Letters & Opinion

I’m Concerned About PM’s Priorities for Castries

BY Jimmy Fletcher
Image of the Government Printery

THE Prime Minister recently announced his intention to demolish the buildings housing the Government Printery, the Parliament Building and the building housing the Courts in order to establish a park in the city centre. He also indicated that he is expecting a report from UNOPS on the redevelopment of the city.

I have serious concerns about this announcement on many fronts.

First of all, is this part of an overarching plan for the redevelopment of Castries, a Castries urban renewal plan? If it is, where is this plan? Who developed it? Has it been reviewed and discussed by the citizens of Saint Lucia, and note I have deliberately not said the residents of Castries because the city belongs to all of us, not just those of us, like me, who were born and live there. The demolition of public buildings of historical significance in Castries cannot be at the whim and fancy of anyone, not even the Prime Minister of Saint Lucia.

Secondly, why has UNOPS been asked to do a development plan for Castries? This is not the forte of UNOPS. The United Nations Office for Project Services, UNOPS, is an arm of the United Nations with a mandate to serve “as a central resource for the UN system in procurement and contracts management as well as in civil works and physical infrastructure development, including the related capacity development activities.” UNOPS was the agency that my ministry and our government engaged, together with the Government of Mexico, to construct the new Dennery Valley water system. The redevelopment of the city of Castries is an entirely different undertaking. This has to be done in a manner that recognizes the need for economic and social interactions to operate and coexist efficiently and without friction in our city, while maintaining some level of aesthetic balance and respecting the historical and cultural traditions of the city. That is not the role or the expertise of UNOPS. The best people to do this are Saint Lucian architects, planners and engineers, who understand our culture, our traditions and the important roles that the various buildings and networks play in the life of the city of Castries. Castries certainly has to be redeveloped, but we have more than enough skilled and experienced homegrown talent to plan and do this.

Thirdly, what becomes of two of the arms of our government when the Court and the Parliament buildings are demolished? I would have thought that securing new premises for our Judicial and Legislative arms would be the first priority of the government with respect to any plans for the city of Castries. Both of these buildings are too small and in need of repair/replacement and I would support any plan that speaks to the establishment of modern and spacious premises for the Judiciary and the Legislature in suitable locations. However, this announcement by the Prime Minister appears to be focused primarily on developing a ‘central park’ in Castries for visitors, instead of improving the work flow of the city and the accommodation for the arms of government, and for me, this is a seriously misplaced priority.

Finally, why are we seeking to construct a new green space when we have done such a poor job of maintaining the existing green spaces in our city? Can we not do more with the Derek Walcott Square to improve it? When was the last time the flora and the landscape of this beautiful, historical and culturally significant facility was attended to? There is significant room for improvement in the Derek Walcott Square. Then there is the George V Park, which we fondly know as The Gardens. As a young boy I walked through and took photos in The Gardens on Sunday afternoons and I played basketball on its courts on afternoons and weekends. Why are we not rehabilitating George V Park before we establish a new park? The Gardens has immense historical, cultural and social significance to the city of Castries. Has the government decided that The Gardens is beyond rehabilitation or is in an area where we do not wish to encourage people, particularly tourists, to visit? Is it considered a bad or unsafe area in our city that we have now decided to virtually ring fence and leave to its own devices? I have been and always will be a strong advocate for the preservation and establishment of green spaces and the protection of our natural environment, but the decision here to establish a new ‘central park’ runs counter to what we have seen to be the philosophy of this government. Therefore, I am unable to take this announcement at face value.

The Prime Minister is fond of informing people who question his decisions that he was elected and given the authority to govern the country and he is, therefore, under no obligation to listen to or incorporate the recommendations or concerns that are brought to him by citizens of this country. I am sorry Prime Minister, but this is not how this works. As the Prime Minister of this country you are obligated to listen to and take into consideration the views and concerns of the citizens of this country. Where these views and concerns speak to issues that affect the lives and livelihoods of citizens and address changes that you are proposing that will fundamentally alter the social, political, economic, cultural or environmental landscape of our country, you are mandated to take them into consideration. This is not a game of cricket on the beach where you own the bats and the balls and you get to decide who can play and who cannot. The equipment, the tools, the assets, and the resources you are playing with belong to the citizens of our country and we have every right, constitutionally and morally, to voice our opinion about what you do with them, how you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and with whom you do it. You would do well to understand this, even if it is belatedly.

