Don’t get me wrong. I am extremely concerned about the plight of the residents of Petite Savanne and I sympathize with the government’s predicament in the wake of the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Erika.
Nevertheless, I question the wisdom of relocating a rural community to a new town setting.
The artist’s impression, which presumably reflects the development concept, appears to be devoid of the principal attribute that contributed to the resident’s lifestyle: namely, yard space. The envisaged new town completely annihilates the Petite Savannians previous way of life and livelihood. A repetitive high-density housing scheme might be the solution for city dwellers but not necessarily the best solution for rural Dominicans.
Furthermore, there seems to be no attempt to incorporate Dominica’s rich resource of raw materials. These materials have stood the test of time and contribute to what is left of our vernacular architectural heritage. Plastic, steel rebar and concrete are not home grown. True enough, neither is plywood and galvanize. But timber, bamboo, stone, sand, clay and lime mortar are available in abundance. Moreover, we have enough land to give yard space to those who want it.
Elsewhere in the world, the creation of new towns on green field sites, whether they be they high density or garden suburbs, have a checkered history. Relocating whole communities is even more problematic.
An alternative solution would be to assist residents in building their own homes, either on land that remains stable at Petite Savanne, or elsewhere. The scheme could incorporate innovative architectural assistance and the learning of skills. Helping one’s neighbor with major tasks would revive village unity and restore the pride that is found in using one’s own labour and resources. I elaborated on these issues in my earlier commentaries: Culture Made Visible and Building Back Differently.
But it is not too late. The advantage of a project being at the conceptual stage is that concepts are not set in concrete. As a design engineer I frequently go back to the drawing board and as a sculptor and painter my preliminary sketch is revisited countless times before the final image takes form. In both instances, the end result is all the better for the revisions.
For the people of Petite Savanne, I dearly hope that in the final scenario you will once again have hens pecking around your kitchen door.