Why not Georgetown?
July 7, 2000
During a feature address at the opening of a new branch of Courts in Kitty last week, Minister Shaik Baksh said that the Government had recruited a Town and Country Planner through the Commonwealth, who would be working out of his ministry to look at zoning in the city. No problem there. It is just that one would wish that the Housing Ministry, the Tourism Ministry, the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, the National Trust, the Heritage Society and any other relevant organization would come together to look at the 'zoning' of the city from a historical and tourism point of view.
The Georgetown which the older generation once knew, and which so attracted visitors is fast disappearing. Where once there was street upon street of attractive wooden houses, there is now street upon street of ugly concrete buildings, complete with their pitted facades and clumsy balustrading. One is lucky to find a traditional structure peeking out shyly here and there, amidst the brashness of the new surroundings.
We keep on repeating that we wish to encourage tourists, but we refuse to do the kinds of things which would persuade tourists to take us seriously as a destination. One of those things is quite simply preserving our material heritage. At the rate the destruction is going on, the capital will be all but unrecognizable in a few short years. Tourists will refuse to come to view the monstrosities which have replaced the older buildings, even if a good fairy landed on the horseshoe table in front of His Worship tomorrow, and waved her wand to do other things, like clean, drain and fix the potholes in GT. Other places - Havana is a case in point - preserve whole sectors of their cities for aesthetic, historical and economic reasons. So what is wrong with Georgetowners that they cannot recognize the beauty in front of their noses? Georgetown dates back to 1781, and although no eighteenth century building is thought to survive (with the arguable exception of a plantation house in Charlestown) there is an early nineteenth century structure still extant in the form of St Andrews Kirk, which was opened for worship in 1818. It was solidly constructed of greenheart and has been well maintained over the years, and it stands as testimony to the fact that preserving our wooden heritage is feasible with will, effort and discipline.
As with most things, however, before the destruction of the capital can be halted, or at least slowed, we need a plan. A preservation plan. In addition, we would probably have to amend the National Trust Act, which in its present form is inadequate for its purpose, although it was no doubt eminently suitable for the era in which it was drafted. Its provisions were premised on an assumption that the National Trust would have a budget with which to operate in order to maintain sites, which it no longer has. As a consequence no national monument has ever been scheduled under it. As well as the legal framework, we also need agreement on what we have which needs preserving. After that we should look at innovative strategies - involving both the public and private sectors - which would enable us to achieve this. Paramaribo has done it; Havana has done it; Barbados has done it, so why not Georgetown?
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