On October 29, 2019, it was announced that the Gingerbread Neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, was included on the 2020 World Monuments Watch. The area is home to intricately ornamented turn-of-the-century houses that fell into disrepair and suffered earthquake damage in 2010. Columbia GSAPP has been involved in the process through two joint studios by the M.S. Historic Preservation and M.S. Urban Planning programs held in 2015 and 2017.
Built upon the principles of engaged research, the joint studios forge new ground in the intersection between historic preservation and urban planning in ways that have direct application to community issues. They were led by GSAPP faculty Erica Avrami, the James Marston Fitch Assistant Professor of Historic Preservation, and Adjunct Assistant Professor William Raynolds. Studio reports were published to allow for broad dissemination of the students’ work and validated the quality and significance of their research. Through collaboration with institutional partners—the Fondation Connaissance et Liberté (FOKAL) and the Haitian Education and Leadership Program (HELP)—students helped to develop a community-based understanding of the value and potential of Gingerbread heritage in the built and social fabric of Port-au-Prince. In the process, students applied theoretical knowledge and innovative methods to develop feasible strategies for instrumentalizing this heritage in the future of the city. Through the studio’s efforts to also build local capacities, FOKAL and HELP relied on the shared findings and recommendations to put forth their nomination to the 2020 World Monuments Watch, some of which can now be realized.