Bukka Rennie

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Laventille: the way up

March 02, 2005
By Bukka Rennie

Finally someone possessed the vision to see it clearly and the guts to say it boldly. One Lloyd Cartar of Port-of–Spain, in a letter titled "Laventille Hill—a gold mine," had the following, inter alia, to say:

"Laventille Hill, that picturesque spine running from Belmont to the edges of Sea Lots, is today the most valuable tract of real estate in T&T, and its residents stand to make tens of millions of dollars if they manage their properties with wisdom and acumen.

"The reasons for their new bonanza status are simple: Port-of-Spain has nowhere else to go or grow; and the Hill is extremely convenient in terms of access and availability, being already inhabited from bases to ridge.

"Another major plus is the abundance of blue stone, or granite, in its make-up. This would make for sound foundation...

"But without a single doubt, the people on the Hill are potential millionaires who merely need to organise their business to tap into the mother lode at their feet...

"Go for it, Laventille! You have everything to gain and nothing to lose".

Now, I do not know this Lloyd Cartar. I can recall though a similar name that was associated with the Guardian Special Correspondent of the past, someone with whom I could never agree in ideological terms.

I cannot say whether the two Lloyds are one and the same. However those words that I have quoted above are words with which I concur 100 per cent.

I had developed the view that Laventille is the best kept secret in T&T ever since some 30 plus years ago I happened to walk into the office of a certain town planner at IDC (Industrial Development Corporation) and saw on this huge table a miniature replica of the Urban Renewal Development Project that was geared to expand the city of Port-of-Spain, eastward, all the way back to Lady Young Road.

The driving logic behind the project, as explained to me then and with which I could find no flaw, was that the development of the Hill over the years had been so unplanned and haphazard that at this point it had become physically impossible to implement or introduce any forms of modern infrastructure without first having to take everything down and starting over from scratch to properly lay out the place.

Given my perspective I remember warning against undue haste, urging the planner to take the people of Laventille into his confidence, to have them involved in the entire process from conceptualisation to implementation, and that the only urgency was confidence building, earning their trust, rather than speed.

The very first phase of that project was the expansion of the Old St Joseph Road, the erecting of the Riverside Plaza and the craft shops and small factories at the eastern side of the plaza.

The people displaced in this phase were placed into some long wooden barrack-type "decanting centres" higher up John-John to await the erecting of modern, high-rise apartment buildings.

Those decanting centres virtually became permanent run-down, infested residential ghettoes. Nothing happened beyond the first phase. Economic downturn, stagnation and IMF-promoted structural adjustments of the '80s took a serious toll on Laventille.

The pace of upward mobility and social turn-around that came to be associated with Laventille of the '60s and early '70s slowed significantly and Laventille found itself bursting at the seams just as the underground drug economy began to take firm root.

Yes, its development was unplanned and haphazard but one must understand the genesis of Laventille and John-John.

The slaves, who had rejected the proposal of a six-year apprenticeship period on the sugar plantations after emancipation, came into Port-of-Spain shouting "Pas de six ans! Pas de six ans!" and did not go back to the estates but chose to settle on the Hill because of its proximity to the city and its greater employment possibilities.

Modern T&T inherited that and continued to go ahead with the parameters of such an unplanned settlement. Should Laventille continue to allow itself to suffer the ignominy of painted water tanks for tourist attraction and soup kitchens?

Rather than deal with the need to consult Laventille people, the private developers and the State have chosen to go west, to them the line of least resistance. One wonders how they hope to house the FTAA and the ACS and not deal with Laventille?

When Munroe put up the Calypso Mecca Tent down on the western foreshore, there was a hue and cry from the middle-class environmentalists who protested on the grounds of the fragility of the eco-system down there. Now their kith and kin have established a five-star hotel, Movie-Towne and shopping centres down there, not a squeak is to be heard from the environmentalists.

But the western peninsula is saturated. Jump high, jump low they have to face the Laventille reality. The people on the Hill must seize the initiative to have the Hill mapped and a development consortium formed to negotiate partnerships with the State and private developers.

They must organise themselves to have a say and be the socio-economic consultants to the expansion of Port-of-Spain project.

A significant portion of the 88,000 hectares of Caroni's lands are about to be given to inhabitants of Caroni for their future development, so they will be in the forefront of the re-configuration of Caroni.

So what about you the people of Laventille? The time to act is now! Stop the crying and moaning and be the subjects of your own destiny. The moment hope for a new day is apparent, the wanton killings will cease.

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