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THE REMAKING OF A CAPITAL CITY

 

By Simon

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2009.

 

Two prominent figures sit in that most public of squares – Rawson, which in earlier times was simply known as “The Park” and was described by L.D. Powles in The Land of the Pink Pearl as “an acre in extent…on which were the broken remains of some benches and some dried-up-looking, coarse grass

.”

From her Empire Day unveiling in 1905 Victoria Regina (Queen) et Imperatix (Empress) presided in marbled solitude in Rawson Square for 88 years until an unpretentious bronze bust of Sir Milo Butler entered this privileged space in 1993.

 

While the enthroned monarch is mounted higher than our native son in a square named after a former Royal Governor, her viewpoint is narrower, more stilted, while Sir Milo’s is panoramic.

 

Most Bahamians fail to notice that Victoria’s head is tilted north-east, while Sir Milo has a forward gaze that surveys east and west and as importantly, south.  Indeed, his gaze cum vision recasts the idea of the City of Nassau and Bay Street, from a clique of historically private interests to a shared civic commons.

 

While some never stopped pining for the sword and scepter glued to Victoria’s imperial grip, most have cast their lots with the virtues of equality and freedom Sir Milo championed, based on the values of the Good Book he clasps in his left hand. 

 

Some of the fairly recent discussions on redeveloping “downtown” were narrowly commercial, spanning mostly east to west for the benefit of tourists and cash registers.  Though essential, those interests are partial and narrow.

 

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 local version of Disneyland’s Main Street, U.S.A. attraction.

 

Nassau does not simply stretch east to west, it also stretches north to south encompassing an impressive register of publicly owned buildings and spaces which are a key element in the city’s renewal.


In any successful planning exercise, the city’s breadth and depth must be taken into account.  The recasting of  Nassau is not solely a development project; it is also a vision statement about our future and an historical recognition and reckoning with our past, requiring debate, artistry and careful planning.

 

Further, Nassau’s restoration is not primarily 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.

 

There is chord that binds Funky Nassau to Nassau – The Reality of Illusion, a visual collaboration of artists Paulette Mortimer, John Cox and Jackson Burnside that is part elegy, part love song and part call to action.

 

All of the artists share a common theme: “Nassau rock /And Nassau roll /Nassau’s got a /Whole lot of soul.”  Unfortunately much of Nassau has become soulless with the deprecation of its architectural richness, unkempt public spaces, and almost ghost-town pall once evening settles in.

 

But there is still much soul in Nassau as manifested by a variety of revitalizing projects in train and the tenacious efforts of some to reclaim the city, including through various advocacy campaigns and architectural projects, more of which in next week’s Front Porch.

 

Moreover, the seats of state power remain in the capital city in the precincts of Sir Milo and Queen Victoria in buildings representing vital elements of our democratic heritage, including the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.

 

But even though our democratic institutions remain vibrant, the buildings housing many of them are in a state of disrepair. 

 

The exterior conditions of the House of Assembly and the Senate are embarrassing,   not primarily because they are viewed by millions of tourists passing by them hunting for bargains, but because with peeling paint, missing shutters, grime and dirt they speak to what, in some measure, we must think about ourselves.

 

While it may take some time to fully refurbish these buildings, is it too much to ask successive governments to do the most basic maintenance on these most representative of institutions?  Too many of our political leaders seem indifferent to the state of disrepair of these state buildings.


Rather than standard issued public offices, these buildings are not only at the heart of the city, they are also at the heart of our democratic experience and heritage.  The inability to better maintain them speaks to why the redevelopment of
Nassau has been long in coming and will take some time.

 

At some basic level, most of us, including our political leaders, have been content to let things fall apart, which is why our city centre is not holding its own.  Though things are improving, many of us still fail to appreciate the richness of our built heritage and why it must be preserved and recast.

 

In renewing the City of Nassau, the greater work will be in transforming our cultural insecurities, while gaining a deeper knowledge of our layered heritage and our national possibilities. 

 

Simon is a young Bahamian with things on his mind who wishes to remain anonymous. His column 'Front Porch' is published every Tuesday in the Nassau Guardian. He can be reached at frontporchguardian@gmail.com.

 

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