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Thursday, April 25, 2013


The intention of this article is not to "diss" our capital city - no way! Rather, the intention is to raise the level of national consciousness about some disturbing aspects about our once-upon-a-time great city that produced Greats like Derek Walcott, Arthur Lewis and Dunstan Omer.

Castries is located in what is referred to as a "flood gut" and largely on reclaimed land. It is home to the seat of government and the head offices of many foreign and local businesses. Like many of the world’s metropolitan centres, the design of the city is modelled on a grid pattern. Castries has a world-class sheltered harbour which receives large cruise ships, transshipment cargo vessels and ferry boats. It is also blessed with top quality, world class duty free shopping facilities in Point Seraphine and La Place Carenage.

By the end of the 17th century, Castries became a major coaling station because she was the only port in the Caribbean capable of accommodating the Royal Navy.

Castries has some breath-taking landmarks, too!  The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Derek Walcott Square, the City Library, the Government House, and Morne Fortune’s Fort Charlotte are glowing examples.

Notwithstanding all of the above, there appears to be a growing consensus that Castries city is in a state of degeneration; its socio-economic geometry may no longer be a relatively good barometer to gauge St. Lucian standards and values. In fact, it may no longer be a true microcosm of the St. Lucia psyche for many reasons; they include, firstly, a runaway crime rate; secondly, a rapidly growing perception that it may well be the “homicide” capital of St. Lucia and arguably, the entire East Caribbean at large. In fact, there is a view that Castries may well have now become “The Little Kingston” of the Eastern Caribbean where “bad boys”, guns, crimes are fast becoming a way of life for the many gangs that dominate the cityscape.

And when we thought Castries had reached a crescendo of negativity, the showers of blessing - which we were longing for - came and stripped the city even more naked than it ever was – exposing another ugly aspect of its buttocks for all to see.

Over the years, we have known and spoken ad nauseam about the city’s saturation with a perennial rat population problem. But the heavy showers revealed an even more stunning nasty urban discovery: a cesspool of cockroaches and other bugs and pests, including centipedes emerging out of the underground network of drains, manholes, crevices, cracks and soakaways that apparently provided a safe haven for those nasty invasive creatures to procreate in unprecedented numbers. If we add the invasion of mosquitoes, stray dogs, vagrants and the ever growing population of criminals to the equation, then we get a pretty good picture of the extent of decadence facing a city which has been rebuilt many times following major fires in 1796 and 1813, and 1948.

The question is: does Castries need to be rebuilt again and whose responsibility is it? Is it central government, the private sector or the Castries Constituency Council who own the city?

But Castries city is not alone in its woes; Vieux Fort town has its own fair share of problems too; the Bacadere is a major health and environmental hazard; only that, it's not so much a biological threat from an unwanted invasion of species (as is the case for Castries) as it is a threat arising from the recklessness of human beings who dispose their plethora of waste into the Bacadere Main Drain (BMD).

About 7 years or so ago, a CDB technical mission ranked the BMD as a major health and environmental hazard and advised the BNTF to commission an EIA and subsequently to designed a project proposal to tackle the problem with urgency; however, reports suggest that the project was checkmated by the last gov't and it got lost somewhere in the 'merger' of BNTF and PRF into SSDF.

Previously, BNTF had undertaken an infrastructure sub-project in Bruce Ville which gave the community a much needed facelift; but that was only a small pebble in a pool of problems. Today, Bruce Ville continues to have its unique psychosocial and socio-economic challenges; and although its garrison-type behaviour has diminished significantly, it remains an area that we may wish to advise visitors who may have a propensity to explore, to tread carefully, especially after dark! 

But in spite of the cases cited above, Vieux Fort has major advantages over the Capital City! Among other things, it has the “spatial latitude” to expand; indeed, because of that luxury, the commercial centre of the town is gradually shifting towards the periphery of Beanefield where the townscape is far more attractive, receptive and comfortable whilst the Old Town seems to be approaching an irreversibly moribund state.

As the epicentre of the town irreversibly tends northward, one feels that it will in the long term attract significant business and industrial activity which could put it in direct competition with Castries for capital city. Already, Vieux Fort is the home of the Hewanorra International Airport and also a budding seaport which puts it in contention. Once the Bar de l’Isle barrier is broken and the appropriate horizontal and vertical road alignments are completed, VF should be just a stone throw away from the north.

Soufriere town – the original capital of St. Lucia – is not without its own issues too; but it seemed to have done fairly well, both in terms of its development paradigm and the management of its limited usable space. The recent townscape improvements have given Soufriere a new look; and although considerable restoration work is still needed to complete the new Soufriere configuration, St. Lucia's "third town" may well, in the medium to long term, become a good experiment in integrated urban development worthy of replication. The development configuration along the Waterfront and Bridge Street is a stunning example.

Notwithstanding the recently unfortunate incident involving the contingent group of tourists from the Celebrity cruise ship, Soufriere maintains a major safety and security advantage. She is generally a user-friendly destination where visitors can walk the streets at all hours of the night in relative safety but there’s still work to be done!

We have often referenced Singapore (which is the same size with St. Lucia) as a possible model for us; but that may well be an impossible dream. Our geographic configuration is a major constraint; secondly, we may well have passed the critical point of no return.

Yes! We may have the semblance of an intellectual superstructure. We can contend that our Nobel laureate are just the “tip of the berg”; but can we convert the “intellectual superstructure” to “development infrastructure” which is the main yardstick by which “progress” is measured. Singapore tried the experiment and it was a resounding success; so far in St. Lucia, we have not got beyond the “hypothesis stage” – we are still cooking hypotheses!

We probably need an intellectual bang start again!

Will the "national vision strategy" help give us that bang start and help us find our orientation again or will it help us find a new orientation - an orientation for better aesthetics, for a deeper sense of pride and patriotism, for greater productivity, for a more profound commitment to better entrepreneurship, for a better sense of civic and social responsibility, for less crime and criminality?

Perhaps, until we find that orientation, we will continue to be subject to the plague of rats, of coach roaches, of crimes and criminality.

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