Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch (right) receiving a token of appreciation from Executive Secretary at the Urban Development Commission Marlene Walters.

Major concerns

A member of the judicial system has noted with some concern that shifts in Barbados’ human landscape over the years, have led to conflict and even violence in society.
This was the word of Chief Magistrate Christopher Birch, as he delivered the feature address on Tuesday evening at the Urban Development Commission’s (UDC) Annual Public Lecture, titled: “Challenges Facing Urban Barbados beyond the Physical”.

Magistrate Birch explained that urban developers between the 1950s and 1970s sought, as directed by successive governments, to place people in housing and “lodges”, “gardens”, “heights”, “terraces” and “closes” in an effort to provide a suitable standard of living.

He indicated that this move, however, has met with some resentment from some who remained in the “roads” “gaps” and “tenantries”, who may have felt, with some justification, left out by those Bajan George Jeffersons who “moved on up” and left them behind.

The Magistrate urged the audience to imagine the sense of disorientation expressed by returning nationals when they look around the Barbados they left between forty and sixty years ago.

He said, “It is not just the loss of trees they climbed or the houses that are no longer chattel, but concrete and steel – it is the schools and churches that have been removed to make way for businesses, the government buildings that are abandoned, in disrepair, or replaced by new ones.

“The terminal they went through to depart this island is now warehouses and storage spaces. It is the burning of stuff despite an efficient, if somewhat burdened sanitation system. It is the construction of houses on what were floodplains and riverbeds and plantations.

“Our footprints are all over those memories; just our modern architecture is now almost wholly dependent upon enclosed, air conditioned offices, as opposed to cool breezes through jalousie windows and louvres,” he said.

Chief Magistrate Birch made some “radical” suggestions that are in order to assist in creating a more aware and responsive human landscape for Barbados.

He noted that firstly, the Act governing the activities of the UDC is a fine piece of legislation, being relatively simple in language and direct in application, however, it may be argued that the Act stops in a critical function.

“In section 6, the Act sets out the functions of the Commission, ending in the anodyne “to do such other things are necessary to effectively carry out the purposes of this Act”. It is suggested that this section be amended to include an express mandate to conduct public education relating to urban development plans and activities.

“There is a need not only to create such public education relating to urban development plans and activities. There is a need, not only to create such a programme, but to use this to establish dialogue between the Commission, its stakeholders, and the citizens at large.

“Not only will this enhance knowledge, but this will enable planners to gain feedback on a constant basis in order to provide a sense of national ownership of the planning and development process,” he explained.

The Magistrate’s second suggestion is that consideration be given to the distribution not only of housing and infrastructure, but of spaces that are deliberately kept free of human intervention.

He said there are a few “windows to the sea”, but few “dark sky” spaces where people can appreciate the night skies over Barbados, which is geographically placed to view astronomical phenomena not available to countries elsewhere.

“Thirdly, it is felt that a more integrated approach is required in urban planning which involves other agencies. There appears to be much technical and commercial input into the plans, but the human element – culture, sports and tourism – had to compete for room within those plans.

“The National Sports Council, the National Cultural Foundation, and other public and private entities engaged in the human landscape should be invited to make significant contributions to the national effort to creating a more inviting and harmonious environment,” he said.

Birch also suggested that the Ministry of Education should involve teachers and students in disciplines that have a direct link to urban planning, particularly those involved in geography, and the natural sciences. He indicated that the Commission should endeavour to invite all teachers so involved to have their contribution, and that of their students, formally included as part of the curriculum.

“Why should there not be an NVQ, a CXC, a CAPE in development studies, as a potential springboard to graduate in related subject matter? At best, this would provide our youth with a better understanding and significant input into the development of the natural, economic and human landscapes of our country.

“At worst, this will operate as a provider of insights into the process of our on-going quest for a better, more comfortable life for our people, who can call in on the talk shows with more knowledge than more guesswork and fire-rage,” he said. (AH)

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