The state of our capital city, POS, is a serious concern to any proud citizen or even our visitors. A real nation would treat its capital with pride, but in my view Port of Spain presents a painful paradox in several respects. Despite that, there are now some real opportunities for us to reconsider just how we manage our capital city. A new approach is needed to rescue our capital city in this time of reduced financial resources.
Some of the negatives include –
Our capital has been severely depopulated in the past 50 years – as shown in the graph and table, its 1960 population was 94,000, while the most recent census in 2011 showed a figure of only 37,000. Given that there has been no natural disaster, war or plague it is sobering to consider this steady population loss and its causes during that period of relative peace and prosperity. No doubt that loss has been due to the mismanagement of the city’s planning, traffic, parking, vending, crime, homelessness and sanitation issues. That series of mishandled and interlocking growing-pains produced an increasingly dirty, unsafe and crowded city which eventually lost its appeal.
This led to the ongoing commercial and professional exodus which effectively eliminated the residential communities of Corbeaux Town, Woodbrook and Newtown, with similar negative effects in St James and Belmont more recently. The one notable effort at large-scale re-population was the One Woodbrook Place development near to the ‘Roxy’ roundabout at the western end of Tragarete Road. This was a high-end comprehensive project of 419 apartments with shops, restaurants, offices and cinema. With multi-million dollar pricetags for its apartments, that project caters for a high-income group and is therefore unlikely to house much more than 1,200 residents when all those homes are occupied.
Between 2002-2010, immense sums of Public Money were invested in rebuilding virtually half of our capital’s downtown area without one scrap of proper public consultation. Those huge projects were mostly State Offices – 2.3 million square feet worth – not one square foot of which was a feasible investment. The offices in Nicholas Tower on Independence Square is 100,000 square feet, so the State effectively built office space equivalent to 23 of those. But that was not all, because those offices were left unoccupied between 2010 and 2015 for six years, for no given reason. I tell you.
The program to fit-out and occupy those offices is continuing apace, but the owners of the privately-owned offices previously rented by the State will have to seek tenants in these challenging economic times. The release of these private offices onto the market will present a real challenge in terms of how they can be effectively repurposed, given the likely limited demand for that space.
Apart from the vacant privately-owned offices, there are significant State-owned properties in our capital which are now available for development.
off Audrey Jeffers Highway
|70 acres||These reclaimed lands are now being earmarked for an ambitious International Financial Centre, 5-star hotel and Conference Centre. It is not clear that the entire site would be used for that proposal.|
|Memorial Park (South) –
bounded by Frederick, Keate, Charlotte and Gordon Sts.
|3.3 acres||This is an entire city block acquired in 2006 for redevelopment as a teaching hospital – those plans seem to have been shelved.|
|PowerGen Site (aka TTEC)
Wrightson Rd/Colville St/Ariapita Ave/Flament St
|6 acres||Powergen is majority State-owned and ceased generation at this site in mid-January 2016.|
|Government Printery Site
Tragarete Rd/Victoria Ave
|1.15 acres||The Government Printery moved to Frederick Settlement, Caroni in March 2014.|
|Ministry of Education
St Clair Ave/Alexandra St/Hayes St
|3 acres||In July 2016, the Ministry of Education relocated to new offices on St Vincent St, part of the Government Campus Plaza.|
|Ministry of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries
St Clair Circle
|4 acres||This Ministry is relocating to Chaguanas shortly and UDECOTT has issued an invitation for Expressions of Interest for the Design, Build Finance and operation of a World Class Hotel on this site and adjacent lands.|
In my view, if we are to avoid further decline, two imperatives must guide the next wave of development in our capital –
- Affordable Housing – 70% of our households earn less than $11,000 per month, so it is clear that the HDC’s current income limit of $25,000 needs to be revised downwards to direct the limited numbers of new homes to those needy applicants who cannot qualify for a mortgage. Our capital needs high-density, affordable rented housing to increase the numbers of working people who live in the city.
- Net Foreign Exchange Earners – It must become mandatory that new projects to be built on these prime sites demonstrate that they are net earners of foreign exchange. At one bold stroke that will eliminate further shopping malls, foreign restaurant franchises and the like. New approaches will be required by applicants wishing to receive prime state lands.
A strong public policy commitment is needed if either of those imperatives is to materialise.