It’s not Times Square in New York City or Paris in Spring, but there is something inherently unique and charming about down town Port-of-Spain.
Somewhere hidden amongst the grime, exposed vagrant genitals and nostril-searing rarely identifiable smells, the city tells the narrative of our small island and its evolution.
Marked by its colonial roots, footprints of settlers who called it home, its survival through civil strife and its aspirations of becoming a flourishing hub of regional activity, Port-of-Spain encapsulates the story of our nation.
Whilst it is not a popular opinion, I love downtown Port-of-Spain. During my years working on lower St Vincent Street, I would regularly use my lunch break to just wander around, from the Brian Lara Promenade to City Gate and everywhere in between.
Sadly Port-of-Spain hasn’t aged well, mostly due to severe neglect and poor planning. The drainage is horrible, it floods, it’s overly congested, and it’s plagued by crime and street dwellers.
As such businesses have moved, shops have downgraded and for most people a trip into the city is either by necessity or desperation.
Last week Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced the Government’s plan to revitalise down town Port-of-Spain in a presentation creatively titled the Revitalisation of Port of Spain Project. It included lots of pretty illustrations, the idea that people would be willing to live downtown, discussions of public/private partnerships and shuffling all the lower Chacon Street crackheads away… where too I am not sure… perhaps some magical crackhead dungeon that only Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith has the key to.
Regularly I would have been like “Yay! POS! Back in action! Shine it up Keith!”
However given the current dismal circumstances we find ourselves in all I thought was, “Really? Now you roll out this plan? Read the room Keith! Read… the… room!”
Does downtown Port-of-Spain need some work? Absolutely!
Should it be on the Government’s list of priorities right now? Negative!
You see it has become a trend in this country to ignore the crumbling of our current infrastructure.
Instead of maintaining or upgrading what we have, we throw up a couple of fancy new buildings and pretend that we don’t have to sit in 100 hours of traffic, dodge 6,000 potholes, wonder if we are getting water today, look over our shoulders every day hoping we don’t get robbed or murdered… you know #triniproblems.
An example of this is the Couva Children’s Hospital. Now did we need an additional pediatric hospital? Yes, we did. Buuuuttttt before we jumped the gun and built a new hospital we should have made sure the one we had was in working order. A staff audit should have been done. Equipment should have been assessed and upgraded or replaced as needed. This should have ensured there would be no backups or endless waiting lists to get something as simple as an ultrasound done due a broken machine.
Regional health centres should have had the same treatment so that emergency rooms are not overburdened with non-emergency issues.
If after all of this was done and you could hands down close your eyes, and say the Wendy Fitzwilliam Pediatric Hospital is a smooth running, top notch, up-to-date hospital, then we would have been in the position to consider spending billions of dollars on a new hospital.
But alas our governments (all of them) do not think like this.
Regarding the revitalisation of our capital city, shouldn’t a proper drainage project take place first?
Shouldn’t an islandwide traffic plan be explored first to ensure that our roads can handle the increase of people coming into the capital?
Shouldn’t anti-crime and poverty reduction exercises and initiatives be implemented to not only keep the city safe, but to ensure its current residents can obtain better quality of life through education and social empowerment?
Oh and surprise, crackheads multiply, so unless you address the issues that create street dwellers, they are going to keep appearing.
Just thinking out loud here, but I sort of feel like if I were a big businesswoman and the Government came to me and asked if I would like to get involved in this project and bring some of my business empire back into the capital, I would laugh.
Another issue I have is the timing of this project’s announcement. In the middle of a pandemic? During a time where the economy is dragging? Really PM?
Again the idea is great, but the timing is wrong.
We are in a situation where unemployment is at all time high and people are barely scraping by. It seems a tad bit insensitive to announce a billion-dollar project, when your humble peasants are struggling to get by day to day.
So it is no surprise that when this amazing, out of this world, first-world-here-we-come project was announced the public didn’t exactly throw their arms up in excitement and rejoice the coming of a new shiny Port-of-Spain.
I really don’t mean to pour a gallon of Hater-Ade over the government’s plans, but I just think now is not the time and there are a lot of other issues with our national infrastructure and society that need to be addressed first.