In 1994 when the Willie Redhead Foundation (tWRF) was established, it had as its mantra: ‘For the development and renewal of Urban St George’. Over the years as the foundation began to evolve, the mantra was changed to: ‘For the Preservation & Renewal of the National Heritage of Grenada.’
Despite tWRF’s extended vision the main focus remained the conservation and enhancement of our Capital City. This is so because the foundation is convinced — despite unfavourable challenges — of the enormous economic and cultural potential that the City on a Hill posesses, just waiting to be explored.
This potential, sad to say-has never been recognised or appreciated by our post-colonial politicians and decision makers, but has been constantly referred to by our visitors and overseas organisations in their glowing remarks, when as early as 1930, the Georgian Society of the United Kingdom described it ‘as a charming Georgian town in the West Indies,’ and in 1988 at the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Colombus, CARIMOS — the cultural arm of the Organisation of American States (OAS) — undertook a survey of the physical condition of the Capital Cities in Latin America and the Caribbean and described St George’s ‘as a monument of the wider Caribbean.’
Even the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in its reconstruction report to the Government of Grenada in 2004 after Hurricane Ivan, recommended as a matter of urgency the early restoration of St George’s heritage buildings — with York House at the top of the list — which at the time was an insignificant amount compared with what it would cost in 2017.
But about 2 decades ago, the neglect and creeping obsolescence of the capital cities of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) — St George’s being a prime example — began to manifest itself in their disorganissed urban sprawl, higgledy-piggledy sidewalk vending, congested and unregulated traffic, a disregard by the Planning Authority to require as a condition of approval for existing and new building construction within the town, features that would harmonise with the historic architectural landscape. Broken concrete sidewalks, vagrancy and litter combined, to cause the then governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), the late venerable Sir Dwight Venner, to make a call to the Eastern Caribbean governments to take action to correct and reverse the urban decay in the sub-region.
Needless to say, this admonition was never heeded and the parlous situation in St George’s today, has become the standard acceptable norm, with no sign of improvement in sight, when considering the quality of our current political operatives and their offerings; this, despite the fact that in November 2000 the OECS ministers of the environment adopted the St George’s Declaration of Principles for Environmental Sustainability in the OECS, which in the main, have been quietly ignored.
The Sentinel, being a part of the above milieu, was pleasantly surprised to have read in a recent issue of the New Today newspaper (14 July 2017), an article captioned ‘Re-Imagining Caribbean Cities’ by David Jessop.
Jessop’s article was reporting on a forum of Global Cities recently held in Chicago USA, where presenters postulated “the positive effects of well-planned urbanisation, and that cities create significant intellectual, and other benefits of value, in a world moving towards the provision of services through better educated, globally connected populations.”
In the Anglophone Caribbean, he singled out two capital cities: Kingston Jamaica and Georgetown Guyana for quite different reasons which “may in the coming decade emerge as cities that will drive national developments.”
In the case of Jamaica he reported that “The UWI is to hold at its Mona Campus from 9-12 November 2017 in collaboration with the Institute of Jamaica an international conference ‘Imagine Kingston’, which will focus on the regeneration of the city, and “aims at encouraging interested parties to a future Kingston that seeks to re-imagine the city as an example of urban pride and civic feelings about Kingston’s future through its architecture, parks, gardens, food, music, governance and a sense of community.”
In the case of Georgetown Guyana Jessop recommended a similar Imagine Georgetown, if its authenticity as a city is to be retained, and suggests that with the exploration of oil and gas within Guyana’s territorial waters by Exxon Mobil, by 2020 Georgetown could become an oil rich state “with full employment, urban drift and rapid economic development,” which would demand an upgraded capital city.
Jessop observed that the region has grown tired of hearing about itself and its future in the same old ways, and indicate “that some governments, the private sector, and others are coming to recognise that with the right stimulus, mix of external factors and thoughtful urban planning, it is possible to create new opportunities, and imagine a very different Caribbean in which cities stimulate development and new thinking.”
Would Urban St George benefit from this new and radical 21st century thinking and approach to urbanisation, which the Willie Redhead Foundation has constantly espoused? Only time would tell, but time is not in our favour.
At this juncture however, tWRF would like to share the good news, in that a kind sponsor has agreed to fund a coloured brochure of the Historic Quarter of Urban St George. The purpose of the brochure is to highlight the lingering charm of our Capital City in order to ignite our lost pride and to assist in invigorating the tourism industry. The cover design would be captioned: ‘The Pride of our Waterfront Heritage, the Renaissance of Urban St George,’ which could very well be the embryonic beginning of IMAGINE St George’s.