A better Georgetown

Stabroek News
May 25, 2001

The completion of a draft blueprint that proposes sweeping changes in all city activities has placed the dream of a clean and orderly Georgetown once more within reach.

Touching every aspect of city dwellers' lives - transportation, vending, building, zoning and even advertising - the draft Greater Georgetown Development Plan, which will replace a 50-year-old document, will be available for their perusal and concurrence next week.

Poor economic conditions, ignorance and lawlessness on the part of residents and city officials over the years have contributed to Georgetown's current unhealthy and unappealing state.

Apart from the normal pull of the bright lights of the city, a downturn in the country's economy had brought floods of rural dwellers to the city seeking jobs that were not there. Rents skyrocketed, resulting in squatting and a breed of pavement dwellers. The unemployed set up little stalls around the city to "catch their hand."

Those who had the capital became 'traders' lugging prohibited and uncustomed goods into the country, which they offloaded at established businesses or with the new army of vendors.

The residential area became a thing of the past. Restaurants, bars, auto and tyre repair shops, almost every kind of industry began to bloom. Some started as bottom-house businesses, then blossomed into thriving concerns. The excuse was that everybody had to make a living.

For more than two decades, it seemed that those in authority had gone to sleep. Unauthorised constructions went up, massive ugly buildings with no architectural or aesthetic value. Additions were made to dwellings and businesses willy nilly and some businesses covered the City Council's reserves on the shoulders of streets, imitating Paris-style cafes.

Then came the latest of cultures - the minibus. Active competition forced each to try to better the other: louder boom, sleazier music, more speed and complete ignorance for traffic laws, which included using bus stops and parking.

Attempts to arrest the "tailspin" (to quote Mayor Green) were made. Each achieved a modicum of success. None lasted.

It has been recognised that the laws for restoring order are so archaic and the penalties for breaking them so ridiculous that enforcing them is mostly a waste of time and resources.

Chartered Town Planner, Professor Akhtar Khan, with 35 years experience in town planning, developed in a year, a comprehensive draft plan following widespread consultation with government and non-government bodies. He is currently examining the legislative needs of such a plan in anticipation of its finalisation and approval.

The plan contains detailed policies on development of the city centre, transportation (including minibus services), street vending, conservation and heritage sites. It proposes the implementation of strict building controls, including re-zoning and will see the construction of roundabouts, parking facilities and minibus terminals with a view to easing congestion among other visionary measures.

Prof Khan said that the draft is actually the final draft of an emerging plan, which will be completed by July 3 and put before the Central Housing and Planning Authority Board for approval. In the meantime, work has gone ahead on the plan, with a Joint Technical Committee of the Ministry of Housing and the City Council working on parking standards.

Prof Khan acknowledged that the real work would begin after July 3, since the Greater Georgetown Development Plan will directly affect some 33% of the population.

Mayor Green had questioned last week whether the government as a stakeholder in the plan had the political will to implement the changes necessary to see it to fruition. But it is also a question of bringing about change in the habits of city dwellers, many of whom see nothing wrong with the state of the city. It is a formidable task that the present council, and many to follow, would have to face and overcome in order to restore pride in Georgetown.