First Person

Man with a plan

Having helped Turkey, New Orleans, and Honduras rebuild after natural disasters, architect and MIT professor Jan Wampler, 70, heads to Haiti.

(Photograph by Joshua Prezant)
By Ron Fletcher
March 21, 2010

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Your plan? A self-sustainable village in Arcahaie, about 20 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Last year, my team and I began designing a place that provides shelter, medical treatment, education, an arts center, farming, job training, a cafeteria, and government offices. With the number of people fleeing Port-au-Prince, shelter is now priority one. Plus, we’re in a race against the rainy season. Our goal is to house 1,000 people after 100 days of building.

Why rural Arcahaie? Port-au-Prince never provided a great quality of life for its people. It’s time for a new model. We have to abandon the Industrial Revolution idea of needing to be in a city to prosper. The Internet can create a global village. With it, you can get an education, learn a trade, and sell goods from a place that offers the sort of community and cost of living a city can’t. I’ve seen that model work in Ecuador, Turkey, India.

When do you break ground? As soon as we can. We’re working to organize volunteers and students in Boston and in Haiti. The catalyst and my partner for this project, Gerthy Lahens, has used her ties to Haiti, her homeland, to organize engineers, architects, and builders in Arcahaie. She proves what I’ve seen throughout the world: It’s the women who get things done.

How much will it cost? About half a million dollars to start. I’m optimistic we’ll raise it; my experience has shown that people will give to a specific project with a specific goal, particularly when the project is ground-up, local, and self-sustainable -- not something flown in from the US or elsewhere.

Self-sustainable how? In terms of building materials and resources: solar panels, reusable rainwater, sewage converted to fertilizer, rammed-earth blocks -- not the reinforced concrete we saw in most toppled buildings in Port-au-Prince. And bamboo, a great renewable resource for deforested Haiti. The long-run issue is how to help Haiti become a more prosperous place.

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