Real Estate - Property Matters by Afra Raymond
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Downtown losing its appeal

Published Thursday 1st July, 2004

Last week we looked at some of the effects of the present wave of commercial migration on the capital and this week we will conclude by examining the major upcoming developments in Port-of-Spain.

 

The map sets out the new commercial offices on the fringes of the downtown area and the ones now under construction or in the late planning stages.

It is clear that the downtown area has lost its appeal and that the “centre of gravity” of the city has indeed shifted away from its traditional core.

Of course, the dispersed pattern of the new developments would seem to challenge the very idea that our capital city even has a single such centre any more.

The growing wealth of the business class, the present low interest rates and the consequent attractiveness of property investment have all acted to spur the wave of investment we are witnessing. How will these trends impact on the quality of life in our capital city?

The answer to this question would emerge from these points:

Traffic

The main feature of PoS, for those who have to live and work there, is the constant and growing level of traffic, together with the difficulty in finding safe, affordable parking.

The latest study by Udecott estimates that up to 500,000 people travel into and out of the city every working day.

There have been no new roads since the construction of the Audrey Jeffers Highway (the Foreshore) about 20 years ago and one wonders how much worse can the traffic get? The queues from the West, East and Maraval show no sign of decreasing.

Ironically, many of the new businesses in the fringes of the city moved there to escape the heavy traffic and parking problems of downtown and these are now becoming serious issues in the new locations due to inadequate planning.

Given the number and scale of the upcoming developments, what can we do to limit the predictable impact of traffic in the future?

There have been long-standing proposals for the introduction of parking meters in downtown PoS; will such a scheme have the desired effect of reducing private car traffic into the city? How will the growing traffic issue in the fringes be handled?

Waterfront spaces

We are unique amongst waterfront/port cities in having no attractive, public spaces where this amenity can be enjoyed.

The only two public waterfront spaces in the city are very limited; the smelly waters near the lighthouse at Katanga and the parking area on the said Foreshore.

Until other waterfronts, there are not the few public facilities, except the benches at Katanga. The waterfront areas at Cocorite and Westmoorings, west of the city, have been utilised by private landowners. No public access.

Are there any proposals for the creation of these kinds of amenities? Will we learn from the errors of the past and begin to trade reclamation rights for public access rights in the future?

The proposals for the redevelopment of the King’s Wharf area in San Fernando would seem to be an opportunity to try that approach.

Udecott’s proposals

For some time now there have been proposals for the redevelopment of the PoS waterfront into an office/commercial complex. We have heard of the new Customs & Excise, Board of Inland Revenue buildings and the ACS headquarters to be located at the Richmond Street site.

The State seems to be making a concerted effort to revitalise the fading downtown area with new offices.

The UTC headquarters is a tangible sign of that effort, but what are we to make of the new FCB HQ and the proposed Ministry of Health building, both at Queen’s Park East? The waterfront proposals would have been significantly boosted by the delay of these uptown schemes until suitable sites were available in the target area.

To return to the concerns raised above, it is hoped that the new, ambitious waterfront proposals have public access as a centerpiece.

Public participation

As we mentioned last week, the frustration of the Woodbrook residents at their powerlessness is a sign of the need for stakeholder participation in the city’s development.

Whatever the future of the city and the scale of the ambitions being played out, it will all be for naught if we do not have proper sight of the proposals and opportunity to shape these.

Next week, we will begin to examine the rapidly-growing city of Chaguanas.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

The growing wealth of the business class, the present low interest rates and the consequent attractiveness of property investment have all acted to spur the wave of investment we are witnessing. How will these trends impact on the quality of life in our capital city?