Front Porch | Reimagining and revitalizing the City of Nassau
The revitalization of the City of Nassau, like most city revitalizations, is a long-term and complex process, requiring careful planning, political will and innovative legislation, including on matters of taxation and revenue generation for the beautification, maintenance and ongoing refurbishment of downtown Nassau.
But there are international models from which we may garner lessons, including Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States. The use of solar and renewal energy will also be important in the development of a smart city.
During the last administration of former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, a number of advances were made in the revitalization process, including the City of Nassau Revitalization Act and the relocation of the Port of Nassau to Arawak Cay, which opened significant space for the redevelopment of downtown Nassau.
The Christie administration approved The Pointe development, which includes an entertainment complex, restaurants, a marina and a condominium hotel. This development will help to boost the revitalization process.
In his recent national report, Prime Minister Dr. Hubert Minnis outlined new steps in the revitalization process. He noted: “A significant development that will help to expand and to grow the economy in New Providence is the proposed public-private partnership for the management, upgrade and expansion of the Port of Nassau, which has gone to tender.
“The ambitious project aims to provide for the development of expanded berthing capacity, a new arrivals terminal and associated harbor front facilities improvements.
“This major undertaking will tie-in to the long-awaited and ongoing redevelopment of downtown Nassau. In the redevelopment of Prince George Wharf, the government will continue to own the wharf, but taxpayer dollars will not be used in its transformation.”
Minnis noted other developments: “The old Main Post Office Building will be demolished to make way for a new Supreme Court complex, and supporting offices, which will help in the revitalization of downtown. The new Central Bank will be constructed on the old Victoria property.”
Nassau stretches east to west and north to south, encompassing an impressive register of publicly owned buildings and spaces which are a key element in the city’s renewal. The redevelopment of the City of Nassau must take this breadth and depth into account.
The government owns all of the properties in a corridor from Prince George Wharf at the northern end of the city and going south toward the old City Market building off Market Street.
The old City Market building is slated to become a government office complex. Across the street, the redevelopment of the Southern Recreation Grounds has already begun.
The wall panels of the old gaol across from Mortimer’s Candy Kitchen will be turned into mural space, depicting the country’s history. This should be part of a broader public art program featuring Bahamian artistry.
With the new U.S. embassy downtown set to cost approximately $200 million, there are many hundreds of millions of dollars – approaching nearly a billion – in construction projects currently slated for the City of Nassau.
Minnis also observed the critical role of residential development in city restoration: “Just as with other urban centers around the world, the long-term revitalization of downtown Nassau will require residential properties for Bahamians and residents, which is necessary for the growth of other businesses, such as restaurants, shops, convenience stores and other commercial enterprises.”
The development of residential properties, especially from the center of downtown going east, may result in hundreds of millions of dollars or more in investment.
The redevelopment of the area from the Paradise Island bridges to East Street must be a part of the reimagining and revitalization of the City of Nassau. This may include a boardwalk extending from Paradise Island to downtown.
With many more Bahamians and residents living downtown, the City of Nassau can be a bustling and booming area that does not shut down after sunset.
Bahamians, residents and tourists, including individuals, families and groups from Baha Mar and other new developments, will flock to an exciting and safe downtown, which also has adequate parking and ancillary amenities and facilities.
Moreover, a thriving and exciting downtown may result in more cruise ships staying in port overnight, meaning potentially many millions of dollars more for businesses and government.
Reimagining and revitalizing the City of Nassau is a journey of self-definition and discovery: a recollection of the history and heritage which define the Bahamian experience. A city’s architecture, especially the capital, chronicles a nation’s history and showcases its ambitions, priorities and dreams.
In ancient Africa and the Americas, in Asian and European capitals, palaces, temples or cathedrals often dominated the city, reminding souls and subjects of their place in a cosmology that bound the sovereign powers of heaven and earth.
New York City’s skyline is dominated by commercial skyscrapers reaching for the heavens in pursuit of economic interests. The mass murderers who destroyed the World Trade Center understood the iconic nature of the twin towers.
Paris’ architectural obsession is French culture and history, from the iconic Eiffel Tower, built to mark the centennial of the French Revolution, to the imposing Arc de Triomphe to the world-renowned Louvre.
While recalling our colonial past as we redevelop Nassau, the city must not be turned into a quaint colonial village, with Bay Street becoming a theme park.
A former teacher once noted, “Men come together in cities in order to live; they remain together in order to live the good life.” The teacher was Aristotle, who lived in an ancient city-state with a population about the size of the modern Bahamas.
While the great philosopher never experienced traffic jams and the issues related to contemporary urbanization, he understood the challenges associated with large groups of people struggling to live together in relative peace and stability.
He appreciated how the city might help to cultivate the “good life” and preserve and transmit the virtues like civility and hospitality, for which The Bahamas was known.
Those fountainheads of civilization which socialize successive generations are rooted in the architecture, public spaces and possibilities of a city and should inform its redevelopment.
The finer cities of the world strive for a balance between commercial, cultural and governmental interests and the need for artistic and religious expression, recreation, entertainment, beauty, shopping, dining and other fine attributes of a city.
The recasting of Nassau is not solely a development project; it is also a vision statement about our future and a historical recognition and reckoning with our past, requiring debate, artistry and careful planning.
Nassau’s restoration is not solely about creating a nice space for tourists to visit. It is primarily about creating a more welcome space for Bahamians to live, work, dine, shop and play, while offering visitors an enjoyable destination.
A compelling task in revitalizing the city is helping to better monetize the greater untapped economic potential of millions of cruise ship passengers who annually visit New Providence and who are desperate for more interesting things to do while in port.
An individual involved in the Downtown Nassau Partnership recently pressed for the transformation of Fort Charlotte. In a Front Porch column in 2009 this columnist urged: “Fort Charlotte and its environs should be turned into a central park with walking trails, facilities for cultural events and other features similar to such parks in other international cities.
“The central park’s recreational features can extend to the waterfront encompassing an upgraded Arawak Cay and Western Esplanade with its boardwalk. Complementing Fort Charlotte Central Park and Arawak Cay will be a restored Botanical Gardens…”
There may also be a well-designed City of Nassau heritage trail from Fort Charlotte Central Park in the west to Potter’s Cay in the east and from Prince George’s Wharf in the north to Bain Town and Grants Town in the south.
The opportunities for heritage tourism include: a new National Museum of The Bahamas at Collins House; a variety of heritage tours, which include guided and non-guided walking tours; a craft market; the development of a Native Food Market; a plethora of restaurants and eateries and venues for entertainment.
Planning for the city must take into account the need for a new parliamentary complex, which is badly needed. The chambers of the House and Senate should be preserved with these buildings becoming museums dedicated to our political history and development into a vibrant democracy.
The area stretching from Fish Fry to Long Wharf may also be turned into a major food, entertainment and heritage destination for Bahamians and visitors somewhat akin to portions of a similar development in Curacao.
There are already a number of venues and attractions for Bahamians and visitors on West Hill Street, including restaurants, the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas, and Ed Culture at West and Delancey Streets.
The reimagining for the City of Nassau will require new governing structures, including possibly a city administrator and a public-private partnership to maintain the city.
This vision will take many years. But this is a relatively short time for a 300-year-old-plus city with a rich past and a vibrant future. If we get it right today, generations to come will enjoy a transformed Nassau, a regional and international icon for a smart and beautiful city.