Wind of change blows in Port of Spain

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After 6 pm the town becomes a ghost town and it is hoped that the repopulation will change this. – SUREASH CHOLAIA

This three-part series looks at the Port of Spain revitalization project, its progress and what some in the business, building and construction sectors feel about it as it moves forward. The Prime Minister launched the project in 2020 and aims to establish the city as a leading place for commerce, entertainment and culture. One of the main objectives is to also increase the number of people living in the city, which has decreased over the decades.

The late poet and playwright Derek Walcott described Port of Spain in his poem Night in the Gardens of Port of Spain, using descriptions such as “coal of golden oranges” and “alleys that reek of shelled oyster shells.”

The city in Walcott’s poem is not the city most people identify with today.

While walking through the city, one is often greeted with the stench of excrement, displaced persons, traffic, crime. The nightlife described by Walcott is a thing of the past as it largely becomes a ghost town after 6pm.

But Mayor Joel Martinez believes the city is poised for change as a revitalization project progresses.

It has been about two years since the Prime Minister launched the project. dr. Rowley announced major plans to restore life in the city, improve traffic circulation, increase property values, deter criminal activity, unlock private capital and boost the economy.

On May 4, sod was turned for a private housing development around Queen’s Park Savannah. The vision of Dr Kongshiek Achong Low and Dr Boris Yufe is that it will be a mix of commercial and residential spaces. – Sureash Cholaic

A 2016 economic profile prepared for the Ministry of Rural Development and Local Government showed that the city’s population declined between 2000 and 2011. In 1990 the population was 46,901; in 2000 it was 49,031; and in 2011 it was 37,074.

In a March press release on news.gov.tt, the government announced that progress had been made. It said then-Minister for Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis – as chair of Port of Spain’s Revitalization Ministerial Committee – had received progress reports from subcommittees and preparations for future projects.

A significant proportion of the overall targets were reportedly on track and the cabinet received a proposal on land acquisition for the relocation of the homeless, an important part of the project, it said.

It added that a concept study for a landmark for Ariapita Avenue and proposals had been submitted for mixed developments of the Salvatori site, Independence Square and Frederick Street and the Piccadilly Street Housing Development.

Martinez doesn’t know what the monument would be, but said it wasn’t a monument to anyone in particular.

There is now a car park on the Salvatori property, once home to the Salvatori Building which over the years has housed a general store, oil companies and government ministries.

Other projects include a downtown streetcar system, repaving and widening Wrightson Road, expanding Emperor Valley Zoo, removing the Port of Spain prison and the Smart City plan.

An important goal of the project is to increase the number of people living in the city.

The prime minister instructed the Department of Spatial Planning and the ministries of Planning and Development, Health, Social Development and Housing and Local Government to come together to start the process, Martinez said.

“Port of Spain is our capital, it was known as the Manhattan of the Caribbean and so on, but it has lost its luster over the years, and with the economic problems we encountered, it didn’t give us a chance to get into train. these projects earlier.”

Citing the renovation of the Red House, the Magnificent Seven buildings in Queen’s Park West and the work on the old Heritage Library, Martinez said Trinidad and Tobago has the footprint of a modern city.

The government plans to build a number of residential/commercial spaces through public/private partnerships.

Martinez said the model used resembles the apartment complex at One Woodbrook Place, a mix of commercial and residential spaces. He said more than 400 people live at One Woodbrook Place, which also houses a panyard, restaurants, an Imax movie theater and a number of other businesses.

A WOODBROOK PLACE: Part of the aim of the Port of Spain revitalization project is to repopulate the city. It hopes to do this with new public/private housing projects. It will use the One Woodbrook Place model. – Sureash Cholaic

Before construction, there was “one resident, two properties, a transport yard, a cinema and a printing house.”

Martinez said the Department of Housing was planning to build housing in Piccadilly Street, East Port of Spain, as a “welcome move”.

He added that housing is also reserved for the space in the old Government Printery, Tragarete Road, in the old PowerGen factory at Wrightson Road and Memorial Plaza, between Charlotte and Frederick Streets. Using these spaces will do “what most modern cities are doing – they go up and create a lot more apartment-like homes for people in the city.”

The board wants people to interact with spaces in the city, because there are parks and squares that are not used, but are maintained.

