May 15, 2003
The Mayor and City Council's press release in the wake of the outbreak of fires at the Mandela Avenue landfill site earlier this month is another symptom of much that is wrong in Georgetown. Admitting that the fires were caused by methane gas generated in the unsafe site, the public was informed that "Mayor Hamilton Green has visited the area and was acquainted with the extreme discomfort experienced by citizens."
The public was not informed whether or not there will be further, or more damaging, eruptions. But this was not the first, nor will it be the last, horror of the city's largest abscess. The Mandela Avenue landfill site has been a source of stench, vermin and annoyance to its neighbouring communities for years. Other sites such as those at the former Guyana Sports Club Ground in Thomas Lands and the North Ruimveldt Multilateral School may one day erupt as well. Apart from the landfill sites, evidence of urban blight abounds in other places.
A postcard or photograph of almost any scene in Georgetown 50 or more years ago would have shown mostly houses in good repair, trimmed trees, clean canals, pleasant seawalls, neat parapets, painted traffic signs and, yes, an absence of litter, street children and stray dogs. Once upon a time, colourful Cana lilies beautified Water Street. But now, the section between Church and Croal Streets is blighted, not only by the untouchable and ubiquitous vendors but moreso by the decrepit state of the road, pavement and parapet, all but impassable to vehicular traffic.
Despite occasional admirable campaigns such as the Camp Street Millennium Project, the Indian Immigration Monument Gardens and the occasional fencing of a playfield by the President's Youth Choice Initiative (PYCI), there is decay and filth everywhere. Drainage gutters in the commercial district and around markets are indescribable; vehicle parking is chaotic; garbage is to be found everywhere; green grass verges are covered over with concrete to be converted into parking lots; roadside repair shops sprawl onto thoroughfares and vendors squat on sidewalks.
Urban housing, of course, is in a class by itself. Pockets within the inner city wards such as Albouystown, Bourda, Charlestown, Cummingsburg, Lacy-town, Lodge, Wortmanville and Werk-en-Rust, are scarred by poor housing, chronic waste disposal problems and the increasing number of street dwellers. Once the destination of low-income migrants from rural areas who often could not afford the monthly rent, apartments were sub-divided to accommodate extended families. Increased numbers put pressure on overworked utilities and, as facilities deteriorated, slum conditions and 'yards' developed.
Insufficient revenue collected by the Georgetown Mayor and City Council (M&CC) makes it impossible to rehabilitate and maintain infrastructure adequate for urban growth and development. M&CC is still not self-financing and depends largely on Central Government subventions to execute its tasks.
But while these problems continue, Georgetown's landscape remains blighted. Waiting for grand solutions such as the Urban Development Programme to solve environmental problems associated with urban decay should not prevent the efficient enforcement of municipal regulations and a more vigorous plan to keep Georgetown clean.
Many of the blighted zones are serious fire hazards which impede the access of ambulances and fire appliances in emergencies. They are also health hazards which attract pests and disease vectors. Rats and roaches have adapted nicely to the urban environment by scavenging from the refuse within these wards and at landfill sites. Stagnant trenches breed mosquitoes, a perennial menace. The most critical threat to the environment, however, stems from diseases resulting from inadequate drinking water and sanitation. Many households in depressed zones share standpipes and their sewage disposal systems are decrepit, with man-holes not infrequently overflowing.
There is no easy solution to the problem of urban blight. However, there is the need for vigorous action by the Mayor and his councillors to save the city from being disfigured by blight and filth. Already, Georgetown is fast becoming unrecognisable as the Garden City it used to be only a few decades ago.