From Settlement to City: A Masterplan for Cap-Haitien, Haiti

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Location: Cap-Haitien, Haiti. A major city in Haiti

The project proposes a series of design interventions in a case study city to illustrate a method for resolving typical urban design problems found in dense newly built urban settlements in developing countries.

The project is located in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, a port city laid out between a natural bay and a range of mountains which lead to a larger agricultural region. Cap-Haitien is the capitol of it’s region and has a number of neighborhoods, including a gridded colonial historical center and new neighborhoods, densely settled in the past fifty years, that have more than doubled the size of the original city. The city is also home to monuments and historical sites significant to the greater region, making it a notable tourist destination.

Cap-Haitien and the region face a number of environmental and ecological challenges including deforestation; endangered species and the loss of natural habitats; loss of agricultural land; flooding; hurricanes, and earthquakes. Of these environmental challenges, deforestation has had the most marked effect, worsening the threat of flooding and mudslides, and contributing to the loss of wildlife habitats.

The social context of the city resembles that of most developing countries. Internal migration of the population from the countryside to the city center continues and contributes to the dense unplanned expansion of the city. People move in search of economic opportunity and the services found in the city including infrastructure, such as roads, sanitation, and electricity; social services such as schools, hospitals, and government offices; and physical amenities such as structured open space. The population in newly settled neighborhoods ranges from the very poor to the middle class with generally the newest neighborhoods, farthest from the city center, being the poorest.

The city manifests the typical urban design problems found in developing cities; the city and it’s neighborhoods are not well defined; neighborhoods lack access and structured street networks; although the population density is high, blocks, plazas and buildings are not fully formed; block patterns and building types are not clearly resolved; and important cultural, historical, and functional sites are not addressed.

The project proposes a method to bring physical order to the chaos of areas newly urbanized without the benefit of prior design or planning. A series of design interventions are specifically conceived to resolve typical urban design problems of entry, arrival, and exiting from the neighborhood and city; movement through the neighborhood and the city; the edges and boundaries of the neighborhood and city; and the formal definition of cultural, historical and functional sites in the city.

The project presents a masterplan of the city illustrating the proposed design interventions including a strengthened and reconnected street network and a series of plazas giving formal urban shape to neighborhood centers. Four design interventions are presented in detail; Market plaza, Gate Plaza, St. Agatha’s Plaza, and Vertieres Plaza. They illustrate the resolution of typical urban problems and the strategies used to achieve them. One resolution found in all four design interventions is the formation of the hybrid block type, which reintroduces the creole townhouse type as a complement to the traditional ‘lakou’ arrangement of Haitien residential buildings. The use of the hybrid block type allows unformed blocks to become fully formed with new development. Fully formed blocks, in turn, strengthen the physical definition the street network and new plazas.

Lastly, the project presents a method for improving not only Cap-Haitien, but similar cities throughout the developing world. A core set of typical urban problems are identified and proposed interventions seek to resolve these urban problems. The methodology used and it’s application as a replicable design process for settlements in other developing countries makes it a compelling model for design.



The project advocates culturally responsive design that brings physical order to Cap-Haitien through key interventions within the existing fabric of the city. The project exemplifies the Canons of Sustainable Architecture and Urbanism by (i) proposing urban infill in existing neighborhoods; (ii) proposing development boundaries to protect wetlands and natural watersheds; reconnecting the network of streets in Cap-Haitien; (iii) promoting permanence through the use of local urban, architectural and landscape patterns including time honored building typologies; (iv) and promoting social interaction and cultural activity by integrating plazas and civic buildings into existing neighborhood. The project best exemplifies the following Charter Principles:

The region: metropolis, city, and town - Principles 3, 4, 6

Cap-Haitien is set at the edge of the fertile agricultural land of the Plain du Nord. It has grown over twice it’s original size engulfing what use to be separate towns into the metropolitan area of the city. Development is encroaching on the agriculture of the surrounding countryside, which in great part fuels the commerce of the city’s daily markets, playing an important role in the economic vitality of the city. The project proposes clear boundaries to development to maintain agricultural land and renew the city’s threatened natural landscapes. The proposed interventions, in fact the whole project, are focused on development within existing densely populated neighborhoods. In addition, the proposed interventions are based off of studies of the existing block patterns and building types found in the historical center of the city.

