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Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Green Green Grass


Dr. Lester CN Simon

Green is one of my favourite colours. When I was little and laid waste my schooldays in St. Thomas, all I wanted was to be Green Lantern, the super hero. His mantra was, “In brightest day, in darkest night, no evil shall escape my sight. Let those who worship evil's might, beware my power….Green Lantern's Light!” So when I see two neaga marching, in white, for green space, I have to don my greens and become Green Lantern again.

The reported purpose of the proposed complex at the East Bus Station is to ease the vehicular traffic in the city and to allow for the setting up of a modern sewage system in St. John’s. Many of those who are against the car park part or the entire project cry out for the preservation of the greenery. Given the stated problems in the city, the alternatives proffered by the green marchers in white are untenable, nonsensical or nonexistent. To find a really green alternative, we have to challenge conventional wisdom and think outside the green and white box.

The solution is to stop designing or redesigning the city, the suburbs and the entire country around the demands of private automobiles, parking and vehicular, rush-hour traffic. We have to conceptualize urban and country planning around pedestrians, communities and public, not private transport. You want green? Take green.

The congestion in the city has already spread to the suburbs. This is clearly evident when you try to get to or from the city along all the roadways. This is a natural progression in all cities as more commuters with more cars travel from the countryside and suburbs to and from the city centre in private vehicles. The growth of St. John’s is typical of any developing or crowded city as the commercial centre becomes packed and growth occurs at the edges. Our architects and engineers must begin to redesign and rebuild this country from a master plan.

The argument against the use of the supposedly sacred greenery at East Bus Station is a tuppence hapeney argument unless those arguing against are willing to consider the whole pound, shilling and pence: the city and its environs. In their narrow, green context, the argument against the use of this particular green space becomes a storm in a teacup or a hurricane in a saucepan.

Transportation for the public requires public, not private, transport. Concentration on public transport will require express bus roads since the roads are not wide enough for dedicated bus lanes. However, we may consider express bus lanes alongside one-way lanes into and out of the city. Emphasis on public transport will require easy access, convenience and efficiency. Instead of two large, east and west bus stations we may need more, larger bus terminals at the far edges of the suburb linked to more medium-sized and smaller and smaller terminals as we get to the city.

Such a public bus system will require a transfer system using a single ticket. It will be like a subway system above ground. The larger terminals with larger buses will require commuters to pay as they enter a transparent, covered, rain-proof , properly ventilated, elevated bus stop shaped like a tube (eat you heart out London). We then exit directly from the tube into the bus and no time is lost in collecting money on the bus. Wheel chairs will be easily accommodated.

This public transport system must be operated and maintained by the private sector with a government agency such as the Transport Board acting as overseer. The bus companies and bus cooperatives will be paid by the number of miles they operate rather than by the number of passengers they transport. With proper control mechanisms in place, this can be done. We will pay less for fuel as we leave our cars at home or at parking lots far from the city and commute on public transport. We will also build bicycle paths and many green parks of varying sizes which will all connect to public transportation. Derelict buildings and empty city lots will be transformed into green spaces. No private vehicles will operate in the city separate from the public transport. You want green? Take green.

It’s amazing how we think of parks and how we use them. In the sixties when we were studying for exams the best places to study were the graveyard of the St. John’s Cathedral (with warnings of which jumbie you were sitting on) and the Botanical gardens. The connection between the two was that there was hardly anyone around (whom you could see). This is why I decided one day in London to visit the nearby park to get away from the noise in the house and practice my saxophone in peace. In less than five minutes I was surrounded by crowds of park goers. In Antigua and Barbuda we must organize activities inside the green spaces to attract people. Many of the green marchers in white would not recognize a green leafy vegetable if you stuffed one down their throats.

Since the city needs a new sewage system, let us consider waste in general and implement a recycling program. It should not surprise you if many of the green marchers in white will still continue in the same old way, dumping garbage on their beloved green spaces with pee-pee and poo-poo to boot.

Ask Ambassador Underwood to tell you about a city in Brazil called Curitiba. An article on urban planning by Jonas Rabinovitch and Josef Leitman in Scientific American in March 1996 informs my position. It chronicled Curitiba’s downplaying of the needs of private motorized traffic and prioritizing public transport, bicycle paths, pedestrians’ walkways and the environment. How has Curitiba fared since 1996? That year is crucial because at that time, official planners from all over the world including New York City, Toronto, Montreal, Paris, Lyons, Moscow, Prague, Santiago, Buenos Aires and Lagos, were visiting and praising Curitiba.

You want green? Let us go the whole hog and give them all the green they want. The next thing you know is that, as we green up the place and de-emphasize the use of private cars, they will have a protest motorcade and at the front of the motorcade there will be a certain, quaint, little green car. You just can’t win. Time to call the real Green Lantern.

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