Despite several newly-built modern buildings, Port-of-Spain has over the years become an underdeveloped city, said urban planner Dr James Armstrong. “It’s not development, but underdevelopment that’s taking place. “It doesn’t work as a city. We had the resources to develop a good city, but we don’t have the money again.” Armstrong knows of what he speaks. He has a first degree in environmental design, a master’s in urban and regional planning from Columbia University in New York, and a doctorate in developmental planning from the University of Nairobi. He said the city requires a balanced mix of several functions: proper land use for residence, both low- and middle-income, and commercial and administrative buildings. For businesses to flourish, he said, there must be strategic plans to attract the middle class to live and shop once more in the city.
Ideas for Salvatori building spot
Armstrong spoke of certain underutilised buildings and spots. For instance, the site of the old Salvatori building should be constructed to include residences and car park. He suggested the Government could engage in a private/public partnership arrangement and approach banks for financial aid for housing projects. The Port-of-Spain International Waterfront Centre, Armstrong said, is another dilemma. “A harbour and office buildings do not go together.” Armstrong suggested the space could have been better used if the focus was on promoting economic diversity. “For instance, the culture industries. If the Government had taken fashion, music, steelpan and dance, culinary arts and combined them with the cruise ship industry, it would make much more sense than constructing an office building and hotel on a waterfront. Cruise ships should be fighting to come into the city.” He said he hoped the Government’s plans for Invader’s Bay is not on commercial activities only, but also residential properties. He said these economic redevelopment projects must be connected to downtown and east Port-of-Spain. “We have to create our own model for development given our peculiarities. What exists is a mismatch of functions. Businesses are going to die out if that is not fixed. There is significant competition in other urban centres that have a better mix of land use. “We have the expertise: planners, engineers and architects. We used to have the resources, but I don’t know where we going to find the money we carelessly neglected.”
PoS—the region’s financial capital
Margaret McDowall-Thompson, president of the T&T Society of Planners (TTSP), shares a different view to Armstrong’s.
The city is not dying, she said. “It’s vibrant and has great potential.” Her vision of Port-of-Spain is that of the region’s corporate financial capital and the gateway to South America. To achieve this, though, the authorities must rethink its plans. McDowall-Thompson said businesses are now aiming at a low-income market, complaining that middle-income customers are not buying. Like Armstrong, she said there must be a mix of middle- and low-income residents in the city. She described Port-of-Spain as a tale of two cities: one for businesses and another for urban low-income communities. McDowall-Thompson said businesses must do more to help attract middle-income buyers. One way to do so is to provide a mall environment, increase their offerings and have later shopping hours. Chacon Street, she said, is one of the areas well positioned to create that mall-like development. Describing the ideal picture, McDowall-Thompson said the city should have businesses, administrative centres, middle- and low-income housing, city buses, proper signage, shuttles and awnings located in strategic spots for shelter.
Legislation to control land
McDowall-Thompson said the TTSP, which was enacted in 2004 and comprises 30 public and private planners, is working on a Planning and Development Administration Bill to present to Parliament. “This bill changes the outlook of planning and development, locally and regionally. It will focus on how we control and administer land. “For example, if there is a specific timeframe for owners to develop their land and it is not adhered to, it gives the relevant agency more power to enforce, monitor and control.” McDowall-Thompson said there exists no system to force people to maintain their buildings. “Only under the Public Health Act they could demolish a building that is inimical to health and safety, but they don’t have the resources to do that. We tried moral suasion, but it’s not working.” Regarding proposed plans to develop Ariapita Avenue, Woodbrook, as a tourist attraction, McDowall-Thompson said, “Ariapita should be developed for locals and then it would automatically attract tourists. It should not focus on what visitors want, but what we want.”