The new Castries with its cultural complexes and courts, envisioned by its dreamers and thinkers, should be a thing of beauty – a living landscaped garden that uplifts the human spirit. It needs to be more functional and less congested than presently. The vision is based on three simple premises: the need to ease congestion; to create a more functional living space and enhance the general ambiance whilst lifting the human spirit of citizens and visitors alike. The new design ought to be assigned to persons who are disinterested in personal financial gain, not to politicians with no vision, and their hungry hacks.
It is generally accepted by those who care that the city of Castries needs help. There is ample evidence that some politicians and technocrats within this and past governments agree on such a need. Why then are plans for a new Castries sitting in government offices collecting dust? Why is there so little public debate on the matter? How much would it cost to discuss plans for the expansion, beautification and modernization of Castries on national television (NTN)?
Reaction to the government’s intention to occupy the site of the Cultural Centre for the Ministry of Justice Law Courts etc. must also envision improved road and sea access to and from Castries. The debate ought also to consider suitable locations for modern bus terminals to serve the north and south of the island; high-rise car parking as well as suitable recreational spaces and multi-storey living spaces. There are exciting alternatives to the status quo if we determine to free our minds from the old Castries we remember and hold sacred.
Fear and timidity plus a non-adventurous spirit seemed at the root of those who function best only within Castries and its environs. That reaction can be traced to the past. Historically, residing within Castries made access to government services and secondary education easier and less costly. There was no need for paid transport to and from the city and venturing far off seemed a disadvantage.
Interestingly, the generations that returned to the island from university abroad built their dream homes as far outside the city as expanded road systems, water and electricity allowed.
There were of course many citizens who did not bother to gravitate to Castries. These dodged secondary school education – a saving from institutional colonialism, as some saw it. Among that lot, some chose migration as a means of job procurement and income. Those who migrated in the 50s and 60s returned to build their dream homes near the villages of their birth. Micoud, Dennery, Anse La Raye and Canaries come to mind. There was also the third part of the population which missed out on both secondary schooling and migration.
Of these three broad groups of Saint Lucians, at least one has tended to define the government and the country before and after adult suffrage. That group is also more likely to express an opinion with its own interest in mind, rather than that of the country. One therefore needs to look beyond narrow self-interest in planning the new and modern city even though those born there may claim to better understand the city’s needs.
The most important consideration of a city is the service it provides for its citizens and visitors. It is often the seat of government. The ease of movement, parking and efficiency of services (both private and public) is therefore crucial. Easy and rapid access to and from all parts of the island to the capital entails better and wider roads, more suitable high rise parking and more open green recreational spaces. These ideas lead inexorably to an expansion of Castries to the north, east and south. Easy access may also mean a regular ferry service between Rodney Bay and Castries. New road linkages to and from Castries also suggests tunnels beneath Morne Dudon, (Micoud Street extension), another from the top of Bridge Street to Cul de Sac and a third from a Castries bypass road from the north through Balata and Girard/Cacao exiting at Cul-de-Sac, east of the clay block factory. In addition, a sizable ring road on the perimeter of Castries some 300 meters from Chaussee Road along the lower levels of Morne Dudon ought to further ease congestion within the city. A multi-storey car park between Chaussee Road and the new tunnel at Morne Dudon is envisioned.
In 1981 I took with me to Tripoli a rough plan for a Castries bypass road. I was royally treated, (so was Joe Cox, my personal assistant). The authorities politely suggested that I would be invited to return following the island’s next general elections. Those who ganged up and frustrated my efforts at rebuilding the broken SLP have long been forgiven.
Easy and rapid communications to and from the new Castries makes the building of courts and cultural venues within its limits somewhat redundant. Other venues for a cultural centre were considered last week. If, however, we insist on a cultural centre in its present location, here is a vision: a large hole some forty feet deep with at least four exit tunnels cut at its base to provide exits/entrances at ground level should first be dug at the present site. Road connections at it base – links to Sans Souci, Conway near the car park, at Darling Road near the Methodist School, and a fourth near to the Bethel church at the top of Sans Souci – be built. The building itself should be several storeys with the top floor beginning at the present ground level at Barnard Hill, designed for the new performing arts theatre. An appropriate covering at the top of the structure should resemble a huge straw hat with an appropriate dweyet design around it. That hat (roof covering) should be visible to those who arrive by sea or by motor vehicle from the Morne Road. If, however, another site is chosen in preference to Barnard Hill, its roof and top structures should be imaginatively designed to echo the same national sentiments with the wobe dwiyet and straw hat reminiscent of Choiseul.
We never forget to dream big, really big, as our Nobel laureates taught us to do. We honour them by remembering that imagination is limitless and that no race, tribe or people owns a monopoly of that sacred gift.
Next week: the third and final vision of a new Castries!