“Its use is no longer what it used to be, because many more citizens have lived in the city over the years. Because Port of Spain was developing so quickly and we didn’t have the infrastructure model back then… houses were bought and replaced by commercial buildings.”

Using the Savannah as an example, Martinez said that in other cities, the space around it would be dotted with housing.

Businesses were quick to buy the space there and this didn’t add the same value as homes, he said. The revitalization project was now an opportunity to solve that.

“Then recently you saw a private entity turning the turf on a housing project on the Savannah and we applauded that.”

On May 4, the sod was turned for private housing development around the Savannah. The vision of Dr Kongshiek Achong Low and Dr Boris Yufe is that it will be a mix of commercial and residential spaces.

“Right away, by talking to the government about it and getting things started, people start taking the initiative.”

Martinez said all plans were being worked on and the old PowerGen factory was being dismantled.

Ariapita Avenue changes and plans for Charlotte Street

The plans announced after TT’s UNESCO Creative City designation in the field of music in 2019 will start this year. They include creating a Walk of Fame similar to the one in Hollywood.

“We are going to do this in various places in the city. We start at the National Academy for the Performing Arts.”

There is also beautification on the Brian Lara Promenade.

“I have spoken to the Unit Trust Corporation and the Central Bank, who have taken the first three blocks of the boardwalk to beautify it. I speak to other commercial residents of the Independence Square area to get them to do the same.

“Each block will have a different look but will have a theme flowing through it and going up to where Winston “Spree” Simon (monument) is, Columbus Square…

“And we’d like to do something with Tamarind Square, maybe make it a cultural park.”

Martinez said the repaving of Ariapita Avenue and making it colorful will begin “in a few weeks.”

An earlier proposal was to make the avenue pedestrian. But Martinez said this was “just an idea” and would depend on the residents of Woodbrook and the surrounding area most affected by traffic, pedestrians or otherwise, on the avenue.

“They did a walk-through two weeks ago. We will soon start that project to rejuvenate Ariapita Avenue and give it a different facade.”

Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez says changes are coming to Ariapita Avenue, including giving the road surface a facelift and making parts of it colorful. Adam Smith Square will be used to house the equipment. – Sureash Cholaic

There were also plans for an arch, but the committee may deviate from that and build another “monument,” he said.

Martinez also wants to see Charlotte Street car-free. He said he was proud when part of the street was designated Chinatown in 2019, gaining international recognition and further enhancing the country’s appeal as a tourist destination.

However, he believes there is still work to be done: “And this was part of the plan… to develop Chinatown into a pedestrian zone. So from store to store would be one flat space”, possibly paved.

He hopes this will contribute to the development of East Port of Spain.

He said the street vendors would have nice carts and could leave them well covered in the evenings.

Martinez was confident he could get sponsorship for this plan, but said it would have to have the “will” of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA).

Crime and other social problems

While crime can hinder or provoke questioning life in the city, Martinez said it has done well to control crime.

The town goes from South Quay to Cocorite, from St Clair to Newtown, from Woodbrook to St James, it’s where people live and it’s safe, he thinks.

“Crime takes place in Chaguanas, crime takes place in Fyzabad, crime takes place in all different parts of TT…the city has crime.”

Martinez said people would have heard fewer and fewer cases of crime in the city.

He said Port of Spain will never rid itself of crime, but hopes to contain it by protecting citizens more and putting in place infrastructure that will help police and traffic management.

This is what you would call a smart city.

“If you’ve traveled abroad and look at modern cities, which are now smart hubs, you hear that they don’t just look at traffic and license plates with the cameras. They also look for criminal activity.”

Brian Lara Promenade will also be beautified, said Port of Spain Mayor Joel Martinez. He reached out to corporate bodies around the boardwalk to help with this. – SUREASH CHOLAIA

He said cameras are needed to keep an eye on the city.

“If modern cities are doing it and they haven’t imposed anything on citizens, why can’t we do it?”

He said the city should continue to install a mix of public and private cameras.

Martinez said 30 years ago people shy away from some spaces in the US, like the Bronx, but now those areas have become prime living spaces.

“I think the city is ready for change and I think the winds of change are heading our way,” he said.

Continues next week

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