The Chinatown arches erected on either end of Charlotte Street in Port-of-Spain may be an important first step in bringing commercial and cultural revitalisation to that section of downtown. However, it is barely a drop in the bucket given to complete the revival that the nation’s capital urgently needs.
For too long, the city has been left to steadily deteriorate. It has now degenerated into a filthy, congested space with a growing vagrant population where illegal vendors inflict unfair competition on legitimate businesses, making it a very uncomfortable place to work or do business.
The flash floods that are inevitable every time there is a heavy downpour of rain quickly subside, leaving streets, pavements and drains filled with unsightly debris.
It is not a space of which we can be proud, particularly as the seat of government. It is also not a user-friendly city.
While there are pockets of beauty here and there around the capital, its true worth struggles to shine through the vast areas of neglect and decay.
In this regard, while there is a critical role to be played by the municipal authorities in cleaning up and transforming Port-of-Spain into the vibrant, modern city that it is supposed to be, support needs to be provided by the corporate sector and other stakeholders in rescuing the capital.
This is not about erecting more skyscrapers like the ones that dominate the waterfront. It is also not only about restoring valuable, historic landmarks, such as the Red House.
Instead, the majority of the effort needs to go into a multi-faceted plan that includes zero tolerance of illegal vending, traffic management systems to considerably reduce vehicular congestion and provide adequate parking at strategic locations. The latter must also include a system for proper use of taxi stands and eventual elimination of the PH culture that contributes in large measure to the gridlock and lawlessness that prevails on most days.
Repair and proper maintenance of infrastructure should be another area of focus. Properly paved streets, pavements, well-manicured green spaces, proper drainage and more efficient sanitation services are all needed.
For decades Port-of-Spain has been plagued by a vagrancy problem which successive municipal administrations have been powerless to resolve. Once and for all, a system needs to be developed to relocate these pavement dwellers to facilities where their medical and social needs can be attended to.
But most of all, in collaboration with the T&T Police Service (TTPS), there must be an all-out crackdown on the crime that has made most city streets unsafe, particularly after dark.
For the capital to properly reflect its commercial and administrative importance, a range of resources will have to be mobilised to set in train this long overdue revival. However, it will all be worth it if Port-of-Spain finally becomes a true 21st Century metropolis—a clean, safe and prosperous space of which will citizens will be proud.