Haiti’s Disaster Urbanism – The Emerging City of Canaan

Authored by: Angela Sherwood , Laura Smits , Anna Konotchick

The Routledge Handbook on Informal Urbanization

Print publication date:  December  2018
Online publication date:  January  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138183889
eBook ISBN: 9781315645544
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the factors that contribute to informal urbanization in the aftermath of a major natural disaster, and how citizens use this event to claim their rights and (re)shape their own homes. To approach this topic, we focus on the ongoing reconstruction in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and, more specifically, the striking example of one informal settlement called ‘Canaan’. Over the course of six years, hundreds of thousands of disaster-affected people have flocked to Canaan with high hopes of a more viable way of living – especially in comparison to the untenable housing crisis and exploitative rental situation in the city of Port-au-Prince. Our chapter examines the political and social meanings of Haiti’s post-disaster informal urbanization, analyzing the phenomenon of mass squatter movements and reconstruction from both a historical and a spatial (reconstruction) perspective. As part of our analysis, we draw into the discussion a critique of international humanitarianism and its formal and legalistic methods of intervention. Finally, we analyze a case in Haiti that allows us to interrogate what post-disaster informal urbanization looks like from the eyes of displaced citizens. It is through this lens of agency and collective action that we encourage more appreciation of the efforts and gains made by the citizens of Port-au-Prince when rebuilding their houses informally and with little help from the state. This appraisal is important in light of the commonly held disdain for informal settlements and squatter communities among the Haitian government and some humanitarian actors, as their existence contravenes domestic law, planning norms, and global visions of the reconstructed city.

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