Surveying the landscape
A few weeks ago, we took a family outing to the park off Baillou Hill Road, where the old dump – now referred to as the New Providence Landfill – and ‘garbage truck depot’ used to be. Standing on this space now are National Insurance, where Edmund Moxey’s Jumbey Village once stood, and the Big Pond Park.
We walked the trails and enjoyed the incredibly well-designed, well-laid-out, beautiful park. Except, there was no one else there. The car park was closed and gated. The garbage receptacles were filled to overflowing, and the paths were beginning to succumb to choking overgrowth. The space was wonderful, though. The designer and builder should be congratulated. What is the plan for this space? Why is there no one using it? We walked and it was wonderful. It seemed that we had found an oasis in the middle of the city.
Later we discovered, as we befriended (especially my wife), people who seemed to quietly inhabit this space. (Yet we assume that all people who live in shanty towns are illegal migrants and there is no homelessness in this wonderful country God made).
Perhaps we need to peel away the filters that blind us to the real level of poverty around us. The IMF, World Bank and other agencies are showing how unequal Bahamian society is, yet The Bahamas does not qualify for aid because we are too rich. Education is failing many people and plunging them into deeper poverty, though they be cash rich, investment and responsibility poor.
The enjoyment of green space
These kinds of green and open spaces provide invaluable room for people to grow and develop, but they have to use them or be able to use them. Historically, many Bahamians made their way up through their athletic skills and scholarship opportunities. Is this still possible? They were socialized into communities that saw the value in recreation and dreaming big. Opportunity is a large battle today. Some argue that ghettos, or low-income communities, do not deserve recreation, nor should they dream big. Some people do not use these spaces because they feel unwelcome there; others do not use them because they do not have time. What we realized was that many people do not use this space because it is not totally open and then it is unsafe. The threat of violence is constantly present in many of these communities, and this space, sadly, is a spectacular place, but rapes and other attacks are apparently common here. The trails back onto the almost forgotten.
“The Blue Hills Golf Course, a nine-hole par three facility, was opened in 1964 and was the only course illuminated for night play. This complex, which was closed, is now being developed again by the Bahamas Golf Federation. In 1956, Coral Harbour Golf Course was opened. This was the venue of the first hosting of the Hoerman Cup in The Bahamas in 1967. Designed by George Fazio, this delightful, but difficult course was laid out amongst pine trees and lakes,” stated James Gomez, president of the Bahamas Golf Federation.
Craig Flowers’ new injection of money and energy into this space is missing from this site.
Space often allows people to dream big and to achieve great things, even if they are just allowed access to play a little sport. Sport and open air are massive attitude changers. Brazil proves this with its beach sports (football) projects. Today, many people do not entertain the possibility of playing golf, or, if they do, they are derided for this, especially if they are from Over-the-Hill communities. The cultural expectation for these people is that they will know their proverbial place, according to some, and golf does not fit in there. Space and place become extremely complicated in The Bahamas, especially, because it is so unequal, yet, again, most people do not challenge this inequity.
According to Gomez: “In 1969, while the game was still played by whites only, a black movement began with the expressed aim to allow non-whites to play the game on all courses. Names like E. J. Rolle, George McKinney, Errol Leach, Roy Bowe, Kenneth Francis, Basil Nichols, “Big Jim” McPherson, Hiram Lloyd and Walter Hutchinson paved the way for the change that was to inevitably follow.”
It is significant that the website and story have not been updated in years.
“On November 6, 2011, the BGF will host its annual Fred Higgs/Kerzner Corporate Challenge at the Ocean Club Golf Course”, it reads. This announcement was preceded by: “In 2008, the government of The Bahamas granted the Bahamas Golf Federation 30 acres of land situated in the Baillou Hill Sporting Complex for the purpose of developing a Driving Range and a Nine Hole, Par 3, Golf Course. At present, the driving range is completed, however, the golf course is under construction with a number greens fully constructed.”
Once upon a time, these premises were the promise of the future of the young black Bahamian. They were developed prior to independence and were transferred from the former government of the Bahamas to the Progressive Liberal Party when it took over (from what can be gleaned from documentation). Notwithstanding the empowerment narrative of majority rule, since then, the complex was abandoned and fell into absolute disrepair. The promise government of the people made to the people was to encourage them to develop their potential. Something apparently went awry.
It is similar to the narrative that empowerment was shared equally after independence, when schools that were seen as elitist were opened up for general matriculation, in order that all might share in the common good. The common good made many schools simply weak. Sadly, much of this discussion is absolutely absent from Bahamian public memory.
The safety concern
If we look we will notice that most people come to “tourist areas” or exercise along busy roads because of serious safety concerns. The last few weeks or months, despite decreasing crime statistics, have borne out these fears. Two attacks in two days in the above lovely space, mean that enjoying the space is not doable for most people, including all women and children. Yet we also do not talk about this. Space is important to the formation of the soul, or the formation of the body, or both. Yet space is often ignored when it comes to how we socialize people. We determine that notwithstanding where people come from, they should be able to behave in the same way as people who have had all the benefits of indoor plumbing with running water, electricity and education, open access to beaches and sporting facilities and the ability to use them.
David Harvey and Edward Soja work on spatial justice. Spatial justice disabuses those who believe that poor people do not need space and nice spaces to flourish. Yet space is being taken up by private concerns with the consent and the blessing of the government. When people cannot blow off steam in an open space, they become frustrated less-functioning citizens.
Space, place and misinformation
As we have become empowered, we seem to have become equally disempowered. It is not common knowledge that the IMF has recommended that strict fiscal policies be put in place, despite this being posted and published on its website. It is not easy reading, though. The sovereignty of a nation is, of course, never challenged by a loan-providing agency; it simply makes suggestions until the economy is on its knees, then it imposes stiff, unyielding, unforgiving conditions and sometimes sanctions. We choose not to discuss these, though. Simultaneously, license fees and other taxes are being increased very quietly. The World Trade Organization apparently determines how we move forward, but this is constantly denied, even though we are seen to be integrating by 2019.
Have we done our homework? As duties remain in place, despite being barriers to trade; the retention for National Insurance is planned to increase and VAT is increasing, many Bahamians will be less well-off. Meanwhile, the understanding is that there are more jobs in the economy.
All the progress being made comes at a huge price, as a great majority of Bahamians – particularly those in the 50 percent who cannot graduate from high school – cannot really expect to be owners in the economy, and those who can read seem to be relegated to jobs in a fickle industry that relies very little on The Bahamas but is owned by foreign direct investors, wind up unemployed, angry, frustrated, disaffected, antisocial people criticized by government. As banks shutter up and leave, or downsize and become more expensive, banking in the Caribbean is under serious threat. Government claims that these are all insignificant shifts that will all be worked out and no one should be overly concerned.
As hurricane season barrels toward us yet again, the islands hit last year, the year before and the year before that remain in pretty much the same state as they were soon after the storms passed. As we can see from the case of Puerto Rico, where it has now been revealed that, in fact, 4,600 people died during and after Hurricane Maria in 2017, despite government assurances to the contrary, we are in a deep hole. Further, as government announces it will continue to lay people off because the public service, though dysfunctional and nonfunctional, horribly antiquated and poorly performing, is over-staffed, we face more challenges. More people unemployed, even though it seems like a good idea at the time, results in a far more sluggish and underperforming economy. If people do not have money, they cannot spend. Homelessness will increase, as will crime, violence and talent-out migration. Once again, Puerto Rico is a textbook example of all that we are doing and how it will ultimately empower state but disempower the nation. If we consider these minor points, what do we see coming?
- Ian Bethell-Bennett is a professor at The College of The Bahamas.