WHEN GOVERNORS of the Central Bank speak, it is normally to talk about things like interest rates, inflation, unemployment and monetary policy.
But as he nears the end of his tenure, Dr Alvin Hilaire last week spoke out about something beyond his usual remit.
Recalling growing up in Duncan Street, Port of Spain, back when the architecture of that part of the capital city was different – less of a depressing hodgepodge, and greener – he noted the outsized influence one’s environment can have on one’s well-being. He called for a greater, more profound role to be played by architects, designers and planners in the design of public spaces.
“Where we are, it affects us,” the governor said on Thursday at the opening of a three-day symposium on the design of communal spaces held by the Central Bank in partnership with a local NGO called Da Da and Projects (not to be confused with the avant-garde art movement that flourished after World War I in North America and Europe).
“Your mental health can be affected, your stress levels, your sense of community, even your prospects depending on where you are.”
The governor might seem to have batted outside of his crease somewhat. But there are strong economic reasons why greater attention should be paid to how we manage spaces around us.
The organisation of our communities has a direct bearing on productivity. This is expressed, for instance, in the time people spend trapped in traffic moving from one venue to the next because these communities are often not centralised. Research, such as a 2016 study by experts at Warwick University on the impact of green spaces on mood, found inhabitants of more scenic environments report better health.
Inside the home, too, our spaces can profoundly affect us. People put to live in cramped, cluttered lodgings suffer.
The recently staged retrospective on the work of John Gillespie was a showcase of what architects have to offer in terms of addressing the possibilities of a space. Many local designers, for instance, are practitioners of the quiet revolution known as “critical regionalism,” in which they consider the social characteristics, location, orientation, character and surrounding ecosystems of buildings.
There is a lot to be gained by this approach, which dissolves the finite borders of a space, allowing venues to be maximised.
In this country, policymakers often extol the value of planning. Yet when the time comes to renovate a landmark building, the original architect is not consulted. Or a building designed to serve one purpose is arbitrarily retrofitted to serve another.
The Town and Country Planning Division, meanwhile, has been reduced to mere rubber-stamping. And architects themselves do not speak out as the governor has on this issue. They should.