Images of the City Rebuilding

For architects and urban planners of a certain age Kevin Lynch’s The Image of the City is a formative book.  It forecast the end of Modernism, from Brasilia and Chandigarh’s gargantuism to the soulless banality of Pruitt-Igoe and Co-op City.  It was a scholarly analysis of the obvious, that people like variety and idiosyncrasy, that we understand our world through its hierarchy; that pattern and familiarity are essential backgrounds against which accents resonate.  The Image of the City established the terms landmark, node, link, and edge as the words we use to describe the urban environment to this day.

I think about these terms as I move through Grand Goave.  Grand Goave is a small city of 25,000 people.  It rests along the Bay of Gonave on the north coast of the Haiti’s western peninsula.  It has no zoning and not much government, yet the key elements of urban planning are evident.  There are two edges – the bay on the north and the river on the east.  Haiti National Route 2, which runs parallel to the coast, is the city’s main link.  It is the only blacktop road.  The market is along Route 2; that is where the tap-taps congregate (tap-taps are Haitian taxis) and Route 2 has the only bridge to Port-au-Prince.  The highway sits about half mile back from the sea; in between is a grid of streets, the arteries running between the highway and the bay, the tertiaries perpendicular to those.  South of Route 2 the land rises to mountains.  There are few roads in that direction and they are very steep, but there are many foot paths.  Since Haiti is not a country of robust institutions, Grand Goave is short of built landmarks, but the organization of the city is very clear.  Mountains to the south, bay to the north, urban grid on the flats and meandering paths in the hills.

On Saturday, for diversion, I walked from the BeLikeBrit orphanage site to the Mission of Hope School site along the mountain foot path instead of the steep road. I took photos of the city as it descends towards the sea. It has been two and a half years since I first came here, and the amount of physical change is phenomenal.  The city existed; the earthquake pulled it apart, and now it is being knit back together. It is not being rebuilt with a plan, yet the essential character of its urban space persists.

View of Grand Goave artery driving towards Route 2.  The main part of the city is hard surfaced and dusty.  Piles of masonry are everywhere. A year ago they were mostly rubble, now half the piles are rubble, the other half are new materials awaiting construction.

View across a valley and the bay.  The bright blue tarps are the walls of Samaritan’s Purse temporary houses.  The tarps are ubiquitous in the city and are used for all manner of covering. This blue has become the predominant color of the city.  The flats are to the left, the bay beyond, Port au Prince is beyond sight to the right.  The large tower in the middle is Digicel.  Digicel is the most advertised brand in Haiti.  Cell service is terrific.

This detail photo shows how a homestead that might evolve over years transforms much faster post-earthquake.  The blue house with the tin roof was built in August of 2010.  I know because my son Andy and I built it. I have a photo of him framing the roof.  In the ensuing eighteen months the owners have added a lean-to, a deck, and are now in the process of building a permanent concrete block house into the side of the hill.

About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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1 Response to Images of the City Rebuilding

  1. Sherri McCutchen says:

    The blue tarps remind me of my first flight into New Orleans after the storm – wonder who decided/why it was decided to make them that almost-sky blue?

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