We are pleased to introduce a new feature by columnist Ronald Jimmy Dion called Time Machine. In this column Ronnie looks back to stories from our past and revisits them. The changes we have seen are heartening to say the least. The great strides we have made in short periods of time fill us with hope for the future. We invite you to share in this hope as we look at where we were and where we are.
It is four am in Port of Spain on this Sunday morning. This day marks the begining of a week long festival to celebrate our city. I am standing on Knox Street with the Mayor of Port of Spain, Murchison Brown, as we await the arrival of one of the city’s two dredgers. Although it has only been three years since we saw the first of these machines, many citizens do not remember the city as it was in 2004 prior to their introduction. Let me remind you of what the city was like.
In Port of Spain pre 2005, even the slightest rainfall would have caused the city streets to be flooded with muddy water, drowned vermin and garbage. Commuters and pedestrians alike were affected horribly by this seasonal occurrence and most had gotten used to such a state of affairs. The rainy season was then, synonymous with flooding in our fair city.
Today, Port of Spain is the jewel of the Caribbean. It is a city admired by all for its clean streets, and free flowing passages uncluttered by vendors. Beautiful trees and numerous garbage bins bejewel the pavements. The air is clean as the once high level of emissions from vehicles have been curtailed.
Mayor Murchison Brown stepped up to the plate in 2004 and led the city into true city status. The Mayor’s effect has been so drastic that many no longer consider June 26th, 1914 as the date when Port of Spain became a city. It was in 2004 that the Mayor decided that something had to be done about the terrible state of the city under his administration. I was able to get from the Mayor, a brief history of the changes that made Port of Spain the city we know today.
The genesis of the change can be traced back to October 2004 when a single dredger purchased from TRACMAC cleaned the city’s drainage system. From there everything fell into place. The Mayor is quick to point out that the reason for the change in Port of Spain in such a relatively short period of three years had more to do with the public than with the Corporation. The solution was twofold he states. His first objective was to provide a clean environment with proper structures in place. Structures such as garbage bins, regularized garbage removal, litter wardens, efficient use of traffic lights, a rebuilt People’s Mall to house more vendors – these are little things that brought about major changes, the Mayor says.
The other objective was to get the public to change their mindset. The public was provided an environment where littering was not an easy or acceptable thing to do. Easy access to garbage bins was one thing but this alone did not make the change. It took the presence of litter wardens and the actual enforcement of the laws. In 2005 a promotion blitz was done by the Port of Spain Corporation to educate the public on the effects of littering. Business owners were also educated. The city listened to the pleas from the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association (DOMA) and together the city and DOMA came up with a solution to efficiently dispose of the massive amounts of garbage generated each day.
A clean environment, the Mayor insists, is integral if one is to have a safe environment. The effects of this clean city can be seen in our reduced level of crime, and a reported increase in productivity by persons working in the city. The changes were dramatic and furious. It is a beautiful thing to look at today, the Mayor says with a tear in his eye.
Port of Spain today is a clean, flood free and efficient city not because of the 1.665 billion dollar waterfront project or a cityscape with towering buildings. It is so because of concerned citizens and a forward thinking city corporation. Together this combination was able to take Port of Spain from the filthy state it was in 2004 to the envied state of today.
For further information on this history read this article in the October 19th 2004 edition of the Guardian newspaper.