Almost 100 Woodbrook residents turned up at Adam Smith Square on Friday to protest the construction of a police post and bathroom facilities on the green area of the space.
This happened despite an earlier media release by Housing and Urban Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis which said work had been halted until discussions could be held with the residents.
The protesters were not given permission to walk on the street, so they stayed on the Ariapita Avenue side and displayed their placards for drivers, some of whom honked in approval.
Jennifer Hackshaw said she’d lived in the area all her life and has seen the constant degradation of the neighbourhood.
“It’s residential area, and yet we’re bombarded every weekend with loud noise, music trucks, and they tend to make it a Carnival experience with our beautiful park being destroyed, and then our children can’t ride their bikes or play.
“And when the whole world is now talking about green spaces, we are destroying our green spaces. That make any sense to you? So we need to love, respect, and preserve our green spaces.”
Another protester, who lives on O’Connor Street near the national stadium, said the noise when events are held there is unimaginable. She said it sometimes goes until 7 or 8 am.
“The EMA needs to step up and do its work. Not every weekend is for people to come and harass us. We are being tormented here in Woodbrook and we’re having a peaceful protest. We’re not burning tyres, that’s not us, but we want justice for our neighbourhood, and we’re going to get it by the grace of God.”
Calypsonian Phillip “Black Sage” Murray, who stopped to offer support, said Ariapita Avenue was a mecca for visitors, so the residents would have a hard fight on their hands.
“I believe the people will end up selling out. My father and mother, they had Lenore’s business school on Murray Street. We used to party up there.
“This started since the 60s when (late prime minister) Dr Eric Williams started the Beetham Estate. So Port of Spain couldn’t expand eastwards, it could only expand westwards – and that’s why every other house is a businessplace, and the residents who remain have an uphill battle.
“The offers they will get for their properties will be quite significant, so they might take it and the business element will take over. That’s how I’m seeing it.”
Compton “Bird” Welch said he has many stories to tell about the situations which happen on the Avenue.
“I lived in a backyard in Woodbrook on De Verteuil Street for two years, and one morning I got up and I was riding my bike coming up the Avenue. When those young people came out of a fete, there were about ten of them walking up the one way, and one crossed to try to take my bike. And as I rode away, there were bottles and stones coming at me, and that’s just one story.”
One resident said, in addition to the police post taking over the green space, she was concerned about the cleanliness and unsightliness of the public toilets.
“I frankly don’t care if people get raped and killed there, I’m more concerned about the residents having to look out and see that, and then the smell – because you know we don’t have a good record of maintaining things in this country.”
The residents started a petition, signed by over 1,800 people as of Friday, calling on the government to stop its construction at Adam Smith Square. It said the proposed post would destroy the green space without curbing lawlessness, and will disrupt the environment which is necessary for the community's health and wellbeing.
It noted the Woodbrook police station is one and a half blocks away, and there are eight other police stations within a one-mile radius.
In her release on Friday, Robinson-Regis said she had halted construction on the project, part of the redevelopment of Ariapita Avenue, after residents voiced their concerns.
“Despite having already held five consultations with stakeholders on the Ariapita Avenue and Woodbrook revitalisation works, I have taken note of the recent concerns of a group of Woodbrook residents on the work proposed for the police post and the bathroom facilities.
“It is clear that we need to have further consultations as there still seem to be some misunderstandings, particularly in relation to the proposed works for Adam Smith Square.”
She said another meeting would be arranged among the residents and Tourism, Culture and the Arts Minister Randall Mitchell, Port of Spain South MP Keith Scotland, and Udecott to discuss and alleviate their concerns.
“I have, therefore, asked for these works to be halted pending this meeting. In the meantime, however, upgrade works to the sidewalks, lighting and general streetscape will continue.”
Robinson-Regis said she had discussed the plans for the upgrade of Ariapita Avenue and some areas of Woodbrook with her colleagues before the development of the plan.