Should we create a new capital city?
March 26, 2007
There used to be a time in Georgetown when during the rainy season you could see frogs' eggs in the drains and gutters. Not any more; the environment is no longer healthy for even frogs to lay their eggs and it would therefore be quite a sight if today one has the freedom to see tadpoles swimming through in the drains of the capital of Guyana.
Over the past few weeks, a concerted and commendable effort has been made to restore Georgetown. However, one cannot fix in a few months what resulted from decades of neglect. While the city now boasts a refreshing look, the cleanliness and wholesomeness of the past cannot be restored, not even with all the money that is available for Cricket World Cup 2007.
It will of course require more than money to keep Georgetown looking the way it currently does, which--it should be mentioned--is far superior to what it was six months ago. It will require a change of attitude, a change of politics, improved management of the municipality and a change in building, planning and zoning for the capital city to enjoy the beauty and serenity it once had.
I have in the past dealt with the need for improved management of the city. I do not believe in the excuses about the Council being stymied by the non-approval of new revenue sources. I believe that more could have been done from the existing sources and in these columns I have outlined some of the things that can be done to improve the finances and management of town hall.
With each passing day, I am losing confidence in our ability to restore Georgetown to some acceptable standards. The whole approach to the vendors' issue illustrates, I think, why we have found ourselves in the present situation in which we are immersed. Were we not a small country and were I not aware of the historic influence of the propertied class on the government, I would have called for the creation of a new capital city.
That, however, is not likely to happen because the propertied class is going to use its influence, as it did with the VAT, to nullify any such plans.
The only option therefore open is for improved central planning of the city, especially in the approval for buildings. At present, the lines between residential and business areas are blurred. In almost all of the traditional residential areas of the city, businesses are cropping up at a rapid rate, and I would not be surprised to wake up one day and find an industrial complex right in the middle of Bel Air Park. Not that the area never had industries-- just that at the rate businesses are popping up in housing areas anything is possible.
I think it is fair to say that the situation has got worse under the PPP than under the PNC during whose term the trend of “blurring” started. Businesses are popping up almost automatically in residential areas and this is destroying the order and orderliness of the layout of the capital city.
In Eve Leary, an area formerly reserved for playgrounds, a school has been built. A section of the Bourda Mall has been turned into a vendors' arcade and, had it not been for the work of the Indian Immigration Committee which fenced another part and preserved it as a garden, who knows what would have become of that section.
One of the things that must be done to help in the restoration of Georgetown is for the residential areas to be clearly defined and for the prohibition of all approvals for the conducting of businesses. In fact, there should be a general return to strict zoning, and no business activity at all should be allowed outside of the commercial district of the city. Since these zoning plans are already being allowed in the breach, the logical approach would be to prohibit all approvals for businesses in areas designated as residential areas.
The second step has to be the discouragement of commercial activity in industrial estates. I was deeply aggrieved to have learnt that permission has been granted to businesses to carry out commercial sales in industrial sites.
These estates were developed out of the logic that there should be separate spaces for industrial development that would in the process create jobs for the armies of employable persons that normally flock to the urban centers. These estates were built with the support of taxpayers funds and ought to be used for factories and industries and not as commercial outlets.
I hope that the government would stamp out this practice, while at the same time restrict further commercialisation of residential areas.
If Georgetown is going to be worthy of being the capital city, it requires orderly and ordered development. Moreover, it requires a new attitude on the part of all stakeholders. If this cannot happen and happen quickly, then we might as well identify another area as the site for a new capital city.