Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : April 10th 2014 Contents B10
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Thursday, April 10, 2014
Recently I ve found myself out of
town late at night, covering political
rallies in St Joseph and a place I still
cannot pronounce in the Trini vernac-
ular, Bourg Mulatresse. Which I later
found out means, "town of the female
mulattos," "city of the light-skinned
ooman," or simply "sexy town,"
depending on which person I spoke
Coming home I drove through San
Juan, the junction of Saddle Road and
Eastern Main Road.
Grimy, is a word one might use to
describe the ambience at that time of
night. I shunned the branch of KFC and
the one in Barataria and continued into
While the provinces to the east were
tinged with late-night dodginess---shady
characters drinking shady liquor---noth-
ing matched the grime of late-night
I circled around, went up Abercromby,
across Knox and Prince and back down
At the bottom of "the boulevard"---
a place bustling during the day with the
sound of laughter and heckling---I felt
like I had entered a zombie town.
In the darkness, the detritus of the
day s market still littered the road.
Homeless men wearing rags sat amongst
the rubbish sifting through it.
One man marched up the road shout-
ing incomprehensible things over his
Standing where the road turns into
the square was a policeman holding a
There didn t seem to be gang activity
in the area (maybe because of the armed
officer), just destitute, drunken, high
people, some with mental health prob-
Other than these people, sleeping or
shuffling about clinging to their pos-
sessions, the place was deserted.
I work downtown. During the day,
it s a bustling commercial hub with
every kind of business there. Except
nice bars and restaurants. Those estab-
lishments all closed down from the mid-
90s onwards, apparently.
Old timers tell me there was a time
when the streets surrounding the
Guardian building were lined with bars
where people would lime after work.
Nobody limes downtown these days.
People flee before nightfall, deserting
in cars and taxis. Like reverse vampires,
scarpering lest the moon turns them to
dust. After dark, downtown becomes a
It s a tale of two cities, unrecognisably
altered between night and day.
The fear of crime has frightened peo-
ple away. Even though, research shows,
fear of crime is disproportional to crime
I know people who ve had phones
snatched downtown, but most street-
crime I hear about actually takes place
in more affluent areas.
The question was asked this week:
is Port-of-Spain a dying city?
I was concerned about how a headline
like that might look like to outsiders.
Locals know that it refers to a specific
area bordered by Piccadilly Street to the
east, Richmond Street to the west, Park
Street to the north and the City Gate
to the south.
But outsiders might think it refers to
the whole urban sprawl, including the
pleasant residential and nightlife suburbs
which are part of the metropolitan city
The Prime Minister was quoted as
saying she will not let PoS die. Dis-
missing claims that investment was
being diverted away from the capital
she said urban development would con-
This will be music to the ears of PoS
mayor Raymond Tim Kee, Bhoe Tewarie,
Catherine Kumar, Lawrence Moses and
Gregory Aboud, all of whom want to
The opening of the Radisson hotel
opposite the Hyatt, just this week,
another five-star hotel at the other end
of zombie town is a clear sign that things
need to change or we will be left with
a situation like in downtown San Fran-
cisco where tourists and businessmen
leave plush hotels and walk straight into
I don t mean poverty should be swept
under the carpet like in Vancouver, dur-
ing the 2010 Winter Olympics when
the city authorities tried to move thou-
sands of drug-addicted vagrants from
a downtown area so as not to spoil the
Poverty and decay needs to be
addressed. Proper shelters, hostels, coun-
selling, mental health and rehab centres
must exist for the homeless.
This week I was up on the 17th floor
of the Ministry of Finance, one of the
twin towers opened in 1986. Twenty-
eight years later, while they are still
impressive, the view from up there (ship
breakers yards, abandoned lots, concrete,
unintentionally brutalist architecture,
tired public squares) told me that parts
of the city need to be torn down and
built again from scratch. You can see
what the designers intended, but it needs
In London, if you leave for six months
and return, in that space of time alone,
brand new buildings have emerged and
others have disappeared.
The investment in London s infra-
structure is phenomenal.
Money from foreign investment
(Russian oligarchs and Gulf state Arabs)
and government spending has pushed
up property prices to levels so extor-
tionate that it is said the indigenous
Londoners have been "ethnically
cleansed" into the surrounding more
affordable counties of Essex and Hert-
fordshire. If PoS could build and market
both high-end and affordable residential
apartments above businesses it could
re-energise the place.
Other parts of London, former ghet-
toes like Hackney, Brixton and Peckham,
were places where growing up in the
mid-90s you simply did not go to. Now,
they are gentrified.
Very few parts of London could now
be described as no-go areas.
The atrocious "sink" estates built by
A Tale of Two Cities
councils to house the urban poor
after the war are being steadily
Most of them were eyesores that
Downtown PoS has its fair share
of eyesores, mostly towards the
Pull down Riverside Plaza, a dis-
gusting building overlooking the
highway, and its multistorey car
park, as well as the monstrosities
that overlook Columbus Square.
They are relics of the past in an
otherwise glorious city.
Successive governments have
managed to generate enormous
revenue through construction proj-
ects. Why not construct a new
heart for the capital?
It will take years and the city will
be a tangle of scaffolding and cranes
for years, but it will be worth it.
If you don t believe me, look at
Kings Cross in central London. For
years the haunt of prostitutes and
drug addicts, a wasteland of indus-
trial estates, canals and railway
After a seven-year redevelop-
ment project it is now a swanky
area combining residential housing,
public squares, eateries, the Eurostar
terminal connecting London to
Paris and Brussels and the HQs of
Google, the Guardian and the cam-
pus of the University of the Arts,
a modern college converted from
an old granary building along the
Which goes to show, not every-
thing needs to be ripped up. Some
of history s former glories can even
A digital image of the Waterfront development---a modern, slick
concept that has not spread to other parts of downtown Port-of-Spain.
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