Transforming a ‘toilet’: POS rejuvenation must also address social problems

After 58 years of leadership in both parliamentary and mayoral elections, and 16 or 17 development plans, it has been decreed that the city of Port of Spain will finally be transformed into a shiny new metropolis in north Trinidad. It is a welcomed announcement, but like other similar declarations, some of us will adopt a wait-and-see attitude as the plans unfold.

Indeed, my heart sank when in quick succession it was announced that the government had big plans for the rejuvenation of Port of Spain while simultaneously declaring Queen Janelle Commissiong Street as ‘the toilet of the capital’.

Photo: Downtown Port of Spain, Trinidad.

This juxtaposition encapsulated the core of the problem, which is that you can have whatever plans, but the reality is that our people defecate on the streets and force us all to wallow in the stench. We are yet to explore the root causes of homelessness, crime and underperformance especially amongst the urban youth of African descent, many of whom roam the streets of our capital.

Have we invested in understanding what accounts for the proximity of squalor to the city centre? Alongside the plans for the new glistening buildings must be the programmes for the social transformation of our people. New buildings and structures alone will not solve the defecation problem.

Many years have elapsed since the days when I walked safely to the taxi stand at the corner of Nelson and Prince Streets or when I walked up to Jackson Place to Laventille Road and felt confident that no harm would visit me. Between those years of the early 70s and now, our people have lost our way, presided over by post-independence governments that believe concrete and steel will solve our problems and transform our people.

Transforming Port of Spain and indeed Trinidad and Tobago is not simply a matter of the nightly washing of streets—even though public health is important—nor the forced acquisition of properties to make space for the monied class. Gaining the trust of the two-thirds of the citizens who did not vote for the current PNM government will take inspired leadership, negotiation and diplomacy.

Photo: A homeless man in San Fernando tries to get by during the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

In the Port of Spain South constituency, there is only so much bulldozing that you can do before the wall of 16,000 persons who either voted against the PNM or did not vote unite around a common cause and stick a pin in the plans. The biggest challenge this dream faces is how to move from a plan to an implementation strategy which engages the imagination of our people.

If the senatorial rantings that the contract has been signed and awarded since 2017 are true, then the government has once again sidestepped the Office of Procurement Regulation. With the low level of electoral support, there is a greater need for transparency to allow the population to understand the who, what and how of this mega transaction.

The two pillars for the success of a re-imagined Port of Spain are transparency and accountability that the investment is fair and equitable, and the engagement of those long-standing property owners and occupiers who have neither the resources nor the know-how to navigate this ever-changing landscape.

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