Two unlikely knights Dale Ramirez and Valmiki Maharaj used their social media channels to bring attention to important government plans which appear to be out of tune with the expectations of many citizens. Dale’s comments about the proposed AstroTurfing of Mandela Park contributed to an outcry which resulted in the Prime Minister tossing the Mayor under the bus when he suggested that it was a salesman’s dream. Valmiki’s post about the removal of the PowerGen Towers has not received similar traction but several citizens have made suggestions about how the site might be used.
As a pacifier, citizens have been offered an entertainment piece with a short window to view the lighting of the towers prior to the removal and destruction of this 120-year-old landmark. My interpretation is that when mild mannered citizens are motivated to speak up in this way, it is a message that the government and the citizens are moving in opposite directions.
In 2016 the Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT) presented a plan to the Economic Advisory Board of how the space could be transformed and the history preserved. This approach is neither new nor unique to Trinidad and Tobago. A quick global scan will point to the re-purposing of the Toronto Power Station, the transformation of the Battersea Power Station in London and the retrofitting of the Potrero Power Station in San Francisco. In every instance, the repurposing of former power stations fit into a wider tourism plan to change the dynamic of the space and attract different traffic for commercial benefit.
There are many other examples of alternative approaches to destroying and erasing historical landmarks. As cities change and develop, the focus seems to be on repurposing and redesigning spaces. The concept of redeveloping the city of Port of Spain is welcomed but the vision must give consideration to maintaining our iconic buildings and spaces.
Development is not solely about building new structures. Of greater importance, development is also about creating an aesthetic which sees the beauty around us and works towards its improvement. It is about understanding that monuments and old buildings and structures teach us about our past and what went before. They help cultivate pride in our past and respect the struggles of those who went before us. They help ground us in understanding who we are as a people.
Old photographs of Port of Spain tell me about tramcars and trains as a means of transportation, elegance and style while dancing at the Princess Building and gingerbread-style houses in East Port of Spain. These images help me to feel a sense of pride and uniqueness as a people.
The continued removal and destruction of iconic structures wipes away our history and adds to the disconnect many feel with the land of our birth making it difficult to accept any notion of blooming where we are planted. As the disconnection intensifies, more and more of our people entertain the thought that a better life can be had elsewhere.