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Feeding the spirit of the place: PoS needs protection from more than wreckers

In an interview with i95.5’s Dale Enoch last week, Mr Gregory Aboud, the President of the Downtown Merchants Association (DOMA), was once again lamenting the state of his city besieged by wreckers.

He seemed convinced that business in downtown Port of Spain has fallen victim to a wrecker conspiracy driven by money rather than any commitment to law enforcement.

Photo: A car falls victim to the wrecker.
Photo: A car falls victim to the wrecker.

Parking challenges for motoring shoppers certainly seems intractable despite the State’s increased investment in parkades.

No sooner had public parking been increased with expanded facilities on Queen Street than the NIPDEC car park on lower Edward Street closed its doors to the public, taking us back to square one.

The State’s spectacular appetite for 8-4 parking seems to know no bounds. It has even reached across Wrightson Road and gobbled up most of the parking facility at the Waterfront Complex. But that’s speaking from a lay person’s experience.

A far more expert comment on factors influencing transport, traffic and parking in the capital will be left to the expert capabilities of transport engineers like Rae Furlonge, Trevor Townsend and Philbert Morris.

Without the intrusion of special interests and political agendas—conflated to a scary degree in recent years—this group might have solved the traffic problem by now.

Photo: Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) executive council. (Courtesy APETT.org)
Photo: Association of Professional Engineers of Trinidad and Tobago (APETT) executive council.
(Courtesy APETT.org)

But back to the DOMA president who has become a bell-ringer of woe for a dying capital.

Although he wears a merchant’s hat, Mr Gregory Aboud might consider looking for the solution to Port of Spain’s business problem beyond the problem of wreckers. But first, he will need to define the problem.

It is not just parking that is killing business but the malnourished soul of the capital that is threatening to put business on life-support.

We need a conversation about the capital that is driven not just by the immediacy of business interests, but by the interest of all T&T as represented in our capital city. While the problem of Port of Spain is not just the problem of those in occupation, finding the solution will inevitably fall to them unless the rest of the country can see its interest in solving it.

If the capital’s problem is defined in purely business terms, then people will define the solutions in business terms. They’ll go where parking is easier, streets are safer, prices are cheaper and the experience is superior.

Indeed, they’re already doing that.

Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud. (Courtesy YouTube)
Photo: DOMA president Gregory Aboud.
(Courtesy YouTube)

The challenge for Mr Aboud and DOMA, therefore, is to first recognise and then locate their interest in the national interest in Port of Spain. This involves a far more engaged approach that might leave Mr Aboud and his group wondering why this responsibility must to fall to them when it is properly that of the City Corporation and the government.

The simple answer is that the business community, too, needs to invert the power equation. They, too, must evolve beyond protest and complaint to assume responsibility for leading change from the ground up.

All of us, no matter how far from PoS we live, can find a piece of ourselves there—in the story of our arrival, in its political history, in Carnival and so on.

Sadly, our pieces lie in the rubble to which the capital has been reduced, swept up by time and the thoughtlessness of hands that, to borrow from Oscar Wilde, know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Photo: The now demolished Greyfriars Church building on Frederick Street, Port of Spain. (Copyright Flickr)
Photo: The now demolished Greyfriars Church building on Frederick Street, Port of Spain.
(Copyright Flickr)

How many of the businesses that have replaced the homes of people who once lived in Port of Spain and who have given the city its life and character, have any inkling of the premises they occupy?

Does the business in occupation of 122 Frederick Street know it was once home to the legend known as Peter Minshall? Which downtown business location has even a memory of itself?

There is not even a plaque to mark the historic spot from which Governor Sir George Fitzgerald Hill read the proclamations of both Emancipation and Abolition.

Woodford Square, so central in the story of T&T’s transition from colony to independent country, is mute on the subject of its own place in history.

The great Breakfast Shed, testimony to the heartiness of our cuisine and the towering strength of women like Agatha Vassie Rowley, who raised a future prime minister on a cook’s income, was levelled into oblivion for something called “Femmes du Chalet.”

Photo: The "original" Breakfast Shed. (Copyright Vashtie.com)
Photo: The “original” Breakfast Shed.
(Copyright Vashtie.com)

Clearly, it was beyond our planners and architects to upgrade the Breakfast Shed without destroying the power of the brand. And the list goes on.

For every square inch of real estate in Port of Spain, there is an even more valuable legacy estate. It is also culture and history, not just goods and services, that make cities great and give people reasons to visit, linger around and keep coming back while business turns over.

As he battles the alleged wrecker mafia, Mr Aboud should also challenge his membership to recover the value lost among the retail and wholesale merchandise. The story of his own father could feature in a business tour of PoS as one of the Syrians who had sought a future in this Caribbean land of opportunity.

