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The right to peace and quiet

The NIMBY syndrome (Not In My Backyard) in North America, that took the form of neighbourhood resistance to developments which residents found undesirable, appears to be taking root in Trinidad and Tobago—and the main target is the Carnival fetes.

Earlier this month, residents from Lange Park in Central Trinidad successfully objected to the planned Chutney Soca Monarch semi-final at the Rise Restaurant car park, which is located along the main road used by residents on the northern side of that middle-class area. In another NIMBY episode, Diamond Vale residents have objected before a Port of Spain magistrate to licences being granted to promoters of two Carnival Sunday "breakfast parties".

The legal protests by these citizens may appear, on the face of it, to be a minority viewpoint. Carnival and its related activities enjoy reflexive immunity from normal standards of proper behaviour—indeed, this is the base ethos of the festival. In that spirit, citizens usually tolerate the excess of loud music in the lead-up to the two-day bacchanal, and, of course, calypsonians have generally enjoyed a leeway for slanderous commentary not afforded even to journalists. Yet, as a matter of simple numbers, the people who participate directly in Carnival—from fete-goers to mas players—are only a small percentage of the population.

This is not to say that Carnival does not, in a real sense, embody national culture. Apart from their entertainment value, Carnival shows and fetes also represent economic stimulus, creating jobs and income. But none of this can legitimately override people's entitlement to reasonable peace and quiet in their neighbourhoods. And the fact that this is now a growing problem, which has led to legal pushback from the people affected, represents just another facet of the chaos which is also part of the perennial Carnival bacchanal.

Clearly, some formula has to be found, ensuring consultation and, if necessary, compensation to people who find themselves disturbed and discommoded by overloud amplification, underprovided parking and unruly crowds of strangers. To resolve the built-in conflict between revellers and residents, it may be that the courts in the first instance should provide a forum for mediation from which widely applicable terms and conditions can be issued to ensure that, if the show must go on, then uninvolved people will not suffer undue collateral damage.

Beyond all this, however, is the need for the national festival to have formal institutions and facilities. It is beyond absurdity that the State invests millions of dollars in the Carnival every year, yet no administration has seen fit to make the much-touted Carnival Centre a priority, let alone create venues for fete promoters. But that, too, is a reflection of the Carnival mentality.

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