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ON THE OTHER HAND: Town’s public spaces

Peter Laurie

ON THE OTHER HAND: Town’s public spaces

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The public space is what makes or breaks a city.
It creates opportunities for leisure and commerce; sites for cultural displays and monuments to national achievement; and, most important, occasions for meeting and mingling that help foster civility and social trust. Public spaces are not just to be admired; they are participatory landscapes.
The most important public space in Bridgetown is the waterfront. Cities across the world have realized the extraordinary value of waterfronts to visitors and locals alike. The focus of the Bridgetown waterfront is the Careenage and the Pierhead, whose redevelopment calls for a marina, hotel, condominiums, shops and restaurants.
But, as I suggested in a previous column, we’re not limited to the existing waterfront. Most of Bridgetown is barely above sea level. This allows us to carry the sea inland in canals at strategic points, for example, to Queen’s Park and along Constitution Road and Roebuck Street – if we have the vision to do so. Costly, yes; but it’ll have a huge pay off for our grandchildren.
Imagine walking from the Bridgetown Port to the Careenage through an arts, crafts and food complex, with a refurbished fish market as the star attraction.
Move the dysfunctional Pelican Village to the sea side of the road, and replace it with two low-rise (eight floors) residential buildings and an office building. Shops could be located on the ground floor of the residential buildings.
On the eastern side of the Pierhead we should redevelop the waterfront along Bay Street up to Needham’s Point using the planned boardwalk with as many windows to the sea as possible, while keeping the fortified town theme.  
With a canal along Constitution Road, Queen’s Park can be opened up by removing all the railings and putting a set of broad “liming” steps with shade trees and shrubs along the new canal. This would allow access to the park at many points and invite more people to enter and use it.
Some conservationists will object to this, but when it comes to public spaces we must recognize that public spaces created for one set of purposes have to be updated to serve present purposes while preserving their intrinsic architectural or historical features.
We should restore and preserve Queen’s Park House as a centre for the arts and also create a little open air theatre for use in the dry season.
We must also create new public spaces (neighbourhood and community mini-parks) and refurbish existing ones. We should adorn our public spaces with modern sculptures, murals and sites that serve as focal points of public education and information.
We could design a museum of maritime history on the Pierhead around a relocated Nelson’s Statue and the screw dock. Site a museum of sugar and slavery elsewhere on the waterfront. House a museum of religion in the Carnegie Library building in a new Montefiore/Synagogue park/square that would have a statue of Sarah Ann Gill.
Place a mini-museum of the 1937 National Rebellion in a completely rehabilitated Golden Square adorned with a statue of Clement Payne. And rename Heroes’ Square Parliament Square and erect a statue of Samuel Jackman Prescod to replace Nelson.
We should also ensure that all public spaces are magnets for people by improving pedestrian access (especially to Independence Square) and allowing a diversity of activities in them: more benches and concrete tables for playing dominoes/draughts/chess; performance space and playgrounds; regulated selling of food and drink, arts, crafts, books and so on, so that the spaces attract people.
And, of course, lots more trees and shrubs for shade. Indeed, we should systematically green Bridgetown.
Bridgetown has the character of a fortified commercial Caribbean town with a unique winding street layout. It’s also blessed with certain Caribbean architectural themes. These defining features of Bridgetown should be preserved and emphasized in all plans for redevelopment.
And let’s make sure we take into account the needs of the residents, businesses and especially the disabled community.
• Peter Laurie is a retired diplomat and commentator on social issues.