|San Fernando - A Unique City
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
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
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
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.
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
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.