Welcome

Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

What world are we living in? Redux: Tensions of development.

Some Bajans have commented to me orally about the original post (see link) and put forward some notions that I had held from my earliest days here, but were interesting to hear from people who have lived here all their lives. In the case of one woman, who has never left Barbados, studied at UWI, worked for the government at some stage, and now works for a regional organization, she put forward the following:

In Barbados, Bajans have a "culture" of not putting their wealth up for show--hence the tendency for modest-looking housing. Various government policies have also encouraged mixed income housing developments to try to remove the sense that some areas are for "haves" only (parts of the west coast?). The first part fits with the common notion that people are conservative and reserved. However, that said, when I look at areas such as The Pines, and parts of the inner urban area around Bridgetown, I don't see modesty, I see poverty--areas of economic stress or depression, and from what I hear and see on a daily basis they show plenty of signs of social stress (problems related to drug use, violent crimes, etc.).

She added that much of the "wealth" in Barbados is not national: a lot of money flows into developing property in the country but is controlled by foreigners and mainly enjoyed by them and expatriates. The manicured golf courses near the west coast are wonderful to see but they don't directly produce nutrtition; they are tourists' and rich people's play things. In addition to that observation, I have noticed that pressure to develop an already congested island is raising a lot of concerns about the growing disappearance of open spaces and their replacement by concrete; a post in another blog today (Barbados Free Press; see picture above) highlights that in the rural area of St. Philip. An undercurrent to those concerns is that the "developers" are often foreign, though there are major local businesses who are also in this game. What I would add is that some of what I have noticed looks like good old urban blight. That can be the result of inertia on the part of the property owner or an agency such as the government's planning department. Reasonable plans may exist to develop an area but the plans remain blocked for a range of reasons. Neighbouring property owners can only wait and see.

Concerns are particularly high when it comes to losing some of the beautiful coastal areas, that give "windows to the sea" (see recent comments by Hartley Henry). For the west coast, the views are gone; the east coast has a lot of views that can be preserved, and could be an area for some real tests of government's resolve to preserve what many nationals hold dear.

She further added (stressing that she had no strong preference for either major party) that the previous government, BLP, had a tendency to spend excessively, but put little of that into productive ventures, thus Barbados has a lot of "fluff"--sone showy exteriors but a somewhat shoddy underside. Bright, modern buildings, such as The Sherbourne Centre (pictured), the new commercial areas of Warrens, the international airport, show an intent to give the country a "well-fed" face, but they do not indicate convincingly that the body is also doing well.

Every country has these kinds of dichotomies, so Barbados is not unique. My question is whether the whole country is moving in one direction--upward--or if there is a distinct sense that some parts are growing poles apart.

1 comment:

notesfromthemargin said...

Dennis,

Interesting comments, while yes if you were to go into the Pine or other areas you would find poverty and other evidence of economic stress, the same could more than likely be said for many areas of Kingston and rural Jamaica or any Caribbean Island for that matter.

Much of Barbados' economic growth has come in the areas of the "heights and terraces", or in middle class areas. (If you doubt this, try to find a picture of the St. George valley from the 1970's). Many of the old plantations have converted their "rab lands" (not suitable for cultivation) into housing developments. One of the driving factors of this is the desire of Bajan's to own a piece of the rock.

While there are the Turtleback Ridges and Westmorelands, most of the developments are quite modest 5 to 7 thousand square foot lots and most of them are owned by Bajans.

Barbados is at a curious stage of its development. The influx of foreign capital has led to skyrocketing property values on the West Coast, and as supplies of that land have evaporated, the demand has spread inland (and also to nearby OECS countries that market themselves as better value than Barbados).

Policy makers face a dilemma that will requires a delicate solution. Much of the island's growth has been underpinned by the much maligned condo/townhouse development, how does a government apply the brakes to it, without killing it? I'm not sure that I know the answer. However it is clear that if the government of the day does nothing, then we run the risk of becoming aliens in our own land.

Interesting discussion.

Marginal