An unplanned city

Stabroek News
September 10, 2000

Roll on the town plan for Georgetown. We need it urgently. One might have thought that the streets around the Promenade Gardens were just about as residential as you could get, but now that one of Guyana's largest banks has taken up residence there this once green and pleasant corner of the capital is about to be transformed into a bustling, noisy, impersonal business centre. Exactly what sins the hapless citizens of North Cummingsburg committed in order to be visited by this particular affliction, no one is too clear, but now their nights are disturbed by a noisy generator, and their days, no doubt, soon will be by the traffic to and from the bank.

And that is not all. Since the streets around the Promenade Gardens will not provide sufficient parking space for an enterprise of this kind, the parapet on the New Market street side has been asphalted over for a parking lot. As there is no divider between the pavement and the parking lot, the arrangement constitutes a safety hazard for pedestrians in general and children in particular.

In addition, as with other parts of Georgetown, the concreting of parapets could do its bit to exacerbate drainage problems, since the total area of soil which can absorb water when it rains has now been reduced. The National Bank of Industry and Commerce is not the first to do this, of course; Demerara Bank preceded it, as also did the Esso head office. So much for the municipal authorities, who on the one hand complain that the habit of private residents of concreting over their yards is a major cause of flooding in the capital, and on the other hand, give carte blanche for business entities to create asphalt car parks on the city's parapets. How can they expect to be taken seriously?

And what about the ugliness inflicted by the car park on the green perimeter of a historical site? The Promenade Gardens once comprised one half of the Parade Ground (now Independence Park). It was created by Lieutenant-Governor Hugh Carmichael for the militia early in the nineteenth century, and at one time carried his name. Divided by a pathway called Middle Walk, which eventually became Middle Street, the half which was later made into a garden was used as a site for hanging many of those condemned after the 1823 Demerara Rising.

According to the nineteenth century historian Rodway, after the militia ceased to muster there, the ground reverted to a wild state. Various proposals to lay out ornamental walks and the like on the ground were poorly received (one, said Rodway, was described by the Gazette as being too much of a "supper-tray pattern"), but still the idea in principle was not abandoned. In 1851, therefore, the Town Council opened a subscription list, undertaking to start work on a 'public promenade' when $1,000 had been raised. Since the Governor himself coughed up $500, and indicated that he was not averse to the municipal authorities having responsibility for the "promenades", the council accepted the Governor's contribution, and matched it with an equivalent sum. A committee was then set up to raise more money, and in 1853 it was agreed to send to the Botanical Gardens in Trinidad for someone to lay out the Promenade Gardens.

The green parapets and quiet streets around the garden all contributed to the ambience of the area. And that ambience goes back a century and a half. Now we have this huge building in a non-commercial zone, towering over the houses in the ward, with its unwelcome car park encroaching on a section outside the garden's dignified fence. The truth is that permission should never have been granted for a bank's head office in place like this. Will the City Council never learn?

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