Latest update March 25th, 2023 12:52 AM
Mar 07, 2023 Letters
The first was our political independence from Great Britain. The second is our economic independence with the discovery of oil and gas. A clear and unquestionable fact of life in Guyana is that the oil and gas industry is now a fully established reality, entrenched in the country’s national economy.
Soon, this fact will find expression in the creative works of our poets, writers, comedians, playwrights, novelists and other artistes just as they did with our rivers, forests, savannas, sugar, rice and our mineral resources.
At the same time, this phenomenon has brought in its wake, a new situation whereby certain sections of the city of Georgetown are likely to lose that familial, if not romantic connection with those of us who were born and grew up in the city that is fast becoming one that never sleeps.
The possible loss of that connectedness, is compounded by the fact that some edifices in Georgetown remain standing only because the Atlantic winds are mild, the sea levels have not risen to threatening levels nor do we suffer the consequences of natural disasters save for the occasional floods due to heavy rain fall. Proprietary neglect is probably the fundamental reason for the rundown condition of those buildings.
In the humdrum of everyday city life, container hauler trucks and others laden with all kinds of huge funny looking pieces of equipment, never seen before but most likely related to the oil industry, can be seen moving up and down city streets. The whole country seems to be in the heady throes of a long economic boom.
An integral part of Guyana’s current economic boom is that there appears to be more contracts for infrastructural works than there are reliable contractors, skilled-men and laborers in the labour market. Of interest, there are some contractors who are working overtime on two or three projects at the same time. But that is only part of the big picture where numerous government financed infrastructural works are concerned.
On the human resource development side, there appears to be acute shortages. According to the World Bank Resident Representative; ‘’Guyana has less than half of the needed technical skills in the areas of engineering, environmental specialists and welders only 49,6% of those skills are readily available.” We have to play ‘catch-up.’ GOAL scholarships have been introduced and while a significant number have enrolled, more takers are needed.
Decades ago, many Guyanese would have thought it absurd to imagine a free and open press, buttressed by social media that has produced a community of dispersed but enthusiastic letter writers who chose to express their views and ideas on topical issues that some might view as weird or preposterous. Similarly, very few Guyanese would have considered it impossible that non-coercive citizen cooperation such as the Men on a Mission initiative would have joined hands to build houses free of cost for senior citizens.
Of unimaginable proportions is the utilization of Guyana’s standing forests as carbon sinks that generate impressive financial resources from the sale of carbon credits, initially, for the benefit of our indigenous peoples. Years ago, it would have been unthinkable to accept that money could be garnered through what has become popularly known as a low carbon development strategy.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle and media noises created over the oil and gas industry, the State has initiated numerous events that connect and reconnect the lives of Guyanese from all walks of life. Events such as the recently concluded Energy Conference in Georgetown and the launch of the construction of the Berbice stadium and multipurpose facility at Palmyra, capture the ties that bring people together whether in city or country, obliging them to interact and to benefit from each other in one way or another.
I once suggested to a city taxi driver that 10 to 15 years from now, Guyana will be a different country and inquired of him how he plans to make use of the transformation, he couldn’t answer. I then suggested that he buy another two or three cars and add them to the two he claimed he already had with a view to establishing a taxi service of his own. He accepted the advise.
On another occasion, I put the same question to another taxi driver who was more positive. He told me he was investing in a poultry farm on the Highway, his intention was sell eggs to supermarkets and Chinese restaurants and to eventually link up with larger poultry rearers on the East Bank. Experiences of city life and the things we observe and learn by living in the city have, no doubt, helped form the scaffolding of our identity. The city is both the problem and the solution to the quandaries of its inhabitants everyday lives.
Being part of Georgetown is no longer determined by ownership or wealth, but by participation. In consequence, our actions change and refine the city. Consider for example, the people’s participation in the just concluded Mash Day float parade. It should be noted however that the massive replacement of private residences or known city landmarks especially at corner spaces by humungus, glassified ten story buildings are proliferating but is often too subtle to notice.
For the elderly, and the physically disabled, Georgetown must be a territory of no-go areas, hidden threats and restrictions. Regrettably, there are places that no longer seem open to them since they would have lost their freedom of movement. Guyanese still look forward to meeting at outdoor places in the city where they could congregate, relax and enjoy the ambiance.
A welcome sight is where some public places are being populated with trees resulting in the emergence of green spaces making them more people-friendly by providing cycling lanes, trees, lighting and outdoor seating.
Spaces that once fell into disuse for one reason or another are now being repurposed as public and green spaces, these can be seen at the Lamaha Boulevard; the walkway at JP Latchmansingh highway, the Kingston Beach Front; walk-ways along the East Coast and East Bank highways, the Sea Wall and the Punt Trench Dam Boulevards and Parliament gardens.
At the same time, we have lost some public spaces in the city without realizing it. The ‘urban renaissance’ or creeping modernization of Georgetown is slowly but surely changing much of what the city used to be. Sections of the city are experiencing modernity with high rise office buildings of steel, concrete and glass while hotels and shopping malls, restaurants as well as pricey supermarkets and boutiques are either springing up or about to do so.
The Roman-Dutch architecture of buildings in certain parts of Georgetown such as Brickdam, Queenstown, Alberttown, Bourda and Lacytown have undergone dramatic changes. Georgetown appears to be either in a constant state of transformation, demolition and rebuilding, but it is this repeated change that makes the city look vibrant. There are wards in Georgetown like Kingston, Bourda, Lacytown, Alberttown, Kitty and Wortmanville that have modernised infra-structurally, but still hold tight to architectural iconoclasms and tales rooted in Guyanese folklore.
Georgetown is a city in flux, and transformation, many residents are moving out preferring to live in the new housing schemes and sub-urban gated communities outside the city. Change is inevitable, and the dismantling of old buildings sold to either the nouveau riche or to local or foreign entrepreneurs have not gone unnoticed.
It’s pleasing to see the transformative work currently underway at the old railway station currently being converted to a railway museum, a place for the exhibition and sale of local handicraft and a restaurant for local cuisine. The repurposed facility will serve as a tangible reminder to older folks and to educate young people about the location where trains that carried hundreds of passengers to and from Georgetown were once stationed.
In the meanwhile, Georgetown still lacks a modern transport system. Stabroek market square, the old ferry stelling, the east coast, the west bank, east bank and Berbice car parks have long become the locations where people must go in search of transportation irrespective of where they live in town or country. On a daily basis, between 4.30 to 6.30 pm, in that section of the city, throngs of people can be seen heading out of the city in search of land or water transportation. The morning hours between 7 and 8.30 am are no different with hundreds entering the city from the same location. It is in the context of these changes that we must accept, rather than reject the new realities that confront us whether we live in town or country. When one reflects on all the transformative occurrences that have happened and about to happen, astonishment would be a reasonable and appropriate reaction to the remarkable changes we are witnessing.
Clement J. Rohee
They are being paid while we are being played…your pain is their gain!
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