Errol Pilgrim

There was a time when I took a delight living in St James on the western end of Port of Spain and working in the inner-city environment, first at the Express and then at the Guardian.

It was a time when people in the capital city were kinder and seemed to relish the rigours and responsibilities of life and work, and were more attuned to the pleasures and parameters of play that the city provided.

It was a time when even the vagrants appeared to be more human and revelled in the wacky uniqueness that vagrancy accorded them. Like John Craig who could charm you out of your last 50-cent piece with his atypical eloquence and uncharacteristic logic; or Briton whose rapid volley of cuss-words could make the most profane sailor blush; or Bobeen who could out-crow any early-morning rooster; or No-Nose Brackley whom the calypsonian immortalised in calypso. Or Russia, who was forever bent on organising these aforementioned fellow vagrants and others into an association aimed at seeking political office.

That, augmented by the normal nuances associated with city life, was essentially the Port of Spain I knew.

But within recent decades, the place has become so decrepit that a rare visit to a city where I spent so much of my more productive years is now an event for which I make every excuse to avoid.

What I now see of my capital city is a place that appears beholden to squalor and decadence—a place that is conspicuously incongruous with the First World ambience of its imposing Waterfront Plaza and the magnificence of the refurbished Red House.

It is a city that has been for too long adrift in a sump of filth and decay and crime and human misery that is embarrassingly inconsistent with the World Bank recognition Trinidad and Tobago enjoys as a high-income economy with the third highest GDP in the Americas, after the United States and Canada.

It is a city where Queen Street, a notably historical thoroughfare that was renamed in honour of the beauty and grace of our first Miss Universe, Janelle “Penny” Commissiong, is now described by Prime Minister Rowley as the “official toilet of Port of Spain”.

Thus, it is heartening that Dr Rowley and his Government are intent on taking practical action to bring a halt to this self-perpetuating urban decay and to fashion, once and for all, a revitalised, rejuvenated Port of Spain that is consistent with 21st-century achievement, even in these daunting times.

It is doubly heartening that the Prime Minister refuses to allow the awesome challenges of the coronavirus pandemic to dampen his enthusiasm and determination to effect the transformation envisaged.

Such a massively auspicious project is perhaps the spark of hope and positivity that could kindle in the population the spirit of resilience, meaning and purpose that is so crucial to our survival.

Of course, the ever-present cynics will be quick to disparage the effort, pointing to the 16 previous attempts at city rejuvenation that failed to pull Port of Spain out of its burgeoning rot. But those ventures did not have at the helm a man who refuses to allow his governance responsibilities to be tempered or neutralised by unfavourable circumstances.

That relentlessness is borne out by the fact that in the face of the economic stringency he inherited in 2015, Dr Rowley was able to keep the ship of state on course, even finding room among the pressing priorities to protect the national patrimony by rescuing for the benefit of future generations an absolutely priceless art collection of this country’s first internationally renowned artist, Michel-Jean Cazabon.

It is also in defiance of economic rigidity that Dr Rowley was able to actualise his commitment to what turned out to be a timely improvement of the public health infrastructure to the extent that the Trinidad and Tobago response to the pandemic would achieve international acclaim.

In support of his Port of Spain rejuvenation initiative, it must also be noted that without the intervention of Dr Rowley, the kick in the teeth that the then-UNC government reserved for Brian Lara by deliberately neglecting completion of the cricket academy and stadium dedicated to his phenomenal cricket successes, was markedly averted.

Instead, the Brian Lara Cricket Academy at Tarouba in South Trinidad is today one of the most treasured sports facilities in the world, and was recently the venue for the first and most successful international cricket tournament to be safely hosted during the pandemic.

And all of this while the public service remained intact, the social safety net was equipped to absorb much of the Covid-induced deprivations, food remained on the tables of ordinary folk, the education of our children prevailed, the country’s road network was upgraded and the restoration of a number of historically architectural treasures in the capital city was completed.

Pinpointing a number of “catalyst projects” to be implemented as a trigger toward putting the overall Port of Spain Rejuvenation Programme into effect, Dr Rowley envisages pursuing the programme in partnership with the private sector, a section of the national community for whom this national thrust at greater civilisation can be of tremendous benefit.

Dr Rowley sees the Revitalisation of Port of Spain as a “vital project of the Government’s thrust to foster and stimulate integrated national growth”.

I see it as creating a vital window to developing the civilised society that we so easily stand the chance of losing.

As the Prime Minister says, let’s do it. Let’s save our capital city and help make it the place it can be. Let’s make our children and grandchildren proud of a Port of Spain that could add a crucial quality to their lives.

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