Thursday, February 22, 2018

Towards a Laventille Renaissance

Theodore Lewis logo27

Mark Fraser

 Part 2

Beyond truth and reconciliation, the second stage of the renaissance is the articulation of an economic development/urban renewal plan for Laventille that will be an engine for growth and vibrancy. The banks and cooperatives must be willing to be partners in the revival, which should include projects such as housing restoration and renovation, rationalisation of sewer, rationalisation of water supply, and the widening and repair of existing tracks and short-cuts. The aim of this aspect of the renaissance is to help people improve their living conditions. 

Many shacks will need to be broken down and replaced with proper buildings. This activity alone will be massive. Its aim will be to remove all shanties, along with all outhouses, and to replace these with habitable spaces. New or renovated houses do not have to be ostentatious. New, relatively inexpensive designs could be encouraged. People could help each other build to save cost. This activity alone will be a massive economic driver. It will create thousands of construction jobs. It will also provide a psychic lift, since people would have more aesthetically pleasing surroundings. 

Along with housing rehabilitation must be a programme of school building, from pre-school to post-secondary school. This would include kindergartens, primary, secondary and technical school building in the community, in spaces that community members can agree upon. Beyond schooling there must be the construction of social amenities for the community, such as health clinics, post-office, Police Station and army outpost. 

Once these basics are addressed industry must follow, and indeed could be simultaneous. I see the opening here for the creation of a cultural industry space that could provide employment for people in the area, and support for the gigantic creative energy of Laventille and its environs. This will require consultation among the people who have had their roots in Laventille. The people will have to be assured that this is not a ruse to bring in moneyed people from the outside of the community to benefit from the peace. But I see local industry inclusive of bakeries, shops, hardwares etc thriving on Desperlie Crescent. I see bookstores and food places there. All owned by people in the area.

I see behind the bridge as one of the important growth centres of 21st Century Trinidad and Tobago. I see Desperadoes sitting at the top of the hill, in the middle of a thriving industry owned and operated by local people, people from the area, perhaps on a cooperative basis. At the bottom of the Hill I see All Stars and Renegades, as thriving year-round bands. I see people walking and shopping along Piccadilly Greens at night without fear, eating their doubles and roti, and fried bake and shark. I see maxis doing a thriving business taking people to the top of the hill where they can be entertained by steelband music, have pelau, and other local food, as they hang out with the spectacular view of the city below them. Laventille can be a massive tourist economy, and a centre of entertainment that can rival Woodbrook and St James. The view from Despers panyard rivals any panoramic view in the country.

The cultural aspect of the model I have in mind for Laventille draws upon two iconic American places, Branson, Missouri, and New Orleans, Louisiana.. Both of these places are tourist meccas driven by culture. Branson is a place where iconic entertainers such as Dolly Parton and Andy Williams have built theatres where they give regular concerts that draw tourists. New Orleans is famous for presenting many authentic establishments where one can listen to jazz, while partaking of local creole cuisine.

The Laventille renaissance would finally see the establishment of a home for steelband. Not as a dilapidated relic sitting ignominiously on a highway, but somewhere in the heart of east Dry River, perhaps on Piccadilly green. I see a recording industry dedicated to steelband music. I see a manufacturing industry based on the making of steelpans. It is a renaissance whose geography would span the top of the hill running to the valley below to include the plannings on Nelson and Duncan streets to take in the pan yards of All Stars and Renegades. It will include the rehabilitation of the planning houses. 

Yes, I agree with David Rudder that out of a muddy pond, 10,000 flowers can bloom in Laventille and East Dry River, if we have the will. Let the discussion begin.

Part 1 appeared in Saturday’s Express