Kaieteur News – Georgetown is heading the way of London. Many of the streets and wards of London were not made for commercial activity and as a result of business expansion, London quickly became one of the more congested cities in the world.
Traffic congestion has its price. And you do not need to go to London to know this. Yet, Guyanese who should have learnt from the experience of cities such as London have failed to recognise the importance of urban planning.
A few weeks ago, the President of Guyana was reported as telling a regional conference that how we respond to urbanisation will determine the quality of life of our citizens. Well, if urban planning is a litmus test of our citizens’ quality of life, then we are in for extremely difficult times ahead because what passes for urban planning in Guyana is absolute craziness.
Georgetown, the only city in Guyana and which by international standards is really a small town, has become one of the more poorly planned cities in the country. It was not always this way.
Even though the city was originally developed in a haphazard way, it evolved into a grid like structure with decent drainage, well laid-out avenues in some wards and with green spaces for recreation and sports. There was a clear demarcation between residential and commercial areas even though there used to be some houses behind most of the buildings in commercial districts and residential areas did allow for a limited number of small corner and grocery shops.
But it was nothing compared to the mass-scale commercialisation of the city which has since taken place. It seems as if hardly a day goes by that the rich businesspersons in the country are not gobbling up some residential property and converting it into a commercial property.
Five years ago, one of Guyana’s most prominent lawyer indicated that the city’s By-Laws prohibited the erection of any building for manufacturing, trade or business in the ward of Queenstown. Yet, the lawyer pointed out that more than 55 businesses were operating in that area.
Since then, the number would have increased. Residential properties are disappearing in old Georgetown faster than the coronavirus. And it is congesting many of the small wards whose streets were not designed to accommodate so many businesses.
Try driving through Albertown’s narrow streets and you will recognise how chaotic the city has become. The growth of businesses is being compounded by the increase in motor vehicles and in some areas such as Durban Street, Lodge, residents are now parking their vehicles partially on the pavements.
Georgetown was not designed for the present level of commercial activity and, like London, it was not designed for the number of vehicles that traverse its streets daily. To make matters even worse is that squatting has now become entrenched on most government reserves and public canals and near these reserves are being used as public latrines. And many of the squatters enjoy light and electricity, some even having meters.
The number of residents in old Georgetown has reduced. But this is because of the fact that it has become commercialised. And some persons have opted to move out of the stink, nasty and disordered city.
Some sort of order needs to be brought to the city. It is a nightmare to try to do business in the city. Parking during peak hours is a hassle. And getting in and out of the traffic is worse than in the crowded city of London.
But nothing is going to change because the powers-that-be want it that way. The business class is buying out residential properties and adding extreme value to them by simply converting them to commercial property. A $20M house when put to commercial use can fetch as much as $60M without any changes to the building. Just by designating it a commercial property adds value.
In the meantime, the working class is suffering because rental of properties in old Georgetown is prohibitive. A simple two-bedroom house in the city starts from $50,000, and that is if you are lucky.
Guyana should have learnt from the experience of cities such as London. It should have long implemented zoning, restricted squatting and converted sections of the city into walking only areas.
But that is not going to happen because in as much as the citizens are indisciplined, there are a capitalist class which is covetous and which is prepared to sacrifice order on the altar of financial expansion.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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