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San Fernando - A Unique City

Published Thursday 19th August, 2004

This week we will be examining the southern capital of San Fernando. The first in the series will set out some background to San Fernando’s real estate scene and the main elements to its uniqueness. The second article will outline some of the main challenges facing the southern capital in the medium-term as the upcoming developments take effect.

Most of our country’s wealth derives from our oil and gas reserves and further, most of these resources are to be found in the southern part of Trinidad. When we consider that scenario, comparatively little of the nation’s wealth and facilities are located in its most productive area. You can see by comparing San Fernando to PoS and Chaguanas that the rate of price increase has been quite moderate.

As shown in the chart above, despite the 100 per cent rate of increase, land in San Fernando is still far less expensive than in the corresponding districts of PoS.

The difference is stark and prompts one to go further by relating this to the uneven distribution of benefits derived from the natural resources of developing nations like ours to the developed nations in which companies like bp, ALNG, Norsk Hydro (formerly Hydro Agri), BHP Billiton and ALCOA are headquartered.

Balanced growth is the planning philosophy advocated by Halcrow, the British consultants engaged by Udecott for their seminal 1999-2001 studies of our country; these have been referenced elsewhere in our series. It is instructive to consider the possible use of the land-use planning system to achieve this aim and we will do this in a later series of articles. But one thing is certain, one community’s idea of a fair distribution of the nation’s facilities and wealth is likely to be another’s idea of unfair advantage.

We were able to access Udecott’s “San Fernando Land Use Plan and Development Proposals”— published in June 2000—to gather the basic data for this article.

Some of the main issues evident in San Fernando are:

  • City Centre—The city centre shows many of the themes familiar to PoS-dwellers—glitzy retail buildings alongside squalid images and smells, constant traffic and the loss of quality restaurants and bars. These missing facilities are common features of any prospering and healthy city. One positive aspect in which San Fernando differs from PoS is the erection of a number of good-quality headquarters buildings along the Lady Hailes/Independence Avenue strip, just off the High Street/Harris Promenade/Court district.
     

  • Population Changes—As is the case in PoS, San Fernando is also experiencing a falling population with communities on the outskirts of the city absorbing the migrants from the traditional centre.
     

  • Housing conditions—Another aspect of San Fernando’s cityscape is the poor condition of its housing stock. A study carried our by Planning & Development Collaborative International Ltd (PADCO) in the mid-1990s found that 72 per cent of the city’s dwellings were obsolescent—ie they had reached the end of their useful life. Furthermore, an estimated 63 per cent of the city’s dwellings would need to be replaced by 2009—ie these had reached the end of their physical life.

These findings would indicate a pressing need to rehabilitate or rebuild entire neighbourhoods. But, in the increasingly-divided and divisive T&T, this is likely to be fraught with challenges when we consider the strong objections by certain San Fernando residents to the new NHA housing projects along Circular Road.

  • Caroni Lands—The impending release of surplus Caroni lands on the east of the Solomon Hochoy Highway will make available more accessible land for housing development.
     

  • San Fernando Hill—The principal landmark of San Fernando is the hill. One beautiful feature of this city is the public park/recreation facility/function room built on the hill by the San Fernando City Corporation. I attended a family celebration there in 2001 and it was a most scenic setting with beautiful views in all directions, the facilities were thoughtfully designed and well-maintained.

In the midst of the feteing, I had to pause and ask myself how come with all the money and educated people, we in PoS had never created a similar facility at the scenic Fort George. Of course, there is no pipeborne water at Fort George! This speaks to one of the fundamental and subjective differences between us “townies” and true-true “South people.”

The San Fernando Hill is a real lesson in what can be achieved with limited resources once the vision and willpower are sufficiently present. More power to San Fernando!

Next week, we will examine some of the upcoming developments in the southern capital.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

Most of our country’s wealth derives from our oil and gas reserves and further, most of these resources are to be found in the southern part of Trinidad. When we consider that scenario, comparatively little of the nation’s wealth and facilities are located in its most productive area.