Can Modernization and the Built Heritage Co-Exist in Urban St. George?
There is a section of the editorial of the Caribupdate weekly issue of May 21-27, 2015 regarding the proposed Development Plan which caught the attention of the Sentinel, which read:
“This proposed National Development Plan would, of necessity, have to consider how we treat with our overcrowded capital city, …… But on this issue – the future of St. George’s – positions are entrenched. Some it would appear, want to save every old building in the city; while others who visit the Metropolis or live there, seem happy to enjoy modernity of the Developed World, but argue unceasingly for keeping Grenada as a museum piece for the sake of nostalgia”.
The Willie Redhead Foundation, whose motto is, “For the Preservation and Renewal of the National Heritage of Grenada”, is a bit perplexed at the conclusions drawn in the editorial statement above, as it tends not to provide clarity to the challenges of historic and heritage St. George, but exposes a mindset which is not grounded in the realities of the dynamics of third world developing nations.
Grenada is a very small “developing” country – 21 miles long and 12 miles wide, with a land mass of 133 sq. miles and population of about 110,000 persons. The capital is St. George’s which is the commercial, educational, cultural and administrative centre of the island and is also the most densely populated. It was designed by the French about 1705 and developed by the British and has served succeeding generations of Grenadians pretty well up to independence in 1974. Our problem of governance began as the new rulers took control-post independence.
St. George’s has the distinction and is recognized regionally as the prettiest town in the Caribbean. It has been identified as far back as 1930 as a charming Georgian Town in the Caribbean by the Georgian Society of England, and again in 1988, has been described by CARIMOS, the Cultural Arm of the Organization of America States (OAS) “as a monument of the wider Caribbean”. As recently as 2004 after Hurricane Ivan, the Caribbean Development Bank strongly recommended in its Hurricane Assessment Report, that in order to kick-start the economy the Govt. of Grenada should embank without delay in the restoration of its heritage buildings, in St. George’s, as the quickest way to revive the Tourism Industry, and provided the Govt. with cost estimates for the most important structures. This advice was of course not heeded (Have a look at York House, Fort George and the Market Square).
The question is: how is it that all of these external agencies, except the powers that be, can recognize the aesthetic, economic, historical and cultural value of Urban St. George which some Grenadians describe as wanting “ to save every old building in the city,” and would like to “keep Grenada as a museum piece”.
The problem is, that the powers that be, in the absence of Local Government, appears not to have the WILL or interest in the requirements and demands of an enlightened URBAN DEVELOPMENT strategy when considering the competing demands for the limited available space in Urban St. George in the 21st Century. This strategy in my view, would unlock the latent economic potential of historic St. George.
What is required first and foremost is to have a cadre of inter-disciplinary professionals, stakeholders and politicians to study the problem(s), which is pretty well known; and devise a programme and plan of action to be included in the “NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN” in order to achieve the desired objective. Not the adhoc, hit and miss approach as is regrettably practiced by succeeding governments. Saving every old building in Urban St. George is not the challenge, what is required is how to marry and harmonise the old and the new, in an effort to maintain our historic and cultural identity, as every self-respecting civilization has done, while at the same time establishing through UPGRADED Regulatory Authorities the mechanism whereby modernization and the built Heritage can indeed co-exist in our “crowded” capital city.
Norris Mitchell for the Willie Redhead Foundation May 26, 2015.