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Preserving Woodbrook’s unique heritage

The following ‘Response to Ariapita Avenue Developments and Year-Round Carnival Centre’ issued by the Woodbrook Residents Committee on August 4 has been edited for length.

Since the events of Friday, July 22, 2022, the launch of Tribe’s Carnival Band, we have noted Senator Randall Mitchell’s statements on the use of Ariapita as a year-round venue for Carnival-type activities.

Last year His Worship the Mayor, Alderman Joel Martinez along with members of UDECOTT also made public statements on the development of Ariapita Avenue.

As a community, we are deeply concerned and indeed perplexed by both the tone and content of these statements which are being made ex-cathedra and without the benefit of meaningful consultation and dialogue with the community and, we dare say, in the absence of any verifiable research on the needs and development priorities of the area.

A year-round Carnival will do nothing other than dilute the original festival, eviscerating its social, cultural, and historical values. Too much of anything renders it stale and unattractive, and this practice would sound the death knell for the cultural tourism that could yet be an income-earner for Trinidad and Tobago.

We also confess some measure of discomfort with the approach that we see unfolding. If we are to gauge by recent official statements, what we see is an ill-conceived agenda to recreate the ‘Gaza Strip’ that developed on Wrightson Road during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II.

The outcome of this was the prevalence of prostitution, gambling, and a range of nefarious activities including street fights and riotous behaviour involving the American marines and locals at the various bars and nightclubs along that stretch.

Trinidad and Tobago is approaching 60 years of Independence, and we would like to celebrate the remarkable achievement of this twin-island state, confidently knowing that we have ‘grown up’ and moved past a ‘Gaza Strip’ mentality.

We make an urgent call for the reversal of the disorderly approach that has been adopted over the last decade which has resulted in longstanding residents of the area being virtually imprisoned and discomforted in their homes after sunset, a proliferation of criminal activity, and a range of other undesirable outcomes including excessive noise pollution.

Weekend activities from the bars continually confront residents with unsanitary waste in front of their properties—Styrofoam cups and plates, food boxes, doubles wrapping paper, sanitary napkins, condoms, human excreta, and vomitus.

Woodbrook remains a majority residential neighbourhood, and as such requires the enjoyment of certain rights such as peacefulness, cleanliness, and safety, all of which will be further jeopardised by what is being proposed.

We acknowledge that Woodbrook has, of necessity, become a very changed place over the years. This coastal residential suburb of Port of Spain has given way to heightened commercial activity over the last two decades.

Unfortunately, the resulting largely unplanned and unregulated changes in land use have altered the ecosystem of the built environment and landscape, and many heritage landmarks have been slowly eroding.

Nonetheless, Woodbrook remains an important residential suburb of Port of Spain with a glorious heritage that few people know about.

We consider Woodbrook’s unique cultural and built heritage to be one of those resources which, if properly funded and managed, could be the lynchpin in a new economy of heritage tourism that would differentiate Trinidad and Tobago from all the other Caribbean islands. Moreover, there is a beautiful history and story behind what the community of Woodbrook is and stands for.

This country has a rich, diverse cultural background, and Woodbrook represents that diversity through the various individuals that migrated and settled here, bringing with them their cultural artforms and traditions.

The Woodbrook Residents Committee will soon launch their book, Growing Up Woodbrook: A Tapestry of Then and Now – An Amazing Square Mile in History, which sets out the outsize role of this compact area  – “one square mile” of its sons and daughters in the performing and creative arts during the last century.

The book contains a delightful feature in which the residents, past and present, contributed their stories via written submissions or interviews. The book is also a gift to Trinidad and Tobago as the nation commemorates its 60th anniversary of Independence.

This is the context in which we, the longstanding residents of the area, are advocating for an approach to the redevelopment planning process that incorporates consultation, research, preservation, and promotion of the community’s heritage assets and commitment to the country’s cultural development.

Above all, we advocate for an approach that is crafted within the framework of a development plan that is consistent with the regulations governing the use of land in the area.