ON THE OTHER HAND – Saving our heritage
Great news! Bridgetown with its historic Garrison is now a World Heritage Site. May this inspire us to conserve all aspects of our heritage: architectural, natural and cultural.
Where do we start?
Tear down the ugly chain-link fence around St Ann’s Fort. Make it a ceremonial headquarters of the Barbados Defence Force, with appropriate scheduled public ceremonies. It’s fine to conserve historic buildings but let’s use our imagination.
Parliament. Institute a ceremonial changing of the guard.
Rename Heroes’ Square Parliament Square and erect a statue of Samuel Jackman Prescod on a base on which is inscribed the names of all Barbadian parliamentarians since 1639. Remove Nelson’s statue to a maritime museum by the historic screw dock on the Pier Head. Knock down the Treasury Building and replace it with an architecturally compatible building that adds aesthetic and commercial value to the site.
Restore the Empire theatre. Knock down the hideous old NIS Building.
Queen’s Park. The vitality of Queen’s Park as a public space has long since declined. Restoring it to its original grandeur without altering its design, will effectively make it into a museum rather than a park. Instead, redesign it as a public space that attracts more people, while keeping the theatre and steel shed. Tear down the railings and open it up. Line the Constitution Road side with broad, tree-shaded “liming” steps. Create a small open-air theatre for the dry season. Remove the wedge of the park at the corner of Crumpton Street and Constitution Road to facilitate pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Erect a statue of Charles Duncan O’Neal.
To drive all this we need a Bridgetown Czar. I nominate Dame Billie Miller. She’s retired from active politics; she has the diplomatic skills to deal with the different stakeholders; she has taste; she gets things done; and, most important of all, she has a passion for Bridgetown.
As for our natural “heritage”, this can’t simply be about preserving or creating “windows to the sea” and parks. Barbados is too tiny and ecologically fragile to leave the uses of land largely to the market with residual constraints in respect of agriculture and the water table.
Indiscriminate and unplanned use of land without reference to our civic, cultural and psychic needs, not to mention the huge intangible value attached to attractive landscape (both natural and built) in attracting tourists and resident international business investors, could result in a human and economic disaster of epic proportions.
No one wants to create a bureaucratic nightmare, but we need to start thinking of the entire island of Barbados as a national park with its multiple and varied uses regulated and administered transparently and super-efficiently by a Ministry of Land Use, as the sole portfolio of the Prime Minister. Its responsibilities should include town and country planning, land tax, agriculture (divested of its redundant technical section), housing, roads, water, environment, sanitation, drainage, traffic, and parks and beaches, none of which can be undertaken in isolation.
At the core of this ministry should be a totally revamped Town & Country Planning Department exercising oversight of all uses of our most precious resource.
Finally, concerning our cultural heritage, one of the critical aspects we have not yet got right is the appreciation and preservation of our African roots.
Saving our African heritage is not about “raising the self-esteem” of black Barbadians. That’s patronizing nonsense. It’s about recognizing, and integrating into every aspect of our lives, the most powerful cultural force to shape us as a Caribbean people, especially since for most of our history anything remotely African was ignored or suppressed.
What we don’t need is frivolous, fruitless, freeloading trips to Africa; or celebrating Black History Month in a country that’s black; or focusing on such peripherals as dress or the glories of ancient Egypt.
Let’s start by creating the premier world-class museum of transatlantic slavery, maybe at Glendairy.
Peter Laurie is a retired diplomat and a commentator on social issues. Email [email protected]