The neighborhood, the district, and the corridor - Principles 11,12, 13, 16,18

Cap-Haitien’s newest neighborhoods lack defined corridors and connected street networks. Although these neighborhoods often have a great deal of commercial activity, they lack civic and sacred institutions and the plazas culturally and historically associated with such structures and activities. The project helps to strengthen the street network by connecting interrupted streets and corridors. Plazas are introduced within the neighborhoods providing the setting for civic and sacred institutions as well as commercial activity. The proposal inserts institutions such as schools, churches, museums, government buildings and markets (which are an institution in Haitian culture as opposed to a mere commercial enterprise) within neighborhoods. The project proposes a range of parks including a bay front promenade, planted neighborhood squares, and conservation areas along the Mapou River, the Bassin Rodo and the mangrove swamp.

The block, the street, and the building - 19, 20, 23, 24, 25, 27

The project presents an analysis of existing spatial, block and building types found in the historic center of Cap- Haitien and in the newest neighborhoods. The clarity of spatial, block and building types from the historic center allows them to be used as the building blocks for the proposed interventions in the newest neighborhoods.

Plazas are proposed within the fabric of the neighborhoods to give a defined urban shape to neighborhood centers. Civic and sacred buildings are placed on proposed plazas reinforcing the important and public nature of these open spaces and the buildings that front them. Proposed civic and sacred buildings reinforce existing building typologies and include a market building; a secondary school; a government building; a school; and a national museum all within the existing fabric of Cap-Haitien’s neighborhoods. Together they represent a range of buildings that give a physical presence to the public life of the neighborhood’s residents.

The creole townhouse type is reintroduced to form new neighborhood blocks around the proposed plazas. In some instances a hybrid block, which incorporates the creole townhouse with the traditional ‘lakou’ arrangement of Haitian residential buildings, integrates new development with existing conditions and provides a range of housing options within the block. The design promotes mixed-income neighborhoods by proposing flexible building types and block types that take into consideration the existing living patterns of the population. These blocks in turn reinforce the building wall of the street network.

The preservation of the city’s built legacy requires that new development have a cultural and historical grounding. Therefore, the project goes beyond preservation to propose the creation of new monuments in existing neighborhoods and the active integration of existing monuments into their neighborhoods. For example, a new urban stair leading to a museum is proposed at the existing Vertieres Monument, giving residents access to the monument while augmenting the prominence of this important historical site.


Lessons learned: I. The project defines a set of typical urban design problems that when resolved render a coherent urban realm. These urban design problems exist in densely populated cities throughout the developing world and strategies to solve them can often be found in the city’s historical center. Resolving these urban problems significantly contributes to the creation of good urbanism and promotes excellence in design by defining development edges and boundaries; promoting movement and way-finding in neighborhoods; and preserving, renewing, and augmenting the number of cultural and historical sites in the city. II. An infill approach to design proposals within the city makes them feasible. The interventions proposed in Cap- Haitien range in size and work within the existing fabric. They are flexible and do not require the acquisition of large amounts of land or the demolition of large parts of the city thereby making the interventions realistic. The project’s design interventions can be implemented independently of each other and over time while still enhancing Cap-Haitien’s neighborhoods. III. Working in neighborhoods built up without prior urban design or planning provides challenging existing conditions that most naturally lead to varied and interesting design solutions. These neighborhoods afford the opportunity to work with existing areas and populations that need design expertise, but are often overlooked. Their design solutions inherently do not produce the monotonous grids or the forced variability characteristic of so many greenfield developments. In addition, design interventions are innately built off of the way the population has settled. IV. Cultural and historical considerations have the power to convincingly drive design and development decisions. The project promotes culture and history as key pragmatic considerations alongside economic and technical considerations in development and design decisions. Development goals aligned with culturally and historically informed design significantly fosters permanence by promoting identity and cultural continuity. V. Parallels can and should be drawn between the world’s best examples of urbanism in developed nations and the dense new fabric of neighborhoods in developing nations. Older cities in developed nations have lessons pertinent to developing cities. They have modernized and redeveloped, some many times over, to tackle urban problems similar to those found throughout the developing world. By drawing parallels we can find strategies for resolving the urban design problems of cities in developing nations.

Transect Zone(s): T4 general, T5 center.
Status: Proposed
Project or Plan's Scale: Region
Land area (in acres): 12000
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Project team designers: Cindy M. A. Michel
Project team developers: N/A

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Starting/Ending date of construction/implementation: -