Real Estate - Property Matters by Afra Raymond
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Closer look at PoS
A city asleep

Published 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 Port-of-Spain.

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 capital?

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 population?

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 sight.

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 to work.

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 ambitions.

It would be untrue to claim that the picture is entirely bad for Port-of-Spain and some of the main factors are:

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.

Public facilities

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 stations.

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.

Culture

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 development.

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 beginnings.

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.

World-class city

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.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

How big is PoS?

What are its boundaries?

The city’s legal boundaries are:

North – The northern edge of the Queen’s Park Savannah – recently this has been expanded to include the up-scale residential areas at Federation and Ellerslie Parks.

South – The Gulf of Paria.

East – The jagged boundary between Laventille, Morvant and Belmont.

West – Cocorite, a little after the walkover.

How many people live in Port-of-Spain?

The present estimates are about 45,000, which is a significant decline from the 1980 estimates of almost 56,000.