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ON THE OTHER HAND: A green city state?


Peter Laurie

ON THE OTHER HAND: A green city state?

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How can we make Barbados (Barbados; not just Bridgetown!) into the most beautiful and wealthy green city in the world?
Easy. But, paradoxically, we’d have to remove the restrictions that reserve a large part of our land for agriculture.
Most Bajans think that reserving land for agriculture guarantees green space. That’s a fallacy. Agriculture in Barbados is unsustainable. The high prices of inputs (labour, water, energy, and so on) make agriculture uncompetitive, and the lure of more profitable uses for the land has led to a constant creeping loss (1 000 acres a year) of agricultural land. Besides, our sugar industry is an absurd anachronism: the cost of producing sugar is about three times the price we receive.
By all means let those who feel they can make money from agriculture do so; but with absolutely no help from the Government. Let our farmers/entrepreneurs produce our fresh food needs in Guyana. Consumers will benefit.
What’s worse, zoning land for agriculture encourages corruption and has seriously distorted our economic development. Barbados is tiny enough to be a city state, like Singapore, Monaco or Hong Kong: wealthy, small, densely-populated services economies.  
We already experience relentless urban sprawl engulfing large swathes of St Michael, Christ Church, St James and other parishes.
Besides, our population will soon reach half a million. Unless we plan for this, it’ll be a nightmare.  
If we plan smartly, this could be the tipping point for undreamed of levels of prosperity and social well-being. But we’d have to carefully balance population growth, environmental protection and social equity.
Our future as an upmarket tourism and business services destination depends on our preserving both our built and natural heritages. We have to envision the whole of Barbados as one beautiful, well-organized green city with greater Bridgetown as its historic heritage core.
So what are the vital issues we need to plan for?
Land use, infrastructure and education.
The most critical issue is land use.
We must free up agricultural land for other uses by an act of Parliament that also amends the Physical Development Plan appropriately to make provision for a land bank for affordable housing and islandwide public and private green space.
This would include: national, community and neighbourhood parks, beachfronts, natural and other heritage areas, waterfronts, watercourses, escarpments, gullies, caves, sand dunes, wetlands and other wildlife habitats, agrotechnology parks, sporting venues including stadiums, golf courses, equestrian and motor sports, hiking, biking and horse riding trails, and other urban public spaces like squares. Government could finance the public green space by a hefty tax on windfall profits arising from land use conversion from agriculture.  
Who knows? Competitive niche agriculture might flourish along with communal/backyard farming.
The second critical issue would be infrastructure.
With half a million people, organizing the supply of water, energy and waste disposal leaves no room for failure. We must plan for renewable energy, recycling, noise and air pollution reduction, flood management, high-density housing zones with green communal and recreational facilities designed into them, mass transit, traffic management, and the best and most widespread Internet connectivity available.
The third critical issue would be education. For Barbados to succeed as a city state we would have to intensify the diversification of services we offer for export. To do this we must offer people the opportunity of acquiring a wider range of skills. So we could not continue our disastrous educational policy – albeit unintended – of creating a small educated elite.
The positives of a population of half a million are economies of scale, a larger and more diverse market, greater scope for cultural and entertainment services, and an expanded tax base.
Our small size makes all this doable, provided we find the political will to do it.
Of course, we can bury our heads in the sacred cane fields like good Bajans and let change sneak up on us and kick us in the backside.

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