Saving the Garden City
By Dr James Rose
Guyana Chronicle
February 4, 2003

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OVER the last 20 years or so the efficient and effective administration of Georgetown has been as elusive as the dream of a clean and healthy capital city of which we can all be proud. Yet there was a time when Georgetown was considered one of the most picturesque of Caribbean cities. Then it was popularly referred to as the Garden City; a tribute no doubt to its beautiful palm-lined carriageways, clean flowing canals, well cultivated avenues, large botanical gardens and, of course, its meticulously manicured lawns and reserves. Within recent times, however, the once beautiful Garden City has become the ‘Garbage City’ capital of the Caribbean.

What has been responsible for this rapid degeneration? Poor administration must certainly be among the main reason but so too is chronic dis-investment, lack of commitment and imagination, a general fall in standards, the increasing absence of civic responsibility and partisan politics. What is more, the recent reluctance to adhere to a truly democratic and representative culture has led to a devastating loss of municipal accountability. Municipal elections are hardly ever held; two in the past 28 years, the most recent was in 1994. What is more and the system of Proportional Representation has rendered obsolete the fundamental principle of direct representation in, and hence accountability to, the wards of the city.

Public despair and civic outrage have had no salutary effect on those proudly and pompously inhabiting the once hallowed chambers of City Hall. The downside has continued uninterrupted, year after year after year with depressing certainty and irritating abandonment.

A study of the degradation of our capital city is an unfortunate excursion into a labyrinth of official neglect and aggravating excuses. The Central Housing and Planning Authority, in 1950, produced a Plan for the Greater Georgetown Area. To give effect to this wonderful idea, which had gone abandoned, the Town and Country Planning Department was established 11 years later in 1961. Once again, little, if anything at all, was attempted or accomplished. Another hiatus ensued, followed between 1976 and 1982 by a UN- assisted Urban and Regional Planning Project aimed strategically at strengthening the planning capabilities of an ineffective and unimaginative administration arrangement. Once again, and predictably so, little has resulted. Another such initiative, equipped with policies, plans and programmes for the urgent development of our capital city followed by given the marked absence of administrative fervour, it languished.

Within recent times another plan has been developed by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development. This US$25M Urban Development Plan Programme has three basic components:

It provides technical assistance and training for improving municipal financial management and planning, modernising local administrative procedures and developing own-source revenues, mainly within the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development,

It seeks to initiate Property Tax Assessment Reform and Development, including the training and the implementation of Computer Aided Mass Appraisal (CAMA) techniques to conduct field inspection and collect data pertinent to the valuation of all properties in the city, and

If facilitates the rehabilitation of infrastructure and services through the financing, rehabilitation and maintenance of municipal roads and drainage networks, reconstruction of commercial municipal facilities such as markets and wharves, rehabilitation of street lighting systems and upgrading of municipal government buildings.

Simultaneously there are two other enabling initiatives. The first is the Central Housing and Planning Authority's UK-sponsored Greater Georgetown Development Plan and the second, is the Georgetown Historic Project, which seeks to have the city upgraded to the extent that it can be successfully nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Both were activated last year.

In each case, the benefits to be derived from successful implementation and execution are obvious, yet each, in its own way, reflects various levels of inadequate enthusiasm and commitment, which adversely affects our implementing capacity.

Quite recently, the municipality invited stakeholders to help in the development of a Business Plan as part of the mandate of the Institutional Strengthening component of the Urban Development Programme. The objective of the public forum was to engage as wide a cross-section of municipal stakeholders as possible in discussion on their respective vision of the city's future development. While little of a constructive nature was achieved from this consultation it was most encouraging to witness the level of participation and, consequently, the quality of potential synergy on display. While they may be no nearer the development of their Business Plan, the City Fathers will do well to tap into this synergy, harness and sustain it, and exploit it purposefully to the benefit of the city. It is a capital resource not easily accessed and should therefore be highly valued.

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