Real Estate - Property Matters by Afra Raymond
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CAPITAL CONCERNS
Part 1

Published Thursday 23rd August, 2007

Our capital city is a continuing concern.

We are now witnessing a period of such rapid and far-reaching change to Port-of-Spain that we are obliged to devote some serious space to an analysis of the various changes, together with their causes and consequences.

Some of the main changes we can see at this time include:

·         Traffic and parking stresses

The early success of many business peoples’ decision to relocate out of downtown to the city’s western suburbs are beginning to show unwelcome results. This is seen in the volume of constant, heavy traffic and the impossibility of finding parking in areas such as Woodbrook, Newtown and St Clair.

Commuters from the western suburbs of Diego Martin/Petit Valley, Carenage, Westmoorings, and Goodwood Park face unprecedented levels of traffic, with little relief in sight. The completion of the major office buildings under construction in those western and uptown parts of the city will only increase that stress.

The classical economist Adam Smith, spoke of the Invisible Hand which acted to regulate prices and the general operation of the economy.

When one considers the poor traffic regulation and lack of parking enforcement or towing in these burgeoning parts of the capital, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that there is some similar force at work here.

To be sure, if those regulations were properly enforced in districts like St Clair, Newtown and Woodbrook, their appeal would have evaporated long ago.

Most of the commercial premises there either lack adequate parking or have flagrantly “huffed” the supply of street parking by extending their driveways to the entire frontage of their properties.

·         Loss of residential neighbourhoods

Again, we can see our city losing its traditional character—a home to many—before our eyes.

Some would put forward the view that all of this is just a necessary change to keep up with the new demands of these new times. That is not a view I support. Our capital is suffering from a lack of proper vision and management. That lack led to the collapse of the city’s traditional core: downtown PoS. To compare the two views it might be useful to project ahead and ask a few questions.

The Home Construction Ltd project at One Woodbrook Place comprises some 419 units due to be ready for occupation starting next year. That is the first large-scale new housing in the city in 50 years. On the public side of the picture, the Housing Development Corporation’s urban regeneration project at East POS—called Eastbridge—promises to provide 2,000 new homes.

Taking into account the 700-odd existing homes to be demolished, that is a net gain of about 1,300 new homes.

Our failure to manage our own capital city, the consequences of which are stark and haunting, has never been really understood or tackled. Even as we are in the frenzy of preparing to usher in the new PoS some potent issues remain unresolved. These issues are not all the fault of the government - that is an easy way out of the challenge.

Many people collaborated in and contributed to the collapse of our capital’s residential areas: non-enforcement of planning and building regulations, bankers turning a blind eye to commercial loans for property which was residential, the invisible hand guiding the wreckers and traffic police as mentioned above, the many home owners who sold to incoming commercial users and so on.

It is a complex picture and yet, the seeds of confusion still exist with the potential to undermine whatever good in terms of modern and comprehensive repopulation measures might come from the two large-scale initiatives mentioned here.

Given our bad habit of assuming that once we pay for a property we can do as we please with it, let us try to imagine the future by combining these new projects with the old attitudes.

The HDC sells a new three-bedroom apartment to a purchaser at a subsidised price to advance its home-ownership objectives.

What, if anything, is to stop that person selling their unit to another person for an unknown future use? Some might say that certain clauses can prevent or restrict that activity, but we only have to remember what happened at Savannah Villas in Aranjuez to see the point.

Similar concerns also apply to One Woodbrook Place, since some of the worse behaviour can come from those who have paid top dollar for their properties.

Have we got any new measures in place to prevent these new neighbourhoods falling victim to the same selfish and anti-social impulses?

·         Centralisation

We need to apply a separate analysis to the many, large-scale office buildings being built on the outskirts of the traditional city centre. But we can register here that the much-discussed strategy of decentralisation seems to have been abandoned, quietly, amidst the roar of cement trucks.

We seem to have become committed, without discussion or consensus, to the notion that the capital is the place to come to. That choice, made on our behalf, with little, if any, public input, and its consequences will be ours to contend with in the decades to come.

Next week, we start a detailed look at the many office buildings underway in our capital city and their impact on the city as we know it.

Afra Raymond is a director of Raymond & Pierre Ltd. Feedback can be sent to afra@raymondandpierre.com.

Afra Raymond - Property Matters

The early success of many business peoples’ decision to relocate out of downtown to the city’s western suburbs are beginning to show unwelcome results. This is seen in the volume of constant, heavy traffic and the impossibility of finding parking in areas such as Woodbrook, Newtown and St Clair.