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A plan for managing Bridgetown

GUESTXCOLUMNSome further thoughts on Bridgetown and its architecturally and environmentally harmonious development.

Let’s start with management.

The Barbados World Heritage Committee came up a few years ago with an excellent management plan for the UNESCO-designated Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison.

But there is no agency to implement the plan.

A committee is great at coming up with ideas, but not good at putting them into action. The government agencies on the committee have far too much on their plate already to implement the management plan except in fits and starts.

Compounding the problem is that we have no municipal government in Barbados.

What we need is an executive agency like the Barbados Tourism Investment Inc. (BTI). Now it’s possible that the BTI might be entrusted with the task of managing Bridgetown, if it doesn’t have too much on its plate. If not, we might need to create another agency to do the job.

Let’s call it Bridgetown Inc. (BI).

BI would be responsible not just for implementing the World Heritage plan, but for managing Bridgetown in its entirety. So it would:

•    ensure that Barbados complied with all the UNESCO-mandated requirements;

•    oversee implementation of policy regarding redevelopment planning and urban regeneration (taking over responsibility for the various Bridgetown projects from the present BTI);

•    liaising with government departments about the supply of all the services (utilities, sanitation, transportation, traffic management, policing and so on) required for the architecturally and  ecologically harmonious development of the city; and

•    managing a Bridgetown Future Fund (BFF).

How would the BI be funded?

First, all of the present government-owned property in Bridgetown should be vested in the BI. Then, all of the tax revenues generated from property, profit, salary, duty and Value Added Tax (VAT) activities in the city should be reinvested in the city through the BI. The BI would also collect revenue from the installation and operation of parking meters and all public parking lots in Bridgetown.

In addition, a long-term Bridgetown Bond of $100 to $200 million, at attractive rates, could be launched.

At the same time, the Bridgetown Future Fund would be a heritage restoration fund managed with the highest degree of transparency and accountability to which benefactors, both local and overseas, could contribute, earmarking, if they wish, their contributions to specific restoration projects.

Most philanthropists like to see their money is well spent. They are reluctant to throw it into the ‘black hole’ of a consolidated fund or its equivalent. On the other hand, they might be willing to help finance the restoration of, say, the Queen’s Park theatre or some other specific project.

Another way to encourage restoration of historic and heritage sites is through greater adaptive reuse. Adaptive reuse of historic buildings, landscapes and places involves changing the use of places with heritage values, while retaining the cultural, historical or architectural significance of the building or structure. It acknowledges that heritage is not static and that these places should continue to live and develop over time.

Good examples of adaptive reuse are the Old Spirit Bond, the Barbados Light & Power headquarters, and the proposed Rail to Trail project, using the long abandoned railway line.

We have four historic lighthouses in Barbados, three of them dating from the 19th century. Surely, it is not beyond our imagination to see how they might be fitted into a commercial use structure (tourist accommodations, special events, residential complexes, restaurants, eco-tourism, museums/interactive interpretive centres?) If not, they will become totally dilapidated and derelict.

And what about all our abandoned sugar factories? Might they be adapted multifunctional sites for our creative industries?

Farley Hill Park was created with quiet family picnics in mind but, in the last few decades, it has become a popular venue for musical concerts of all kinds (why not classical?)

 Perhaps it’s time to redesign the park primarily for that purpose. This would entail dismantling the unstable ruins and using the material throughout the park to keep the architectural theme of a classic Great House ruin. At the same time, an architecturally appropriate stage and amphitheatre might be erected. The only limits are our imagination.

Queen’s Park is another example. If restored to its original grandeur without altering its design, it’ll become a museum that people will visit on special occasions to re-enact events (Christmas Day in the Park).

But the vitality of Queen’s Park as a green recreational public space will be lost. Its physical design no longer serves its potential purpose.

To become a widely used park again, a major redesign is necessary (while keeping the theatre and steel shed) to ensure it attracts more people.

That means tearing down those railings that say ‘keep out’, to open it up welcomingly to people, and lining the Constitution Road side with broad, tree-shaded liming steps. Perhaps a small open-air theatre for the dry season. It should be both a recreational green space and a cultural complex. The only limits…

Adaptive reuse structures within the Bridgetown/Garrison area also include warehouses, forts, the Carnegie Library, the old Supreme Court, and the old Eye Hospital.

Architecture influences all aspects of our lives, for better or worse.

It can pit us against each other and reinforce stereotypes by segregating housing by income.

It can bring us closer through imaginative public spaces.

It can foster crime by cramming the poor into ill-designed public housing bereft of community facilities.

It can put us in harmony with nature by minimizing the confrontation with the natural environment.

We complain about chronic diseases stemming from a lack of exercise, yet rarely incorporate walkways and cycle paths, or even decent sidewalks, in the design of our roads and communities.

Architecture is social policy.

(Dr Peter Laurie is a former Barbados ambassador to the United States, retired permanent secretary and head of the Barbados Foreign Service)

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