Lucky number 17?


On November 16, at the Spotlight on Urban Development: the Revitalisation of Port of Spain, the nation was told that between 1968 and 2015, sixteen development plans were drafted for Port of Spain; and that the new “master plan” being presented would be lucky number 17.

For the last two years, in particular, I have been obsessively researching, learning, observing, and then writing – in this very column – and presenting to a variety of professional and academic audiences, on the topics of urban planning, urban design, and urban revitalisation. I earnestly want to see a resurgence of Port of Spain.

The question is, is it likely that an urban revitalisation “master plan” done by a team of consultants with no urban planning expertise could turn out to be lucky number 17?

Since there is no actual physical or electronic copy of a “master plan” in the public domain, my attempt to answer this question is based on what was presented at the event, and at a previous presentation in September 2019 at the Government Campus Plaza.

There are numerous concerns about elements – or a lack thereof – of the plan that threaten its success. Here are three:

Planning Regulations

My area of focus over the last few years has been the relationship between land use (zoning) regulations and urban development. I have tried to understand and relay the powerful social, economic, and environmental impact of these. I have read zoning codes from numerous jurisdictions, including Vancouver, Canada; Portland, Oregon; Miami; Auckland, New Zealand; and New York City.

In none of these cases could I find an example of land-use regulations being proposed based on one superficial consideration.

The consultants working on our “plan” seem to have looked at the National Carnival Commission's Parade of the Bands route for Carnival and made up the idea of a “regulating line,” along which increased development allowances, that is, taller buildings and increased residential density, will be accommodated.

Exactly how this relates to how the city functions on a daily basis, and the cost of land and other unique intricacies of its various neighbourhoods was absent.

Not only that, but it has been boldly proclaimed that the “regulating line” will now guide land use regulations in the city, and the concept of “zones” will no longer be used – huh?


Anyone with an understanding of urban design – clearly one of the competencies needed on this project – recognises that you cannot have revitalisation if no one wants to use the streets of a city as a pedestrian.

If people are simply shuttled from building to building, one cannot hope to end up with urban vitality. Why then, was no real focus placed on the importance of streets, other than in relation to how they move vehicles? Was there serious discussion and collaboration with the Ministry of Works and Transport?

It can be near-impossible to get people to choose to walk in a city, when the biggest focus of the State’s “traffic engineers” is how quickly one can move cars in and out of it. Instead of raising speed limits, like the latest increase to 65 kph on Wrightson Road and around the Savannah (a pedestrian struck at this speed has an average risk of 50 per cent death and 90 per cent serious injury), we should be focusing on traffic calming.

That can involve, strategic on-street parking, raised crosswalks and intersections, textured paving, tree-lined medians, properly designed traffic circles, and other proven measures to get drivers to drive at appropriate speeds.

The “plan” provided none of this, not even a section of what a typical Port of Spain streetscape could/would look like, with actual street trees, street furniture, neatly organised utilities – nothing.

Scale and replicability

The “plan” proposes developing relatively large tracts of land owned by the State, at Memorial Square, Piccadilly Street, Colville Street, and other locations, and build large-scale, self-contained developments.

Given our precarious economic climate and the limited number of private-sector developers able to undertake such grandiose construction projects, perhaps it would be wise to subdivide the lots and develop a series of more manageable, smaller-scale project concepts for each site. Not only does that increase the number of potential investors, but it also helps create a model (demonstration project) that is closer to how the typical surrounding neighbourhoods are likely to develop.

I hope that one day, in this nation, people who are truly passionate, progressive, and have devoted time to developing their skillset will be given an actual opportunity – with fair compensation – to work on important projects within their field. We cannot keep paying the same people and turning to the same failed approaches over and over again.

With that said, there is only so much positivity and hope for the future that one can muster when the status quo is unflinching in its resoluteness.


"Lucky number 17?"

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