Haiti taps Prince Charles charity for city makeover

PORT-AU-PRINCE Sat Oct 2, 2010 3:00pm EDT

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PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti has asked an architectural planning charity founded by Britain's Prince Charles to help guide the rebuilding and makeover of the earthquake-devastated historic center of Port-au-Prince.

The Center Ville area of the capital, the commercial and administrative heart of the Caribbean nation, was one of the worst hit by the catastrophic January 12 quake, which turned many of its shops and landmark buildings to rubble.

Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive said Haiti had sought help from the charity foundation of the 61-year-old heir to the British throne, who has stirred controversy with his criticism of modern architecture, to draw up a master plan for the harmonious reconstruction of downtown Port-au-Prince.

"The contact has already been made, there is an informal agreement, we have to formalize all that," Bellerive told Reuters this week.

He said Haiti was seeking a "coherent" rebuilding plan from The Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment, which would work on the project with urban planners Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, based in Miami, Washington and Charlotte, N.C.

"They have the experience," he said. The Port-au-Prince city center makeover is part of a national recovery strategy that seeks to "decompress" Haiti's hilly capital, which even before the quake was a chaotic, overcrowded warren of streets clogged with vendors, vehicles and pedestrians.

"I hope that we're going to see Port-au-Prince as a huge construction field," Haitian central bank governor Charles Castel said, adding that funds freed up by an International Monetary Fund (IMF) cancellation of $268 million of debt would help in the reconstruction of the city's administrative heart.

An army of resilient street hawkers quickly returned to the traditionally bustling Port-au-Prince downtown area after the quake, which killed up to 300,000 people and devastated the economy of what was already the poorest state in the Americas.

They have laid out their wares again -- everything from fruit, food and vehicle and electrical spare parts to voodoo paraphernalia -- alongside or on top of mounds of crumbled debris which narrow the streets for vehicles and pedestrians.

But much still lies in ruins, and key buildings like the Haitian parliament, the Justice Palace and the 19th Century Iron Market were either destroyed or damaged.

RESTORATION OF PALACE, MARKET

A note on the Prince's Foundation website said the UK charity had been asked to "create a guiding vision" to rebuild a central area of 25 city blocks of central Port-au-Prince. This would cover homes, streets, public spaces and amenities.

"We hope to play a small part in bringing hope and benefit to the city by maintaining its authentic character, reducing its environmental impact and helping train local people in construction skills that equip them for future employment," foundation chief executive Hank Dittmar said in a statement.

Prince Charles advocates traditional planning and building techniques and said recently he had "a passion for reusing things and repairing things." He has often blasted modern architecture projects, calling them eyesores that do not take into account the living needs of ordinary people.

Port-au-Prince's downtown area lies behind the damaged remains of the domed, white-painted Haitian presidential palace built at the beginning of the last century, which partially collapsed in the January 12 earthquake.

Former colonial ruler France has agreed to draw up a study for rebuilding the palace. Haiti won its independence in 1804 following a violent slave revolt.

In another historic site reconstruction initiative, a well-known British architect, John McAslan, has been appointed to rebuild and restore Port-au-Prince's Iron Market, which was badly damaged by a 2008 fire and the January earthquake. Originally built in 1891, the market is a cultural, historic and architectural landmark in the downtown area.

This restoration project is backed by Irish-owned mobile phone operator Digicel, the biggest foreign investor in Haiti.

The government also faces the huge task of rehousing some 1.3 million people left homeless by the quake, who live in cramped tent and tarpaulin cities crammed into spaces across the city.

Six camp occupants were killed in a violent storm last week and aid workers say the quake survivors remain vulnerable to winds and floods in the remaining hurricane season months.

Bellerive told Reuters $10 billion would be needed to build decent housing for all of the homeless and destitute, and the cost of removing quake rubble alone would be $1.2 billion.

He said the $11 billion pledged by foreign donors for Haiti's rebuilding and development over the next decade would fall short of the overall needs, unless the crippled Caribbean state received a massive injection of foreign investment.

(Additional reporting by Guy Delva; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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