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Redefining Speightstown

Todays WomanLet me begin this week’s reflection by voicing my concern about the pedestrian crossing immediately outside of the Convent School on Collymore Rock.  Too many motorists are breaching that stop light when it is on green to allow the school children of the Ursuline Convent safe passage across the roadway. 

Not only are they breaching the light, but the motorists are speeding over the crossing in such a way that if a child does get hit, a fatality is likely to occur. The Ministry of Public Works should reassess the situation and see if the crossing can be made into a roll over crossing to break the speed of the traffic.

We are a few hours into November and the celebrations for the 50th Independence anniversary of Barbados are gearing up.   The entire celebration has not been as effective as it could have been because there was too much emphasis on scoring party points as opposed to celebrating the 50 years of post-Independence governance on the Island. 

Another disappointment for me was that the absence of a lecture or panel discussion series which allowed Barbadians to interrogate some of the issues facing the island at this juncture.  There were, however, several conferences held in academic spaces which examined some of the issues Barbados and the rest of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries are facing.

During this week, the Faculty of Social Services at Cave Hill held its Barbados at Fifty – The Journey Travelled and the Journey Ahead conference.  As usual, the research presented was useful beyond the scope of academic consideration but, as usual, the audiences were not sufficiently mixed to create wide dissemination of the information.   

My colleague, Dr St. Bernard and I presented a paper on re-imaging Speightstown and I want to share aspects of with you.  The paper represented the type of discussion that is missing as we plan the future of Barbados. 

Speightstown was first settled in 1630.  In its early existence, Speightstown was a port town receiving ships between England and Barbados.  As the settlement of the island continued, Speightstown took on characteristics consistent with a town centre, with school facilities such as the Alexandra School by 1894, and government services such as a post office before 1898.   

During the pre-Independence era, Speightstown continued to be built out and it was the hub for commercial activity in the north of the island.  The Noel Roach pharmacy was one of the landmarks in Speightstown as well as the Manning, Wilkinson and Challenor establishment, which sold lumber. Also, the Speightstown fish market. 

It was perhaps around 1989 that the place and use of Speightstown began to change with the building of the ABC Highway from Mile and a Quarter in St. Peter to the Grantley Adams International Airport in Christ Church.  The highway took traffic away from Speightstown and made other centres of commerce more attractive. 

Added to the highway development, there was a categorization of lands around Speightstown, specifically in the Ashton Hall area, as zone 1 water areas.  This designation means that it is a catchment area for the island’s underground water supply.  Housing and other activity are restricted in zone 1 areas. 

At the same time that the highway was moving people away from Speightstown, the population which supported Speightstown as a town centre was also declining.  According to Barbados census data, the population around Speightstown has basically remained plateaued over the last 50 years.  In 1960, it was 10,860.

In 1990, the population of the entire parish of St Peter was 11 263 and it grew slightly to 11 300 by 2010.  Despite time and effort to revitalize Speightstown, the space has remained underutilized as a town.  The demographic information available also seems to suggest that Speightstown will never be reconstituted as a town centre.  The question therefore must be: what will Speightstown become in the next 50 years of the development of Barbados? 

After we answer it for Speightstown, we will be well served to consider the same analysis of Bridgetown.  If we continue to depopulate Bridgetown while developing other town centres like Warrens and Six Roads, we will be eventually left with underutilized space in Bridgetown as well.

Considerations about demographic spreads, historical trends and urban and rural planning do not seem immediately congruent as areas of research and analysis.  And yet the craftsmen of our Independence movement were able to bring together such types of teams to examine issues and create interdisciplinary solutions. 

We have benefitted immensely from their foresight and history is now demanding that we add our own overlay onto what we have inherited.  Speightstown has the potential to transition easily from a town centre to a heritage centre.   The interesting thing will be the economy of scale and whether we can sustain a heritage site in greater Bridgetown and another one in Speightstown. 

Notwithstanding, there have been efforts by the sitting Member of Parliament, former Prime Minister Owen Arthur, to preserve and market the heritage salability of Speightstown.  Through the Special Development Legislation, he has provided tax concessions for people seeking to develop Speightstown.  He recreated the Speightstown jetty and organized exchange visits between South Carolina and Speightstown.

The models are already there and they can be built upon.  What I would like to see happen is that we use demographic, historical and other sound research available to move us forward.  If it is one thing we must banish in our 51st year of existence as a nation is the use of ‘gut feeling’ to make key decisions.

(Marsha Hinds-Layne is a full-time mummy and part-time lecturer in communications at the University of the West Indies.
Email mhindslayne
@gmail.com)

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