Letters & Opinion

A City’s Death By Neglect

By Anthony Serieux

The city of Castries, once the pride of “Fair Helen” for its history, its beauty, its environment and other attributes, is dying and needs restoration as a matter of urgency.

Growing up as a boy although not born in Castries, I often heard that Castries had earned recognition as the cleanest capital in the Caribbean. It was an accolade that would have made every St Lucian proud and that’s exactly how I felt. But returning home after several years overseas, the Castries that I see before me today makes me want to puke, and this is no exaggeration.

I remember the days when Castries was an outstanding municipality with a vibrant City Council that looked after electricity, water, parks, the cemetery, sanitation, among other things. Things have changed, the Council of today no longer oversees many of these services, so of what relevance is it when it cannot even keep the city clean, maintain a wholesome environment and eliminate the various nuisances that are rampant, day in and day out.

It is Castries that cruise ship passengers first come into contact with when they berth at Pointe Seraphine. From there they will be enticed into touring the capital, but what would they find but drains that reek of all kinds of unhealthy odours;  gutters clogged with plastics: bags, glasses, plates etc. dumped into them by everyone: wayside vendors,  children, adults, commuters, minibus operators etc. Then there is the loud stench of urine and sewers, the presence of stray animals etc. etc., vagrants sleeping outside business houses.

Roadside vending is as common phenomenon everywhere these days but in St Lucia it is the most unruly, unplanned and downright chaotic.

Castries is equally hard on its own citizens. It is still possible to drive your vehicle through the streets of this capital with blaring music and not be challenged by an officer of the law. Not even churches are spared this menace on Sunday mornings. In fact, it is now standard fare to anyone wishing to entertain a community to simply set up giant speakers by the roadside and blast away. Idle young men are present at many street corners. Castries has become dysfunctional, lawless and a total disgrace. It has been overtaken by gangs and crime and all kinds of vices, like alcohol consumption that is attracting young men and women and even school-goers. Public drinking has become the latest spectacle with sessions taking place in broad daylight seeming without any restrictions.

The once famed CDC buildings erected after the 1948 fire are now dilapidated, and on Jeremie Street provide facilities for more idle men engaged in all kinds of illegal and unsavoury activities. Is this what we are encouraging tourists to come to St Lucia to see?  So many once beautiful residential areas in Castries have been taken over by loafers. I am shocked by what I see at Riverside Road, Marchand and other places. It appears that the city centre is now surrounded by ghettoes with young men sitting at roadsides doing nothing.

Part of the problem facing Castries is what happens when we begin to ignore basics and choose to look away when wrongdoing is being committed right before our very eyes. It is the price that must be paid for lethargy, for willful neglect and lack of accountability and resolve.  Like the loafers on the William Peter Boulevard extorting money from motorists for parking spaces. If we see wrongdoing being committed and do nothing about it when we can, then we become complicit in the consequences.

But let no one doubt the enormity of the task at hand. It involves a lot of physical work, but equally a lot of persuasive work among people who for too long have been allowed to run riot in the city: criminals, vendors and small business people, minibus operators, vehicles blaring music, open air urinals, nuisance cyclists, beggars, male and female insufficiently-clad vagrants, etc. The city of Castries has accommodated them all and what a time they have had.

I am told that sometime ago there was a plan involving the city council and the Chamber of Commerce to work towards revitalizing Castries. I would bet that there was resistance from those who see nothing wrong with defacing and destroying the city’s environment and those who believe that their right to earn a living should not be compromised under any circumstances.

The Castries that I knew as a boy has died and no amount of patchwork will bring it back to life. This makes me very sad indeed. We need a thorough restoration and regeneration of the capital so that it can regain its character and pride of place as the historic capital of “Fair Helen”.

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