 1920's and beyond.

Like most historic cultural ethnic enclaves, Harlem fell on hard times particularly after desegregation and urban renewal policies. The traditional base of black folks had eroded by the 1970's. The well-to-do and the middle class black populations were no longer forced to live in the crowded conditions of Harlem and moved onto better housing in and outside the city. What was left of Harlem in the 1970's was a poor urban community with a rich and long cultural and historical legacy.

Harlem was not the only culturally significant black community that fell on hard times, similar patterns of vacancy occurred in the Shaw-Howard University neighborhoods in Washington D.C., and the Pennsylvania Avenue corridor in Baltimore. The article reports that:

"Because so much of the community was devastated by demolition for urban renewal, arson and abandonment beginning in the 1960s, many newcomers have not so much dislodged existing residents as succeeded them. In the 1970s alone, the black population of central Harlem declined by more than 30 percent.

'This place was vacated,' said Howard Dodson, director of Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 'Gentrification is about displacement.'"

There are many urban communities today that have incredibly vacancy rates of over 10-20%. Many of these communities are now feeling development pressure after 30-40 years or more of abandonment in some cases. A lot of people in these urban communities fear gentrification but in cases like Harlem where there are so many vacancies, should residents feel threatened by the newcomers if no one is being displaced?

What are you thoughts?