From James Park to James Plaza
The recent visit by the Prince of Wales to Tobago provided an opportunity for the public to experience the refurbished James Park from the inside. Although the work appeared incomplete, one can still appreciate the transformation that has taken place and the changes that are quite significant.
The first thing that one notices is the huge increase in concrete surfaces that have been added. The entire central area of the park is now hard surface. All the grass has been removed and replaced with poured concrete and paving stones. Added to this, a new wall now surrounds the park. It has been estimated that more than fifteen thousand square feet of concrete or stone surface has been added. The second observation that one can make is that there are less trees than before and those trees that have been left have been severely pruned. Two of them look like a barber has given them a flat top cut.
These changes have combined to produce one critical effect. As the chutney singers would say, the park is "hotter than a chula". During the prince's visit one could feel the heat radiating from all that concrete. James Park is no longer a park in the true sense. Gone is the grass that one could sit on and relax and take a break from the heat. James Park has been transformed into a concrete plaza.
This change in the architecture of James Park must be viewed in the larger context of the loss of urban greenery in Scarborough. As with any other growing economy, the demand for commercial space will lead to changing land use and in Scarborough this is happening at a fairly rapid pace. More and more green space is being lost to building and roads. A visit to the Dutch Fort area will illustrate this point.
It is important therefore that provision be made for the retention or creation of green spaces so that we can enjoy the benefits that they provide. The consultants who last year presented the plans for the beautification of lower Scarborough demonstrated that they fully understood this necessity. They proposed that extensive tree planting should be done in all areas in Lower Scarborough so as to make the town more user-friendly.
More trees were proposed for the market area, the NIB Mall and the area of the port. When one sees the large numbers of people that utilise the area with the grass and sea grape trees next to the port passenger terminal, one understands the reasoning behind these proposals.
It is difficult to understand therefore the reasoning behind the changes made at James Park. Why so much emphasis on hard architecture when it is the opposite approaches that should be taken? Did the architects intend to create a Spanish style plaza? If so, then what they have done goes against all modern architectural approaches to provide open areas for public use and enjoyment in urban settings. All is not lost however. If one or two fast growing trees are placed in the center of the plaza then in a year or two the harsh impact of the recent work will be reduced and we will have a more user friendly James Park to enjoy.
On the issue of user-friendliness, it has also been observed that cacti have been planted in several areas within the park. Some of these have long spines that are potentially deadly. Were these cacti planted to keep people out of the flowerbeds? If it is intended that children should enjoy this park then the decision to plant this type of cactus should be revisited. An accident is waiting to happen. Public safety should always be given the highest priority. - Kamau Akili