Is house building in Barbados reflective of the people and their customs, or is it an imitation of what is happening structurally in the developed world?
These were some of the hard questions that arose at an Urban Development Commission discussion forum last night, following a presentation made by Magistrate Christopher Birch on non-physical challenges facing Barbados’ urban landscape.
“The temptation of our increasingly technocratic age is to give more emphasis to the development of infrastructure, layout and provision of services, along with environmental sustainability and service provision,” Birch asserted before the audience which gathered in the UDC conference room.
However, the magistrate expressed concern that while the island may well be fulfilling the letter of the legislation and attaining the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, it may well be overlooking its actual human development.
“What is being done to reinforce the human factor in urban development?” Birch asked aloud.
“It is easy to claim that in this century, infrastructural and service innovation is well ahead of where Barbados was at independence. After all, health care, housing, roads and communications are all at a comparatively advanced level when compared to times past and in other countries.
“That said, could it be that in providing the modern trappings of human living, Barbados may have paid too much heed to the physical needs of the country and not the human needs of the population?”
Also taking part in the discussion, Director of Youth Cleveston Hunte, a former probation officer, said, “there are a number of social development challenges which arise as a result of how we plan our city, our urban areas.
“What has lagged behind is the human development side, in terms of the actual development of our people,” he said.
Strong concern was also raised about the island’s changing cultural and social norms, which are reflected in the current housing patterns. It was pointed out that in the not so distant past, Barbadians lived in tight-knit communities in which neighbours knew each other well and it was commonplace to walk over to your neighbour to borrow emergency food supplies, such as salt and sugar when the kitchen stock fell low.
However, Chief Town Planner, Mark Cummins said that despite the best efforts of planners, it was hard nowadays to control the mix of persons going into respective dwelling units, with Church Village, St Philip being the planning exception.
He explained that while this area has the same terrace units like any other place in Barbados, “careful selection” was made of persons to live there, including police officers, nurses, teachers and other professionals.
This may explain why there have been no reports of social problems – including problems of crime – in that area, Cummins also suggested.
“We continue to put [together] people that we feel are of the same social class. And in so doing it reduces the hard work that the planners would have put in to ensure that [social] structure is there,” the chief town planner said.
Cummins also made reference to the Grotto housing development at Beckles Road, St Michael, saying “you cannot ask for better space in terms of its location” and comparing it with private sector developments which he said were “not as aesthetically pleasing as the Grotto”, but which fetch rentals from $4,000 to $8,000 per month.
“What we should do is ensure that we have a mix of persons. We have the youth, we can have some seniors in there so all the traditions . . . can be passed on and those public spaces can then become spaces of education,” Cummins further suggested.
Also in attendance was Speaker of the House of Assembly Michael Carrington, who questioned whether stipulations and covenants in property transfers could be a factor in social dislocation as these conveyances usually include rules on how properties should be separated and the minimum expenses to be involved in any construction.
“In addition to the price of the land, they tell you can’t build guard walls as an example for less than a certain amount,” he said.
In response, Magistrate Birch observed that “alienation is very much a part of the human landscape.
“We build that wall and we build that wall and it gets higher and it gets stronger,” he said, while referring to the period prior to the 20th century when Barbados was very separated.
“A day will come where we are going to look around and [realize] we’re back where we started,” he warned.