Charlotte Street, where business people like Jimmy Aboud, Nagib Elias, JT Allum and Carlton Mack had their beginning is pivotal to the business history of the capital.

Photo: The bustling Charlotte Street in downtown Port of Spain. (Copyright Flickr)
Photo: The bustling Charlotte Street in downtown Port of Spain.
(Copyright Flickr)

In between the bolts of cloth and Chinese trinkets is a knowledge and culture economy waiting to be developed in downtown Port of Spain. And it might even bring a different kind of business.

One that is willing to walk more and needs to park less.

AboutSunity Maharaj

Sunity Maharaj
Sunity Maharaj is a journalist with 38 years of experience and the managing director of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies. She is a former Trinidad Express editor in chief and TV6 head of news.

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60 comments

  1. I always wondered why some land opposite city gate could not be used for multistorey parking and use inner city bus…ease congestion on streets and also inner city traffic, plus easier access out of POS.

  2. We first of all need to roll back the clock on the culture of the mob.

    Illegal vending on the streets, forced vending on lower Charlotte Street, vending on lands/ spaces earmarked for development are a major scourge on the city. Vagrants who defecate on the city streets and lay across the pavements, all these things do not exist in countries with the political will to keep their cities functioning professionally.

    I have travelled so I have seen and observed, however, because I no longer NEED to go into the city for anything, even though I could get it cheaper, I choose instead to head to a mall or I click on Amazon. But I do mourn for the days when going into the city was a pleasure, when I could walk the pavements where there were maybe two or three vendors per city block, when there was order, when the drag brothers had their spaces, when The Eastern market on Charlotte Street was thriving. When it was safe.

  3. To the author this article should be expanded and sent on tour to all the primary schools especially in Port-of-Spain you have touched me dearly, not but a week ago we sat in St James and this was the topic of discussion over a pot of Palau, curry goat and buss up shot and a bowl of low mien well done miss, well done you brought back memories.

  4. Debbie Espinal we certainly do…I for one learned about parking when I got a ticket at Clemson University. The rules said no parking between 2 am and 3 am in the commuters car park. Yes I said 2 am and 3 am…and I got out of a lab at 4 am to see my car with a $25 ticket. I think I retained the legal parking habits, but driving…….nah…turned back trini.

  5. No Trini parking their car anywhere and walking but we certainly know how to do it when we hit London and New York.

  6. I willing hate to drive so once reliable transport exist I using it.

  7. The majority of people who park on the streets of POS are not shoppers. They park early and head to work. Mr. Aboud the members of DOMA have a role in revitalizing the city. Charlotte St is always buzzing with activities. People walk and many of these shoppers use public transport

  8. Well said!! Why don’t we realize this. Our history is fascinating, will be attractive to visitors whilst instilling a greater sense of self in ourselves!! This means something….it means everything.

  9. DOMA…save the soul??
    wouldnt the soul saviour first be required to recognise the soul?
    DOMA wouldnt know what a soul was even if it was on sale by Jimmy Aboud (rest his soul)

    • Sure there are, Kyon. And several people have suggested some here. But solutions have to take account of the prevailing culture even if the intention is to alter that culture. Carpooling, for instance, is unlikely to work in T&T because there is a lot less rigidity in people’s schedules. I might decide AFTER WORK that I going and see my mudder. Or I going and check my gyul. Or I going and watch Intercol. Daiz a real nuisance if I carpooling. Decentralisation too is a good idea but consider the public response we have seen to the law school in Debe and tell me what chance decentralization in space has of working here.
      We might, however, try decentralization in time and see what that gives. Or simply allow more and more people where practical to work from home via the computer.

    • Moving the law school to debe by itself was never a good idea.

  10. ..BUILD Car parks . ….Improve on Lane markings in the streets , to include Parking Meters … .Our streets can be structured for 3 lanes . …1 lane MUST be for parking ALONE ….Any other ( Vehicles of ministry ) MUST Be removed or the DRIVER , fined ..

  11. I’d like to see them try far more cost effective solutions before jumping into Rapid Rail: privatise the PTSC, introduce more buses; introduce a congestion zone in central POS; have carpooling lanes; encouraging companies to have staggered working hours and working from home. We can change if we really want to. With not a lot of money left to spend, shouldn’t we be concentrating on more important things like health, education and crime?

  12. See Vernal Damion Cadogan?… We have something to aim for. 🙂

  13. I remember about 20 or so years ago when the ECS buses were introduced. A lot of us left our cars at home in Arima and took the buses to POS. Even though I was a young fella looking to impress d ladies with my new car, I used the service. When you arrived opposite the market, there were always 3-5 buses waiting to be filled. A nice short trip to POS airconditioned, no pushing, really nice. Lots of senior managers in various companies and government offices used that service. What a pity.

