Monday, April 22, 2024

EDITORIAL: City renewal urgent


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THERE IS GENERAL AGREEMENT in every circle that matters that something has to be done to revitalise Bridgetown, our capital city. What there appears to be less agreement and even less action on is what should be done to achieve this rebirth of the once bustling commercial centre.

Few persons who have been following business and infrastructural development of the country over the last few decades would disagree that the growth of geographical areas such as Warrens, Holetown and the wider West Coast as well as shopping centres such as Sheraton Mall have not been friendly to Bridgetown.

This, no doubt, has been compounded by the astronomical increase in the number of private vehicles on our roads over the same period, facilitated by new access routes such as the ABC and Ronald Mapp highways. A significant portion of the population no longer has to depend on public transportation and so has no reason to travel to The City daily.

To counter this movement of people and businesses out of The City, individual business owners and operators as well as umbrella organisations such as the Bridgetown Merchants Association and the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry have been organising periodic events to attract shoppers. These have been only partially successful because Bridgetown needs more fundamental attention.

We believe that at the heart of this attention should be the concept of urban renewal, even targeted gentrification – as much as this approach to revitalising metropolitan cities elsewhere has been frowned on.

Government needs to dust off its plans for upgrading depressed City residential districts such as Greenfields and Cats Castle and reopen discussion with the Inter-American Development Bank relating to long approved funding for these projects.

Historic City streets such as Baxters Road, Suttle Street and Nelson Street must be made attractive by day and by night, and the state-sponsored incentives for tourism projects such as the proposed Hyatt Hotel on Bay Street must be pushed so that tangible results are seen without further delay.

It is against this backdrop that we declare there is considerable merit in the push by the outgoing principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies Sir Hilary Beckles to get the proposed City campus up and running later this year.

The addition of hundreds more bodies in Bridgetown each day can only serve to inject new life, and the preparation of the historic Mutual Building on Broad Street for this new role will itself result in new business. But if the university is able to take possession of the old National Insurance Building on Fairchild Street as promised by Government and turn it into dorms as proposed, that may turn out to be an even more important step for Bridgetown.

The world’s most vibrant cities are lived-in centres, not like the existing Bridgetown where everything goes dead when businesses close – because everyone has gone home elsewhere. It is hard to find even the proverbial bread shop open after sunset in The City, and when it comes to food and beverages Bridgetown offers very little more than the old rum shop after hours.

Our planners and thinkers have to make Bridgetown aesthetically attractive during the day and inviting at night – and people must be made to feel that it is a place where they would wish to live. Street fairs and duty-free sales can only impact for a few hours; what we need is a new way of life.


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