Strenghtening the Haitian market

Strenghtening the Haitian market

  • by Architecture for Humanity
  • Aug 10, 2011
  • comments

Commerce in Haiti generally spills onto sidewalks, into streets and down avenues. Out here, merchants establish wooden fruit and vegetable stands or take to selling wares from the ground or on foot. As consolidated hubs of commerce, Haitian market buildings are keystones for the distribution of goods and wares; they epitomize the self-employed merchant economy that's ubiquitous here.

Traditional Haitian market buildings reflect a common typology. Covered open-air buildings supply stalls and other resources for selling every imaginable product: fresh produce and meat; dried, cooked and packaged food; metalwork, crafts and paintings; household items, auto parts, clothes and toys. Stalls, usually divided concrete counters, are rented to vendors on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Markets are often enclosed by walls and accessed through formal openings along each of the sides. Market management is responsible for keeping the premises clean and supplying the vendors with various amenities.

Yet many of these spaces are left vacant while commerce swirls beyond their walls. Informal stands stacked against market façades slow or block pedestrian and vehicular traffic, spreading at times to the middle of street lanes, over which truck axles are able to pass.

Kenscoff Market: Exterior; Interior; Section

"It's a very interesting situation," Nancy Doran relates. A design associate with Architecture for Humanity in Haiti, Nancy is by now quite familiar with the system of local markets–she just submitted a study (pdf) of nine such structures around Port-au-Prince and Léogâne. Competition against unaffiliated vendors is a recurring theme, as is questionable management. "Some markets are in better shape than others, but not even the subsidized ones are perfect."

Formal Haitian markets can potentially provide safe, sanitary environments that couldn't be assured by your average street merchant. Whether or not these markets are wrestling with economic obstruction, proper environments are rarely provided for. When vendors pay for a market stall–at 350-1750 gourdes ($6.25-$43.75) per week–they should be receiving unmatched advantages in sanitation, storage, utilities and overall visibility. But where drainage and waste disposal are poor, and market entrances are left unmarked or are obscured by informal stalls, a market's benefits aren't so apparent. Where management's not organized, the best of intentions can fall apart.

On the other side of the situation stands the Iron Market–a historically significant landmark that, since the earthquake, has undergone a complete, privately-funded makeover. By all appearances, the Iron Market resolves many of the Haitian market's hobbling issues. Stalls with lattices and storage, proper drainage, services and security, and separated waste streams, have all become available to merchants for a stupefying 100-150 gourdes/week. These figures, it turns out, are a bit misleading.

Marche en fer "Iron Market," downtown Port-au-Prince: View from Boulevard Jean Jacques Dessalines; Interior; Clock tower

"We identified the Iron Market as a non-sustainable case study," Nancy points out. The venue is being supported by investments beyond those of its tenants. Being the first (and, to date, only) new construction in downtown PAP, the Iron Market has been a symbol of the capital's renaissance. Such significance warrants, to be sure, the recycling bins and one-guard per-aisle security detail, as well as subsidized stall fees. Nancy holds this case study at arm's length. "We'd like to see a lot of this in every market, but we'd like it to be economically self-sustaining."

Marche Salomon, downtown Port-au-Prince: Interior; Section and plan

The analysis and observations of the nine case studies will work themselves into a market design for the new community of Santo. For this market, Nancy and the rest of the Haiti Rebuilding Center are trying to make rentable stalls the most appealing way to sell merchandise. The Report's conclusions have been getting the Center's brains churning:

  • Decrease 'interstitial' space between market and road. Bring the market closer to streets, tap taps and moto stops.
  • Break down barriers. The division between interior and exterior seem to be doing the studied markets few favors. Interiors become dark, cavernous and isolated.
  • Develop along a use-based layout. The formal/axial layouts of many of the observed markets ignore the most obvious pathways connecting a community. By studying and developing around inherent pathways, the community will be encouraged to walk between market stalls on their way to school or work–a destination may be more utilized when it's on the way to a destination.
  • Make it easier to work. 'Quality management, sanitation and security are crucial' for making a market inviting and healthy. But enabling work is another part of the puzzle. The team observed a majority of the vendors to be women–perhaps more vendors would be attracted to working at a market if it could look after their family. If a market had a childcare system, what would that look like?

Nancy is quick to admit she doesn't have all the answers. "We need to design the market in partnership with the community through open dialog and a series of community based design charrettes. I see our key role in this project as being primarily that of a facilitator. In the end it is a community project, designed by the community." Notions that surpass expectations of a market, including childcare or cooperative ownership, have to be fully vetted. New concepts will have to work in the minds of the community before there is any hope of them working in reality.

The market charrette is scheduled for next week.