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New Mayor vows to inject new life into PoS

Natalie Briggs Thursday, January 12 2017

Walking through Port-of-Spain, you get the sense of someone slowly waking up. Christmas has just gone, the New Year has arrived and the city is gathering its energy for the upcoming Carnival. School has reopened and traffic, at least, is back at normal levels generating a predictable flurry of complaint on social media.

Traffic was just one of the areas Business Day explored last week in our look at the vitality of Port-of-Spain as our capital.

But street dwellers and crime are also serious threats to the continuing viability of the capital as a location that people want to come to.

In addition to the other problems former Mayor Keron Valentine cited last week, he said the city’s police resources were not equal to those of the capital’s criminal element.

“To have the regular police on a job site was costly. (Former) Mayor (Louis) Lee Sing noted some time ago that the armory that we had could not match that weapons of those on the other side.”

Valentine said the situation crippled effectiveness of the regional corporation, particularly in parts of east and south Port-of-Spain, with councillors being criticized for their lack of effectiveness.

Crime, he said, was something that everyone had to be more mindful of because it could cripple commerce in the capital city.

But in some senses, local government was also its own worst enemy said Valentine and as such, he welcomed the reform programme.

“Often, we found ourselves frustrated and stymied, because anything discussed in the committee room, we found ourselves having to send up to Kent House for the minister to approve, then their engineers had to approve and everything had to line up with what their people said before anything could be done. Then sometimes approvals had to be sought from the finance ministry and come back. It was so bad that sometimes an entire term would pass and the project wouldn’t be done.”

Beyond administration though, the issues bedeviling Port-of- Spain may require a change of perspective.

So thinks Margaret McDowall, an urban and regional planner whose advice Business Day sought on ways to rejuvenate the capital city.

“There are thousands and thousands of people coming into Port-of-Spain every day,” McDowall said, “Therein lies the opportunity. What you have to work out is what you are going to do with them once they are here.”

McDowall is of the view that those hundreds of thousands who flee the capital city daily should be enticed to stay. She said most people were inclined to want to go somewhere after work to socialize with friends.

Here is where the urban planner believes the city should make better use of its open and green spaces, currently overtaken by the homeless.

“People aren’t going to just go to the spaces. We must reclaim them. There have to be activities for people to come out,” she said.

McDowall suggested Chacon Street as an area for some fair type activity. She said the city and business owners could collaborate to have an event that features products, food and drink from nearby areas at least one day in the week

Joel Martinez, Port-of-Spain’s newly installed mayor agreed. As a boy, he lived in an around Port-of-Spain and as an adult, has spent much of his working life there.

“I know how vibrant it was and enjoyable it was,” he told Business Day.

He thought the Promenade still had potential as a gathering and entertainment spot.

“It has a real nice park effect that I don’t think some people even realise. I would like to bring back some art and exhibitions.”

He also wanted to encourage nightspots that have moved into Woodbrook to come back into uptown Port-of-Spain, given the proximity of the two locations.

“We need to find ways to incentivize the business population into doing something like that and not closing their doors as soon as the work day is over,” said the mayor.

Regarding businesses in the capital city, urban planner McDowall said they need a rethink of their opening hours.

“When you talk to people like DOMA, they want people to shop, but they want them to shop during working hours. Their shops are open during working hours. Most people are coming into town, going straight into one of the towers to work with probably an hour lunch at most and are leaving directly after. When are they going to shop?” she asked.

McDowall said people who do not work in Port-of-Spain are also less likely to come into town to shop between 8 am and 10 am because of the traffic. What may be needed, she said, is experimentation with 10 am to 6 pm opening and closing hours.

On business operators’ legitimate fear of crime in the city after hours, McDowall said if people made a habit of staying in Port-of-Spain later, it would encourage others to do the same, enhancing safety with the weight of their numbers.

Meanwhile, Mayor Martinez said he was looking at ways to partner with TTEC to bring more light to the city.

“There will be no dark spots for crime to take place,” he told us.

He called for a greater level of visible policing on the streets as in his opinion, the presence of authority was a major deterrent to crime. Martinez said he was prepared to work along with the police for a safer capital.

He is also toying with the idea of parking metres, something he said he said will provide the city with a stream of independent income with which it could undertake projects. Parking and indiscriminate wrecking in the city were also issues about which he was in the process of talking with the police and wrecking companies. Cleaning, rebuilding as well as tearing derelict parts of the city were also on his agenda.

The new mayor gave a commitment to be open and a willing to listen in his working relationship with Port-of-Spain’s business and vending communities.

Together, he said, they were the ones who, through the exchange of ideas, could revitalize and bring that environment of “feeling good”, back to the city.

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