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Beauty of the Savannah

Published Thursday 7th October 2004


Photo: Lester Forde

This week we examine the role of the Queen’s Park Savannah in the development of our capital city and its lessons for the future.

Our series of articles has so far focused on the tangible aspects of real estate values and property investment, we now turn to some of the intangible, subtle benefits.

There is no doubt that well-maintained parks and leisure facilities add to the enjoyment of living in an area and this is reflected in the higher prices commanded by property near to or overlooking parks. In our capital, it can be argued that the decision to create the Savannah worked out to the benefit of many generations of us city dwellers, as well as others.

Can anyone imagine what our capital would be like if we had no Savannah, with intense urban developments—like Newtown or Belmont—merging directly one into the other? Apart from being the showcase for national cultural shows and festivals, the Savannah has made it possible for generations of urbanites to exist in the cramped areas at its edges.

Some key points are:

  • Size

Our national population is about 1.3 million and the Savannah occupies approximately 200 acres in our capital. Traffic and accidents were commonplace when two-way traffic was the norm around the Savannah. Today, of course, we sometimes jokingly refer to it as “the world’s largest roundabout.” Even as we smile at this, it is important to realise that it was possible to change what was no doubt seen as a permanent feature of the capital. All that was necessary was the vision and will to try something new and sensible.

  • Drainage

The poor drainage of Port-of-Spain, noted in previous columns in this series, has been made worse by the unauthorised paving of the Savannah.

The Cipriani Boulevard corner of the Savannah is its lowest point and this paving has resulted in unprecedented flooding at that junction whenever there is heavy rain.

I cannot remember this being the case in the past and one of the less-known consequences is that the area between the Grand Stand and the All Saint’s Church is a virtual swamp for a considerable time after heavy rains.

The persistent flooding is only getting worse and there is no improvement in sight if we keep ignoring the problem.

It might be necessary to consider taking bold steps to arrest the problem by replacing the paving with more absorbent concrete “grass-pavers.”

Alternatively, we could create a really new feature by building a retention lake/pond in those low-lying areas to control the outflow after heavy rains.

  • Maintenance

The Savannah needs a better programme of maintenance if it is to remain the pride of Port-of-Spain. One only has to look at the vanished cast-iron railings between The Hollows and Queen’s Park East, the overflowing bins at weekends and holidays or the appalling state of the Sandtrack to get the point.

  • Motorists

Over the years we have become almost immune to persistent and high-profile illegality in our nation—from out-of-season “wild meat” at State functions to heavily-tinted car windows for Cabinet members and yes, the now-normal sight of vehicles—up to trucks—driving over and parking on the Savannah.

The presence of vehicles on the Savannah is not only a hazard to non-drivers, it also compacts the soil so that its absorbency is reduced. Can we expect that the illegal vehicular accesses will be closed off?

We recently saw announcements that a security firm was contracted to monitor the Savannah. Will their contract extend to enforcing the prohibition against vehicles in the Savannah?

Next week we examine the management of State property.

 

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

Some Facts

History of New York City’s Central Park

This was the first landscaped public park in the USA and its construction was started in the 1850s under the leading landscape architect of his time, Frederick Law Olmsted. Interestingly enough, the demand for Central Park was first from the wealthy classes who wanted a space for their pursuits; a similar transition occurred in both cities, with the space now being the main public facility/good.

Central Park is said to have taken 18 years to execute and upon completion Olmsted is reported to have said that nothing he had done in that project would reach maturity for “at least 40 years.” That is long-term vision.

Of course, Central Park is today a place of pride for the entire city of New York. In a city of about eight million inhabitants, Central Park occupies approximately 700 acres.

Basic History

The Savannah was acquired from the Peschier family in 1817 by Governor Ralph Woodford at a price of £6,000. It took many years of change, not all of it planned, for the present Savannah to emerge.

New National Parks

Our increasing need for leisure due to the pressures of modern life will deepen the demand for affordable and safe recreational /leisure facilities. How and where are these to be provided?

Given the character and pace of the developments in parts of our country outside of Port-of-Spain, it is important to plan and provide for the necessary parks/leisure facilities.

The £6,000 spent in 1817 to buy the Peschier Estate to make the Savannah would equate to over $120 million of today’s money. What comparable long-term investment are we making toward the beauty and harmony of our future environment?

UWI’s publication on the potential of Caroni’s lands identified the possibility of creating new national parks on these disused lands.

These would allow the land to be used to promote amenity, employment for women and elders and the preservation of critical areas for future generations.

When we consider the size of the Savannah against New York’s Central Park, it is clear that we have a unique and potentially beautiful opportunity to make an Outstanding Caribbean City out of today’s distressed capital.