Seven years ago this island’s capital city had the distinct honour of being included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is one of only a few in this part of the world, but over the last seven years how much can we truly say has been done to capitalise on the value – monetary and otherwise – that such a designation can bring to our country?
We acknowledge that some effort that has been made to erect signs at strategic points throughout the geographical area that constitutes Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison, which are obviously aimed at providing information for locals and visitors alike about the significance of the area. But are those signs enough and are they eye catching? Perhaps the time is ripe to invest more in this designation, so that we are not just saying to people that ‘Oh by the way we have a UNESCO World Heritage Site’, but that its importance is ingrained in each and every Barbadian so that we are promoting that fact and relating to all visitors to our shores, what gives us the right to be counted among the only 1092 such sites in this world.
Certainly then we cannot allow the capital city to look rundown, and every effort must be made by both the private and public sectors to exploit the commercial value in that designation. There is absolutely no excuse why after seven years, we are not seeing more tours being done of the area, and this UNESCO designation being used to help push Barbados as a premier destination to visit.
While we commend the work undertaken to beautify Church Street, Constitution River and the Nidhe Israel Synagogue, there is still more to be done. One area we feel that needs urgent attention in the City is housing. It is our belief that as steps are taken to beautify various public areas across the capital city, greater attention must be paid to the housing situation. The suggestion is not that we embark on the design and construction of housing initiatives that will be priced out of the reach of those who currently live there, but that steps are taken to introduce various types of housing in and around the city that make it a more desirable place to live, work and socialise.
If we are to be honest with ourselves, we would recognise that Bridgetown is a far cry from urban areas in the developed world. We must face the reality that the cramped living conditions which many people in the City now endure must be addressed, and in doing so we will hopefully deal with the challenge of intergenerational poverty that is seen in some of these neighbourhoods.
But, in addressing that, we cannot ignore that Bridgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, while the construction of residential high rise buildings is an option for Barbadians because of limited space, we cannot go overboard with such in Bridgetown as we risk losing the charm that our City possesses. We would like to see many of the old buildings in and around the City refurbished to provide housing. There are many old buildings that hold much history along the Bay Street corridor for example, and in the arteries that flow from it, that can be refurbished to serve as housing for persons or even as boutique hotels, while keeping the notable architectural design of the City in mind.
On that note, it would be nice going forward if we could see greater night life in the City as well, where restaurants and entertainment bring the place alive, after the regular commercial activity comes to a close. It can and must be done if Barbados is to continue to be a formidable player in the tourism market.