THURSDAY, October 31 was observed the world over as World Cities Day by member-states of the United Nations (UN).
It was meant to be a day when cities came into focus everywhere. Not all did, but many did – and will again in 2020.
However, whatever their size, location or population, all city dwellers, planners and administrators everywhere are constantly challenged to meet or greet challenges and opportunities today, to look ahead, visioning and planning for tomorrow and the distant future – and with more than just 2020 in mind.
Castries faces all the problems confronting similar Caribbean coastal cities: rising sea levels, population expansion, congestion, reduced green spaces, urban housing problems, traffic and parking issues – and most of all, too many vehicles.
Castries and Gros Islet are home to over 40% of the population and 75% of the island’s administrative, business and health services – and the most traffic problems and related accidents.
Business places are quickly relocating to Rodney Bay. But the still-emerging northern enclave is already another very crowded area where all the services are available but central planning is visibly absent.
Every government presents new visionary plans for Castries that eventually grow old and cold by the next General Elections. Artistic impressions and computer-generated illustrations abound. All vary — and all reflect well-meaning intentions that have remained still-born.
Ditto other Caribbean cities, where central governments continue to have more other pressing and immediate financial and economic priorities than catering for city expansion or management of current problems choking them and daily converting them into urban nightmares.
In most cases, Caribbean municipalities have to help themselves by raising their own funds to complement central government subventions and payments, none having yet found how to raise the amounts really needed.
Parking meters, constabulary fines, property taxes and other municipal services used to bring enough revenue, but no more – leaving municipal councils unable to do much but watch as cities slowdown and choke on the fumes of urban expansion.
But whatever their major city’s problems, nations will — sooner than later — have to find urgent solutions to the worsening problems affecting cities. And they’ll need much more than just 2020 Vision.
Sea water floods the Conway area and the Castries Harbor-Waterfront walkway from the Castries Market to the Sans Souci Bridge area every time the tide rises, especially with bad weather.
Ice caps are melting faster, leading to rising sea levels forcing the likes of Indonesia to relocate its capital and forced abandonment of sinking Pacific islands.
City planners everywhere do look way ahead beyond elections, but their projections and projects largely end-up being revised and upgraded, or simply downgraded to nothingness by political directorates.
Goggled by five-year vision, traditional politicians will not see why to prioritize cities over constituencies. But rates of acceleration of urban crises will eventually grab the attention of those in charge of national purse strings.
At today’s rates of growth and expansion, city planners must look and plan not only for tomorrow, but for decades ahead.
By 2050 there will be 9.8 billion people populating the planet, nearly 70% (6.7 billion) of whom will be living in urban centers.
The city of the future, the very visionary planners say, will require: Ecology to guide development; Water Resources protected with systems designed to capture, treat and reuse; Renewable Energy to help make it more livable despite population growth; Waste as a resource; All Food grown locally and sustainably; Efficient High-Speed Transportation that improves mobility; Culture And Heritage that’s publicly supported; Infrastructure that’s Carbon Neutral; and an Economy that’s largely automated and online.
People and Nature will come first, but at a price – including our excessive love for cars.
Highways will give way to flyways and pedestrians will need special zones.
Buildings will get taller and rooftops will feature gardens and solar power panels.
Urban farming will be an old norm.
Drones will deliver more than just people and things.
People will crowd mountains.
And there’ll be less real food on tables…
And more rats!
Caribbean islands and shoreline cities must start taking note of global trends and follow the example of Dominica, for example, to take more and even better action together to mitigate Climate Change and start doing today what will be too costly tomorrow — and too late.
Cities across the Caribbean and the world today will have no tomorrow until planners and executors agree to and do learn from history, from experiences and trends of yesterday and yesteryear that prove, again and again, that just as growth and expansion come natural with time, so is the need for constant planning ahead of time.
World Cities Day 2019 has passed, but there’s no need to wait until 2020.
Vision is permanent and visioning must be just as constant if cities are to stand the tests of these new times, way beyond 2020.