|Closer look at PoS
A city asleep
Thursday 17th June, 2004
Our capital city is the subject of the
next three articles. We intend to look at the health and future of
This week we will look at our capital as
it is—in all its beauty and ugly parts.
Next week, we will outline some of the
pressing issues which have arisen recently—the commercialisation of
Woodbrook, the fact that PoS is “dead” at nights and the lack of
development in the city “proper.” Finally, we will be examining the
various proposals for the development of PoS.
We can start right off by saying that the
capital of a country usually gives one of the first impressions to
visitors. It is therefore fair to say that most countries take great
care to see that their capitals are built and maintained so as to give
the very best impression. Can we really say that this is true of our
The essential facts on PoS are set out in
the sidebar and we see the extent to which the population has fallen.
Most people, when asked, guess the population of PoS to be 250,000 and,
of course, they express disbelief when told that it is in fact less than
50,000. In how many of the world’s capital cities is there a falling
At every human level of understanding the
city is unwell. It is just about impossible to walk 100 paces in any
direction without being assailed by some revolting smell or shocking
The “roadside toilets” and homeless
citizens are everywhere. This impacts on citizens’ quality of life, both
of the homeless and the people who step over another person to just get
Put it another way the city is
unappealing and, consequently, only those who have to will go there.
This is a most serious state of affairs for our country given our
It would be untrue to claim that the
picture is entirely bad for Port-of-Spain and some of the main factors
Drift to north, west
The response to the decline in the
quality of existence in the city has been as striking as it is
understandable. Smelly streets, widespread vagrancy, high crime levels,
constant and heavy traffic and inadequate parking are just a few of the
problems. Those who do not depend on passing trade have opted out of the
original commercial centre of the city. The new preferred locations are
St Clair, the fringes of the Queen’s Park Savannah, Woodbrook, Newtown
and, to a lesser extent, St James.
The development of the Brian Lara
Promenade and City Gate about a decade ago made tremendous improvements
to the city.
These were State-funded initiatives which
created what economists call public goods. These developments make the
point that public goods have a key role to play in development and also
that change is possible if the vision is there.
We must also take the opportunity to say
that the maintenance of the constantly-used promenade by the Promenade
Management Association is really commendable.
I can remember being there on Carnival
Tuesday and seeing rubbish bins being cleaned and loose rubbish being
picked up. It is popular sport to criticise governments, but even some
of our leading private companies could learn real lessons from this
public-private partnership on how to manage their malls and gas
Eating and drinking
The decline mentioned above is signalled
by the lack of upper-income bars or restaurants in the core of the city.
The area south of Gordon Street (which runs along the south side of the
State Prison on Frederick Street) and east of Lapeyrouse Cemetery is
devoid of these establishments. The only possible exception is the
newly-opened Laughing Buddha restaurant on Frederick Street.
One of the fundamental facets of our
people is the deep love of culture even if we are sometimes reluctant to
pay for it. The city of PoS needs to get a grip on this element if we
are not to lose our most vulnerable and beautiful elements to the cause
Of course, I am here referring to the
“Disappearing panyards” lamented by David Rudder in song in his 1996
classic. Pandemonium on Jerningham Avenue, Starlift and Phase II are
only some of the bands that have either lost their homes or are in
danger of being marginalised.
Our plans for development must have
culture at a position of priority. The growing success of the We Beat
festival in St James gives an idea of what is possible from small
One Woodbrook Place
This new development by the Clico
subsidiary, HCL, is an ambitious plan to redevelop the city’s largest
single block of land.
On a 10-acre site situated behind Roxy,
HCL plans to build over 400 new homes, offices and commercial space in a
scheme which will, in their words, embody “The New Urbanism.” The city
needs comprehensive redevelopment if we are to realise our potential.
The issue of comprehensive development
and its challenges will be discussed in a later column.
Port-of-Spain now hosts several important
organisations including the headquarters of the Association of Caribbean
States, the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre, the Caribbean Single Market
and Economy, the Caribbean Court of Justice and the regional offices of
the Inter-American Development Bank.
We hear constantly of the push towards
Vision 2020 with the natural push for more of these prestigious
organisations to make PoS their home. For instance, we are right now
involved in a campaign to have the FTAA headquarters located here.
It is true that we have so far been
successful in winning the right to host our present cohort of
headquarters, but key challenges now lie ahead.
It is clear that once again money is no
problem. But firstly, do we have the will and vision to halt our
capital’s decline so as not to lose any of the present cohort? Secondly,
can we make the necessary improvements to transform PoS into a real
contender for the FTAA headquarters?
Now there can be a variety of responses
to these points—that the centre of gravity has shifted away from
downtown and that uptown is now the place to be: that the capital is
extremely vibrant with ongoing development and rising land prices to
prove that point and finally, that the capital’s boundaries are historic
and too closely drawn, with the “true” boundaries extending far to the
east, west and north of the present ones.