Loud music from the live band’s performance emanated from Stabroek Market Square, where a blend of young and old had gathered.
It was the launch of “City Week”, a weeklong initiative of the Mayor and City Council, to commemorate Georgetown’s 175th Anniversary since officially attaining city status on August 24th, 1842, during the reign of Queen Victoria.
Nearby, in contrast to this celebratory atmosphere, was the passing parade of the ‘night-people: :young street-walkers on the ‘hustle’; a mentally-ill man in rags clutching a worn-down ‘pointer broom’, a ‘junkie’, wearing only one slipper, bent over like a beast of burden as he hauled a laden cart; the petty thieves seeking easy prey.
Add to all this the rutted, littered roadway, the displaced Route 42 minibuses, jostling for space, and an onlooker may well wonder…is there really anything to celebrate?
The city of Georgetown, which many know now, is unlike the ‘Garden City’ which existed in the 18th century.
At the time of Guyana’s independence, Georgetown was only 6.5 square kilometers in size.
After its expansion on April 29, 1970, the city has blossomed to 40 square kilometers. The dramatic expansion throughout the years has resulted in the division of the town into three geographical regions namely: Georgetown, Greater Georgetown, and South Georgetown.
The landscape of Georgetown features a mixture of colonial and modern architecture. It is home to the Gothic-style St. Georges Anglican Cathedral, the neo-Gothic City Hall, the Victoria Law Courts, a conical thatched Umana Yana, as well as the prominent Stabroek Market, which supports a huge cast iron clock tower or the “Big Clock” according to the locals. The more modern edifices would include the Marriot Hotel.
But the city is now plagued by vagrants, unrelenting armed robberies and petty stick ups, the stench of urine, flooding, and traffic congested streets.
The Stabroek Market, which houses the ‘Big Clock’ has long lost its pristine appearance. The hands of that big clock are frozen permanently.
St. Georges Anglican Cathedral, in a state of disrepair, is now a nightly hang-out place for male sex-workers, and once beautiful City Hall, reminiscent of a miniature castle, now looks like the castle of a deserted or pillaged city.
Last year, the city’s maximum security facility, Georgetown Prison, located in the heart of town, was set ablaze by its overcrowded inmates.
Seventeen inmates were killed while several prison officers were badly injured.
Entrusted to manage the affairs of most of this is the Mayor and City Council.
However, allegations of corruption and incompetence continue to plague the offices of the Mayor and Town Clerk. Based on the dilapidated state of City Hall it is not hard to imagine why.
On May 13, 2016, the city entered a controversial contract with a private company to install parking meters, sparking a defiant stance by concerned citizens.
If anything is worth celebrating after 175 years then that might well be the fortitude and resilience of its people. Herein lies the true beauty of Georgetown. The people of Georgetown have experience atrocities and devastation caused by Mother Nature and human nature but never have they relinquished their spirit of strength and determination.
This spirit was best captured during the Great Flood of 2005, when torrential rains caused extensive flooding along the coastal region, particularly affecting Georgetown. The flooding was the largest disaster to have ever happened in over a decade.
The scarcity of resources did not dampen the spirit of togetherness and will to ensure that no one was left unattended. After 175 years, this is the Georgetown we must commemorate.
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