By Marlon Madden
As Government presses ahead with plans to convert the old Treasury Building into a residential facility to help breathe life back into the capital, a noted historian is cautioning it should be done in a way that attracts a mix of economic classes to avoid social decay.
Dr Karl Watson told Barbados TODAY he welcomed the administration’s move to convert the now decommissioned seven-storey building into apartments, as he declared that Bridgetown has become “a dying town” and the development may very well be “a first step and a baby step” to revitalising the island’s capital city.
“From my point of view, today, I applaud any venture to bring life back to Bridgetown, to bring viable economic structures and aspects of life back to Bridgetown. But I would reiterate that yes, repopulate the core Bridgetown but repopulate it with varying socio-economic brackets because that then creates niches for everyone,” he said.
“For Bridgetown to work as any town works, you must have a mix of class, you must have a mix of people of varying economic backgrounds. If you bring in low-income earners to live in a high-rise area such as the proposed Treasury Building, sociologists and psychologists will tell you that well-meaning ventures in high-density, high-rise structures often have unforeseen consequences,” Watson added.
The idea to repurpose the old Treasury Building to attract young professionals forms part of a wider seven-year Bridgetown Transformation Plan, which includes the construction of several hotel properties from the Bay Street area to Pierhead, the Golden Square Freedom Park, and remodelling Queen’s Park area into a cultural hub.
“There is no doubt about it that the core Bridgetown is a dying town. I carefully observe the changes that have happened,” Watson said as he supported the plan.
However, the experienced tour guide in and around The City warned against any plan to build accommodation only for “the working class aspect to the repopulation of Bridgetown”.
Referring to the situation that has arisen from high-rise housing developments in some cities in the United States and the United Kingdom, he explained that while they were intended to attract young professionals, the reverse had occurred.
Nevertheless, Watson acknowledged that there were already housing projects in and around The City in which people lived “relatively peacefully”, adding that he believed it could work once carefully planned and managed.
He said that while authorities seemed to believe that young professionals were open to a change in living conditions, he would require research to confirm that was the case.
“The Barbados that I grew up in, everybody had a backyard, everybody had their privacy; the galvanised paling established an individual small-scale castle. Nobody wanted to live in high-rise, multi-storey structures. People wanted that privacy, that bit of independence, that bit of ‘this is my piece of the rock’, but can we go on that way?” he questioned.
In any case, Watson told Barbados TODAY, it was time for concrete action to revitalise the capital.
“There has been a lot of long talk but no action and so I am still waiting for this revitalisation to take place. I hope within what is left of my lifespan that I can see something positive happening and that I can see some life return to
Bridgetown so that it doesn’t become the ghost town it is at night,” he said.
Watson said having several hotels along the Bay Street to Pierhead area should help bring back life to The City.
“By that move, you then, hopefully, will create a demand that people can establish economic niches and can operate from, and bring a degree of vibrancy back to Bridgetown.
“Government can create policies but unless you get economic structures and economic investment from the private sector, then you are essentially spinning top in mud,” said Watson.