  14. I agree with your suggestion completely once we have a proper alternative to driving ourselves.

  15. you are right….I should have prefaced my comment by indicating that my suggestions follow the introduction of the rail system or other mass transit…not before.

  16. But that’s just the big stick though Kaluka Marshall. We need the carrot too. And that is improving our transport system so that people and children do not have to literally fight to get into maxi taxis at City Gate or wait for hours for transport.
    Without that, they will just have to grudgingly fork out the money.

  17. Also consider our preoccupation with status Lasana …… pedestrians and strap hangers in Trinidad occupy a lower rung on the totum poll than drivers do

  18. people do need encouragement to drive less…..so get rid of gas subsidies, increase cost of parking in critical areas like downtown. If you want to drive it will cost you! Ever try to park in Manhattan?

  19. I’ve always wondered about this when I travel. So many professional Londoners don’t even have driving permits. Because there is no need to.
    But I think if our transport system was more user-friendly and punctual, many Trinbagonians would use it more.
    Whatever the long term benefits that we may or may not get from the rapid rail project, I still feel it can’t be that difficult to get more buses on the road with more routes to serve the public.
    Surely that will help our environment as well as our traffic problem.

  20. Not just at the top either Vernal Damion Cadogan. I’ve noticed how Trinis all over paving over what used to be their front yards for extra parking space or sometimes just to avoid cutting the grass.
    Not a thought to what that will do to the environment and how it impacts on things like flooding, for instance.
    We need more education on such matters. So people know why history matters and why we should care about the environment…
    After that? Legislation!

  21. And it’s not just Port of Spain that is losing it’s soul and character eh, it’s the whole of Trinidad.

    Trinidadians are quick to demolish the physical structures of their past in favor of replacing them with contemporary buildings that have no history or relevance other than their immediate functions. We cut down century old trees with nary a thought, our hills are seen as nothing more than sources of building material, we view our fauna as sources of protein for curry and our open recreational spaces are littered beyond recognition.

    • Vernal, you hit the nail on the head. If we as Trinbagonians were to develop pride in our surroundings and not want to litter and destroy any and everything we might get somewhere. It always fascinates me to see the litter in our country. If you are leaving Port of Spain tomorrow and are using Beetham Highway look at the big drains and how they are clogged with plastic bottles. If you go on a hike notice how many plastic bottles you see discarded along the side of the road. As you go through our country notice that the garbage is everywhere all the time. We seem to like to live with garbage on every corner. Port of Spain like all of our towns and villages are dumps. Who wants to go and shop in a dump? But as Sparrow sang ” we like it so “. Because we don’t want to do anything about it but blame someone else and not realise that we can keep our surroundings clean if we just take responsibility for ” my space “. If everyone took care of their space the whole country would be on its way to be clean. Start with the person in the mirror. Many thanks.

  22. Lasana, if what both you and Vernal are saying is accurate, then the headline misrepresents the reality – and I think Sunity is also in agreement with you. The headline should either drop the two words “more than” or add “traffic” after them.

  23. Sunity, two comments: (1) Just yesterday I was at the National Trust’s old time calypso show on Nelson Island and heard the officials making more or less the same essential point about the country, not just the capital city. The problem is NOT Port-of-Spain’s, I submit, it is Trinidad and Tobago’s.
    (2) The new government is already committed, it seems, to a critical intervention. Won’t the new mass transit system Messrs Rowley and company are proposing encourage, if not require, us all to park less and walk more. But I think there’s a genuine question to be asked about whether we, owners of 800,000 motors cars in a 40 X 60 mile space, are WILLING to drive less and be driven more.

    • Lasana Liburd

      It is hard to tell since Trinbagonians don’t have a real option to not driving. More buses running punctually with more routes… Surely that can’t be that difficult to arrange.

    • Sunity Maharaj

      Earl, I completely agree that the problem is much larger than PoS. I merely focused on the capital to make the point to DOMA that its interest would be more profitably served if it served the city’s interest. Focusing in the wreckers is very short-sighted. if parking were allowed downtown, even on both sides of the road, city workers would immediately claim the spots and park all day long. Mr Aboud’s shoppers would still have nowhere to park.
      On the point of mass transit, it might help but will it be used mainly by people who don’t have cars or would it be attractive enough to encourage people to leave their cars home? There’re a lot of variables there: schedules, stops, routes, safety, It might just be one part of the equation. Ultimately, the issue is one of shaping the country. The place has evolved outside the framework of a national development plan. Even when plans exist, they have little impact on decision-making and activity.