The National Botanical Gardens, to be opened later this year, represent perhaps the single greatest exercise in civic works for the sake of recreational but non-athletic, non-sporting activity in over a century.
We commend the administration for recognising the need to pick up where it last left off – even at a time of immense economic strain. For once, we are convinced that even as we rebuild an economy the Government has seen the importance of building a society, one park at a time. But it is very late.
It was in 1909 – one hundred and ten years ago – that Queen’s Park was opened by the colonial administration of the day. Since then, with the exception of King George V Park – one of dozens created in the king’s memory across the Empire within a year after his death in 1936 – and Farley Hill National Park, opened by Her Majesty the Queen in 1966, opening up vast tracts of land for parks has been an exercise in parsimoniously microscopic land management.
The designer of the great Central Park of New York in 1858, Frederick Law Olmsted, adroitly described parks as the “lungs of the city”. Such lungs for Bridgetown may be found in Queen’s Park but in the space of rapid physical development nationwide, the creation of such green breathing spaces has been sorely lacking until now.
More arable land has been sacrificed for physical development in the last 52 years of our nation’s existence than in all of the previous 350 years of settlement. We are now at the point where civil servants are forced to ration what is left of the 106,240 acres of our island for purposes of food security, and it is not enough at just under 35,000 acres – and falling.
But with the promise of agricultural land in our vast continental neighbours, Suriname and Guyana, to grow the required quantities of food and feed for our tourism-dependent nation, this presents an opportunity for more lands to be developed into greenspaces as houses now grow in the manner Barbados once grew sugar cane.
Not just housing areas – often bereft of trees as developers show off their gleaming empires – but parklands and woods need to be considered a more essential part of the overall town and country development planning exercise.
Experts have long attested to the therapeutic effect of greenery on the psyche. Trees, grass and woods help us to breathe easier, significantly improve our health and well-being, fight stress and bring people and communities together.
And by greenspaces, we are not talking about playing fields of the kind that Members of Parliament have been only too keen to dole out to young people, many of which have been preserved for cricket, football, loitering, littering or occasionally the illegal use of a control substance for recreational purposes.
Yet, we need park spaces not only to contribute a carbon sink for the enormous emissions of vehicles, factories and homes but also for the greater health and wellness of future citizens.
It is an open secret that young Barbadians are now exposed to significantly less physical exercise for play than previous generations.
This will have a knock-on effect on health, particularly as this nation battles against an insidious rise in non-communicable diseases. How happier and healthier our children would be if they were safe, green spaces for them to gambol?
We need more parks.
Barbados is now on the verge of catching up with St. Vincent which has had a botanical garden since 1765 – likely the oldest of its kind in the tropical world.
But we say, better late than never.
We are anxious to see the plans proposed for a globalised garden to be realised with contributions from Barbados’ friends abroad.
Gardens tell stories, too – of our nation. It is ironic that Barbados wins gold medal after gold medal in generations of competition in the Chelsea Flower Show at the Kew botanical gardens in London, but has no such home of its own.
We think that the Botanical Gardens must have a potential way beyond the mere holding of mass entertainment events. We fear that as long as there is green space, someone will want to drop a branded soca or reggae event on top of it. There are many other areas for natural or built amphitheatres.
For now, our mothers cry out for a safe and quiet place to stroll with their children, joggers yearn to breathe air free from choking exhaust fumes and an entire nation needs more than ever before to just sit, stand or go placidly amid the noise and haste.
We need more parks.