Monday, July 10, 2017

Baltimore lessons for Haiti?

Over the last eight years I have written and spoken at various national venues about technology and cities in one way or another. Many aspects are open ended questions such as : "What Makes Cities Smart? (2016)", what are the  Future Industries, whether the "digital cities" is a Dream or Horror?, wondered  "If There Can Be Science in City Planning? , investigated if "Information Modelling Can Make Cities Smarter?"(2013)  and how Governance in the Digital City (2013) would work.  At one point I even wondered "What Architecture Has to do with Quantum Physics? and how the Emergence (2009) can be applied to cities.
Equity through technology?

In the end I concluded that the technological focus on efficiency isn't as important as good governance and equity. Cities can't thrive as long as they exclude large parts of their populations from thriving and that equity is the biggest issue cities face around the globe I began probing if  and "How Technology Can Provide Access for Distressed Communities".

Either through these articles and talks or the recent book about Baltimore I got the attention of Henry Beaucejour, founder and editor of Haiti Tech News.
Henry Beaucejour noticed through his work reporting for a Haitian newspaper that technology news was lacking for his country. With the importance of technology to the modern world, he knew that Haiti was in desperate need of a news source to cover the field. At the time of its founding in 2011, became the country’s first technology-only news source: a title they retain today. seeks to help educate and advise the people of Haiti through top-quality reporting, available in four languages. Beaucejour hopes that through Haititechnew’s help, the people of Haiti will acquire the knowledge needed to start their own businesses in the private and public sector. (website).
He invited to speak at the Haïti Numérique 2030 Tech Awards event later this month, I began to wonder how much my Baltimore insights hold in Haiti, or specifically in Port au Prince where the event will take place. Port au Prince is so much bigger (depending how one counts and who does the counting anywhere between 1 and 1.2 million residents) than Baltimore and so much poorer. Its murder rate is has been reported as high as 2,000 per year, a number that is about four times higher than Baltimore's current horror rate (based on population).
West Baltimore, life expectancy of North Korea

Port au Prince doesn't have a sewer system at all while Baltimore's was once the pride of the city even though it now it routinely breaks and overflows with thousands of gallons of raw sewage going straight into the Bay via the Jones Falls. Baltimore just embarked on a multi-billion redo of its main sewage treatment plant (an amount higher than GDP of all of Haiti), Port au Prince's first sewage treatment plant is still a distant dream with crowdfunding on Indiegogo. The fact that UN troupes introduced cholera and the UN Secretary having set up a remediation fund means little since few nations paid anything into it so far. ($2.27 billion has been requested by the UN for Cholera eradication).

Equity, for sure, would be a common denominator between Baltimore and Haitian cities, notably its absence.  Port au Prince has a hotel (paid by the Clinton- Bush post earthquake Haiti fund) where the night costs $250. It has heavily guarded grocery stores with import foods  that cost more than at Whole Foods in Baltimore and posh hillside quarters overlooking the sea. And close by it has places such as the Cite de Dieu, a slum of 40,000 people. It is likely that the life expectancy discrepancy between Cite de Dieu and Petion-Ville is even higher than the 21 years between Sandtown and Roland Park.
Haiti Numerique 2030

One could go on and on with those mostly inaccurate comparisons, but the question in face of my talk in Port au Prince is this: Can innovation and technology provide opportunity  in one of the world's poorest nations or in Baltimore? Can the high penetration of cell phones even in the poorest quarters leverage the voice of people even though most can't read and write?
Social determinants of health

The West Baltimore Innovation Village has been founded with just this goal in mind. Innovation Village already collaborates with Kampala in Uganda and has according to Richard May been recognized by the UN as a model that  "presents a new approach to a better Smart Cities strategy through creating holistic, integrated solutions designed to increase access to jobs, quality of life, and sustainability."

Your comments or responses to these questions are welcome! Please write below whether you think that there are parallels between Baltimore and Port au Prince and what technology can do to leverage opportunity. I would love to deliver your messages from Baltimore.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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