Shaney Pena Gomez had been working in the Dominican Republic, very close to the border with Haiti, when the earthquake last winter devastated that small nation. She has stayed in close touch with several faculty, including D. Fairchild Ruggles and David Hays, and her story soon came to light. In response to our request for an interview, she wrote a statement from which we have excerpted the following:
It is difficult to give an immediate response to an emergency like the one in Haiti last January 12... At the same time, there is a strong belief that design related fields can solve some of the critical problems we face today. …The active participation of planners, landscape architects and architects in solving extreme situations has increased the demand (world-wide) for academic programs dealing with topics such as disaster relief, community development, humanitarian design, and risk management. In this scenario, landscape architects have a leading role ...
Part of my current professional practice (before the earthquake) included two different projects in the Dominican-Haitian border concerning large-scale and community empowerment projects. However… [s]oon after the earthquake, three main workshops were held in Dominican and Haitian architecture schools along with two international design competitions—the first held to provide housing units prototypes; the second (led by architect Shigeru Ban) to implement temporary shelter in the Dominican Republic; the third held at the University of Quisqueya, Haiti, that was completely destroyed in the earthquake. In two of the workshops I participated as professor and, in one of the international competitions, I served as a juror.
[D]iscussions and design efforts about temporary housing solutions [generate] more long-term questions than ready-made solutions. Should efforts be oriented towards providing housing? Obviously. But this is happening with or without designers, and Haitians have demonstrated … their tremendous capacity for building settlements with their own hands, with camps as large as 30,000 refugees. Should designers be preoccupied with developing dwelling prototypes for Haiti’s reconstruction? I think not. Designers’ leverage, especially … in an academic environment, should always go beyond immediate reality and should anticipate future consequences.
Part of my job is to remind NGOs and governmental officers about the extreme importance of the large scale and the long-term impacts of a national plan for the environment. This is important because in Dominican and Haitian universities, planning and landscape architecture practices do not [yet] exist as professional degrees.
… More important than the shelter unit itself, I have been dealing with the issue of how whatever gets built can help community life. Within this framework, we have tried to link the work of NGOs [such as Atabey Innovation Center—centroatabey.org] that have gathered thousands of volunteers to build temporary houses with some community programs (i.e. rainwater collection, sustainable farming, solid waste disposal) in order to foster a better relationship with their environment, a crucial issue in Haiti.