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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.