Our Readers' Opinions
August 3, 2007
Some thoughts on future planning for Kingstown

03.AUG.07

EDITOR: Kingstown needs a new “Government Centre”, a new focus for the city now that the Market Square has been eradicated. When you consider that one deals with the Agriculture Department at Frenches, the Marketing Board at Upper Bay Street, the Registry at the Court House, the NIS on the reclaimed lands, and so on – one spends an inordinate amount of time walking between destinations or driving a vehicle. It is time to plan for centralized government services to offer a “one stop shopping approach” to government.{{more}}

Opponents to this idea will claim that there is no space in Kingstown to build such a “Government Centre”. Oh ye of little faith hear me out and see a vision. Who would have thought there was space to build that monstrosity of a building in the centre of town?

While we cannot make more land in Kingstown we have to accept the fact that the largely two-storey development that has served us well for centuries is now a luxury. As cities grow, they are rebuilt by going upwards rather than outwards. In Kingstown there is no possibility of outward growth so we must redevelop by going upward. So we must develop a vision for the city and plan for this eventual pattern of upward growth.

Look at the area along the Back Street between the Court House and the South River (by the former Barclays Bank). Much of this area is already government owned or occupied. It will take but a few acquisitions to assemble this entire area for a “Government Centre”. Look at the physical features of this area. It is on the edge of the downtown development having a ridge running along the back. If a series of 6 to 8 storey buildings were developed in this area, the ridge will mask the height of the buildings and Back Street will form a transition to the rest of Kingstown. All our government functions could easily be accommodated in about five building of 6 to 8 storeys.

Think of the possibilities. A building housing the Ministry of Culture could contain a new Performing Arts Centre; a building housing the Ministry of Education could contain a new Public Library; the Court House could be restored to its historic grandeur and become our National Museum; the old Baynes Brothers Building could be restored and become the seat of our Parliament – talk about bringing Parliament to the sidewalk, what a concept for democracy!

Yes, tall buildings at the outset may be seen as too large. Not so, if they were built on small footprints. Furthermore, built as a cluster of government buildings where they are backed by a natural ridge and where they could be set in a landscaped park-like setting, they will form a new attraction in Kingstown. Our city has no open space, walkways or even benches where pedestrians can sit. Apart from the sidewalks the city is not very pedestrian friendly. A “Government Centre” scheme as proposed will allow for the creation of open space where one could walk between buildings, sit out on a bench or eat an ice cream. Think of the efficiencies that could be gained by having all the government functions within easy walking distance. Think of it as ‘government in the park’.

If this concept was to materialize we must be careful that the buildings are designed so that they are not identical, each building must be different enough so that it is easily identifiable but they must come together to form a harmonious development of which all Vincentians could be proud. They should be linked by stone walkways to mimic our historical cobblestone sidewalks and the whole area should be landscaped with trees to provide shade from the tropical heat. Parking should be provided underground.

If such a “Government Centre” is developed it should become a truly one stop shopping centre. In this age of computers the public should be able to go to one central office and obtain a birth, death or marriage certificate; pay land or income taxes, etc. It is possible if staff is adequately cross trained. We have to move away from the “that is not my department idea” and provide quality service to the public. Our public servants must become more generalists, in the end it will serve them better by opening up more avenues for advancement. Long lineups like at the Registry for example has been a reality for over 50 years. Is it not time that we move beyond this system of public service?

Once this new “Government Centre” is fully built there will be surplus government space for sale or redevelopment. The city should gradually be redeveloped with buildings of 4 to 6 storeys to create a more compact and efficient urban form. We must begin to think of mixed use buildings with stores, banks and restaurants on the ground level; offices on two levels above and residential space on the top floors. Yes, residences. We must accommodate more people in the city to make it vibrant. As the city becomes more compact there will be lots of space on the edges for redevelopment, to provide the parks, schools, hospitals and single family homes.

Given the shortage of land in Kingstown and the historical pattern of development, what is the alternative? I hear grumblings of building a new town on the Arnos Vale Airport once a new International Airport is built. What a mistake that would be! The last thing Kingstown needs is a competing town two miles away. All that would create would be more fragmentation. With some offices and government functions inevitably split between these two locations the traffic between Arnos Vale and Kingstown will be hell.

Arnos Vale should be redeveloped to strengthen what is already there by way of sports facilities, educational facilities, some industries to provide jobs and some residential uses. Development of Arnos Vale should complement rather than compete with Kingstown. Until Kingstown is redeveloped to perform its function as a capital city any competing development will only lead to decline and urban blight in Kingstown. Let us plan for a new and vibrant city and bring Kingstown into the twenty first century as a city that could be the envy of every capital city in the Eastern Caribbean.

Oswald Fereira