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Sunday 26 January 2020
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Letters to the Editor

Restoring heritage sites right thing?

THE EDITOR: Having assumed office in 2015, the Government has notably embarked upon the restoration and rebuilding of our heritage sites.

These sites have been identified as such by the National Trust of TT as iconic buildings which are key to the preservation of our national history.

In recent times, these restorative efforts have been visibly manifested in the extensive repair of President’s House for $89 million.

This feat was commended by the President Paula-Mae Weekes as an act that would restore national pride but her sentiments were met with disdain by many citizens.

For them, the $89 million price tag on the restoration of President’s House was evidence of a government that does not know how to prioritise the basic needs of its citizens over the funding of elite tastes and interests.

While it is commendable that we are willing to place executive action under the critical lenses of public opinion, it is my hope that those who have expressed disgust at the restoration reconsider their position.

As a 34-year-old citizen, I often grieve at the way our nation often falters in improving its position over time (just look at the state of our cricket and football teams, the service we receive on a daily basis as consumers, the industrial troubles of Caroni and Petrotrin).

Significant contributing factors to such failures are our struggle to inject national pride into our labours and an inability to put aside petty squabbles as well as racial and ethnic differences or party allegiance to get important tasks done and sustain past accomplishments over time as a united people.

It goes without saying that the development of a keen sense of national pride and identity is absolutely essential for us to survive future challenges that the global economy will undeniably send our way in time to come.

I truly believe that the restoration of our national heritage sites is an essential stepping stone for any meaningful development of such national identity.

It was late British prime minister Winston Churchill who said in 1943, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us,” while considering the repair of the bomb-ravaged House of Commons of the UK.

What Churchill was evidently referring to was the way in which the traditions and national identity of the British people were forged and sustained by key buildings which served as shrines and icons that sustained national identity.

In the 1992 publication Architecture, Power, and National Identity by Lawrence J Vale, the author argued that throughout history architecture and urban design have been engineered in the service of politics as government buildings served as symbols of the State. There is a real sense in which “national identity” is part and parcel of the design of many national buildings around the world.

In recent times, there has also been the emerging field of psychological study in “neuro-architecture” which clearly evidences that building designs have an impact on our emotions and well-being for the better or the worse.

It goes without saying, therefore, that in this nation of ours where we so desperately need to make being a Trini or Tobagonian more crucial to our everyday decision-making process than our race or ethnic group or political stance, we need to recover a renewed pride in our national identity and by extension our heritage sites. They represent who we are as a people and our ability to sustain our past accomplishments into the future.

I hear the cries of those who believe that the money could have been better spent elsewhere but as is the case in any family budget, if all the income is spent on food, clothing and shelter and none on future education or home renovation, basic needs would be attended to in the present at the expense of survival in the future.

There simply needs to be a balance in spending over a wide range of needs over time for sustainable growth. So rather than criticise the monetary cost of renovating these heritage sites, please let us begin to ask ourselves: Are these restorations a social and political asset that we as a nation can really afford not to bear?

ALEXANDER STEPHENS

D’Abadie

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