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This entry is part of an ongoing series about ESCI’s work in Northern Haiti. New development projects, such as the Caracol Industrial Park (PIC), have sprung up throughout the region, promising opportunities for economic growth and rapid urban development. In this context, the challenge for Haitian planners and ESCI is to ensure that territorial management—formalizing new settlements, providing basic infrastructure, reducing risk and vulnerability, and protecting the environment—simultaneously helps projects like the PIC succeed while ensuring the right to sustainable cities and Haitian capacity to shape future urban growth.
What is the relationship between urban development and transportation in Northern Haiti? Consider Donald, a young preacher from Cap Haitien who occasionally moonlights as a for-hire driver. During a recent visit, he told me that his dream is to get his own minibus and transport people to and from towns all along Route National 6, the region’s main thoroughfare. At ease with numbers, Donald laid down his case. He could fill a twenty-person van in Cap Haitien during rush hour; about a dozen passengers would get off near the Caracol Industrial Park, which is a thirty-minute drive from Cap and costs fifty Haitian gourdes a piece (US$1.15)—a gain of about US$14. The rest would likely go all the way to Ouanaminthe (also known as Juana Méndez), near the Dominican border. This adds another fifty minutes to the trip, which at sixty-five gourdes per passenger, gives him another US$12. Donald says this is just a rush hour baseline; surely he’d pick up others along the way throughout the day, especially students from the new UHE campus near Limonade. A comfortable minibus would help him win over those who would otherwise climb on a tap-tap or hire out a motorcycle for a quicker (though less safe) commute. Alas, he says he cannot save enough and knows there is no access to credit to buy vehicles; for now, he’s saving to get his own pap padap—a nimble pay-as-you-go kiosk for cellphone users. If he can come up with the start-up money, local cell operators can lend him the rest. And he reckons it has smaller initial investment and operation costs than bus services.
Donald’s story recalls one of planning’s most fundamental relationships: where people live and work, and how they get from one place to the other, has a direct impact on urban density and location, and carries direct social, economic, and environmental implications. The commute from the region’s largest city, Cap Haitien, to destinations along RN6 is expensive and consumes a large part of income. There is a clear economic incentive to move closer to work or to university, where one could easily walk or bike, as many of the PIC’s workers do today. However, this assumes that land and housing are readily and formally available (they are not), and that losing access to services and amenities, more or less available in busy towns like Trou-du-Nord and Limonade, is an acceptable tradeoff. In practice, many Haitians do not have much of a choice: transportation (informal and privately-led) is too expensive, the move to denser urban areas difficult or impossible to do. As a result, new informal settlements appear and spread rapidly.
Mobility is arguably the key to sustainable urban development in Northern Haiti, even more so considering that as projects like the PIC grow, so will demand for an improved transportation system and strong urban cores (both existing and new) with a mix of land uses. ESCI’s ultimate goal in Northern Haiti—to help develop site- and city-specific urban development strategies and set against regional needs and goals—must begin with a clear understanding of mobility patterns and how they will map out into future growth scenarios. Currently, we are designing an origin + destination survey, which will give us a quantitative measure of travel patterns and help us assess needs. Ultimately, this survey will provide the basis for a long-term mobility plan for the region, a key set of data that will inform urban development and operationalize a wider and more affordable variety of transport options for Northern Haiti. Any kind of urban intervention—from potential bikepaths connecting Caracol to the PIC, to the effective launch of a small business incubation program that could entrepreneurs like Donald—must improve the symbiotic relationship between transportation and urban development.