Barbados’ urban corridor is suffering from a decline in population, Senior Town Planner at the Town & Country Development Planning Office Rudy Headley has suggested.
Addressing a World Town Planning Day symposium at the Courtyard by Marriott under the theme Spatial Planning – Improving the Nation’s Health and Wellness, Headley said that over the years, people have moved to other areas, leaving the urban corridor of the island far less populated that it should be ideally.
That urban corridor stretches from St Lucy in the north and along the west of the island, to St Philip in the south, and was designated for “intense development”, Headley explained.
“Ideally, that is where we would like to put our development, or at least most of it,” he said.
However, that has not been happening.
“Greater Bridgetown, and definitely central Bridgetown, has actually not really been increasing in population like some other areas outside of the urban corridor. And if we are not careful, and it is already happening, where you are beginning to have . . . urban sprawl,” Headley said.
“Central Bridgetown is a small area but over time it has lost a lot of population. These are things that we are going to do as we amend the physical development plan, that we can discuss in various community meetings.”
The population density in the greater Bridgetown area is approximately 26 persons per hectare; in the central Bridgetown area, 12 persons per hectare; and about 16 persons per hectare along the urban corridor.
However, Headley noted that at least one study had shown that “cities actually need to have a density in population of approximately between 35 and 40 persons per hectare to be really vibrant”.
“So that might very well be one of the challenges that our current Bridgetown is having, in that it needs a larger population,” he concluded.
Five decades ago, the situation was far different. In the 1960s, the greater Bridgetown area had a population of almost 100,000, with a population density of 66 persons per hectare. In the 1970s, the population density fell to 45 persons per hectare; by the 1980s it dipped to 36 persons per hectare; and in 2004, it stood at 33 persons per hectare.
With people moving away, the number of vacant lots has increased. Headley said there were about 20,000 vacant lots in the greater Bridgetown area up to six years ago.
“So we are looking at a vacancy rate of just over 17 per cent and that is a bit high. That presents a new challenge in terms of what are we going to do with all these vacant houses that are across the island, a lot of them being in the greater Bridgetown area,” he said.
“Clearly, some type of initiative is needed to address the reuse of these properties. If they are not occupied, they fall into a state of disrepair and then you have issues then in terms of impact on health, so that can have a negative impact on health in terms of [vector-borne] diseases and others.”
Meantime, Headley gave the assurance that the new draft physical development plan, which should be ready by the end of January 2017, would give consideration to the health of the population, people with physical challenges, and the elderly.
He also pointed out that issues such as water scarcity; inadequate road networks and supporting infrastructure; and lack of bicycle lanes, footpaths and parking spaces, needed to be addressed.