3 Comments

  1. My opinion on this is, there’s no reason why a brand new parliament building can’t be built on the site
    right on or near where it sits.Since The present one have to be demolished, and should be, we need a
    a place temporarily. I look forward to the Court House being moved to a spot near the old prison house.
    The Government Printery should not be demolished. The press and the works should be relocated to
    some industrial location.Build a modern central Library on the present site of the Court House. Use the
    present central Library as an IT school/public IT place for students etc. Get away from building one
    storey public buildings. the proposed Court building should be a five storey structure with elevators.
    No reason why three court cases can’t go on at the same time.Can’t we use the printery for minor
    cases, such as traffic cases etc. A new park will only serve as an extension to the Castries market.

  2. The Continuum and Politics of Historical Buildings
    By Alexis Felix, B.Arch., M.Arch. Reg. Arch, SLIA, Assoc.AIA

    An author once wrote “A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of Architecture” What he expressed is that a bicycle shed was not designed with a view to creating a piece of architecture. On the other hand if this bicycle shed belonged to royalty chances are by order it could have been designed to be a piece of architecture and listed in the annals of historical buildings, assuming that the design is unique.
    Notwithstanding, the notion that historically significant buildings are static, sacrosanct, untouchable, is not necessarily a view that I personally espouse. I do believe, however,
    from the standpoint of cultural, artistic, nationalistic and personal history/continuity of information, iconic buildings do relate a story of the time or era they were created and ought to be preserved for posterity. This has been the accepted standard even in this modern age. However, there are instances where historical buildings, where they may be a burden on the owner–public or private, for various reasons—economics, maintenance costs, safety, dysfunctionality, etc, these buildings can be altered, combined with newer structures or even demolished. With the advent of new digital and technological means of reproducing parts of older buildings for posterity (virtually as well as in reality), not to mention photographs, there are many methods of recording such images for posterity.

    New Technologies

    Today manufacturers can reproduce various skin/cladding compositions in the same material or visual appearance of the antique details for application to new structures when a hint of the old flavor is required. Even 3D-printing of entire modular façades is a reality today.

    In many instances old historic buildings which have become dysfunctional can be altered in a more functional manner, with discretion. We have cases in Castries where this can be done such as at SALCC where the longest antiquated building literally bifurcates the campus—not good for security and free flow of pedestrians. Even the fire codes sometimes are violated in these old buildings. It takes creativity of the architect (sometimes the structural engineer as well) to integrate and preserve old while ameliorating dysfunctional situations.

    There are many strategies that can be employed in integrating old buildings with new. In one proposal (inserted below), not sure if the new is built yet, at Antwerp Belgium, a Port Services building will be or has been placed above an old historic Fire Station, contrasting fully with the old while leaving it intact. There are two schools of thought in this situation—contrasting or blending old with new—depending on the client’s or owner’s brief.

    Contrast between old and new in Belgium (image not shown here) A new Port building placed above an old historic Fire Station in Antwerp.

    Castries Parliament and Court Buildings

    I personally like the curvilinear green balcony bannisters of the historic Parliament and Court buildings in Central Castries. (As a matter of fact I need to go photograph them today). If these buildings have to be demolished due to the reasons hinted above this feature could be echoed in a new building.

    Architectural history is not static; modifications can be made to historic buildings—this is the continuum of history—showing how a building has changed at specific points for specific historic reasons coalesce history and present-day reality, making history even more interesting for all.

    Majesty’s Prison/Royal Jail

    The Majesty’s Prison in Castries is another case. If this building is listed with the National Trust a more careful approach ought to be taken in the decision to demolish or alter. The powers of the judicial system can be honoured or challenged in court, however, if just reasons can be put forth. This is a case where the horors associated with this building may far outweigh any architectural significance!

    The Issue of Open Space vs. Buildings (Relates to the Castries Parliament & Court Buildings)

    Pedestrianizing a city center at a key focal axis, in our case a T- form if the William Peter Blvd. is included is not a bad idea but a total comprehensive masterplan needs to be formulated so as to show the city center total development concept vision. We need to look at all the issues– the waterfront, sea rise, climate change, parking, bus terminals, guest/touristic facilities, internet cafes, CDC buildings–some structurally unsound, shops, restaurants, pedestrian walkways, plazas, etc. Castries is a particularly humid city. Any form of greenery is welcome. In some cases new buildings can literally be elevated on columns(pilotis), reducing he footprint, that is, above open spaces to permit light, flow of breeze, protection from elements, visual contact, security, parking spaces, vendor stands, etc. Building heights can be increased as well. As city centre land is limited creative ways must be sought to marry open and built space. Since Castries is almost at sea level we don’t have the option to place commercial or institutional spaces below grade as is practiced in some cities, but with proper foundations building heights can be increased.

    In the case of parking in the centre city, permit me to get off the subject of historic buildings, parking meters are ok but the proposed cost mentioned seem to be higher than cost of parking in the carpark which is ironically safer and protects cars from the elements.

    In closing, I do hope that the powers-that-be realize that there are local professionals like myself that can make a positive impact on the development programme of the city.

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