The planning of the Downtown has been a matter for discussion for the past few years. In fact, the Downtown Partnership is committed to the redevelopment of the Bay Street area. We believe the conversation is way too narrow, but that at least it is a start of a crucial conversation needed for the social and economical development of New Providence. Unfortunately, the work is being hampered by an interest that obviously does not appreciate the seriousness of the issue. The entire plan for the revitalization of Bay Street must apparently satisfy the requirements of the Taxi Union.

 

A trip down Bay Street reveals that taxi parking is the most important parking on Bay Street, eliminating the opportunity for the local customer to park on Bay Street. This has a powerful effect: it makes shopping Downtown out of the question for locals. And while the present Bay Street merchants may not be concerned about this, it conflicts with the stated objective of “bringing people back Downtown”.

 But what are the taxis for? Once upon a time, they took locals home (that stopped a long time ago).

They took visitors over the hill to the various (and plentiful) nightclubs and restaurants. And they ferried people to and from the Cable Beach and Paradise Island resorts. Most of that traffic no longer exists, and the taxi community accepts that fact.

So why is Bay Street reserved  almost entirely for taxis?  Why are the taxi drivers themselves not agitating for a central location from which they might be called when the need arises, or to which both tourist and local can go to find professional  livery service? Why must the vision for Bay Street be shoe-horned into a parking plan for taxis? There is certainly a need to address the issue of parking Downtown, but that conversation cannot proceed successfully while the Taxi Union holds onto the notions of the past. It’s time to grow up.

 

Downtown redevelopment requires a dream of the life of a Downtown that serves the needs of the City and its citizens, physically, socially and spiritually. That dream has, to my knowledge, not been expressed in terms that allow us all to respond to it and to commit to it. What has been expressed are ideas of ways to increase tourist spending and to facilitate those businesses that have direct contact with the tourists. But that is not enough. The Downtown must become a place again that generates pride in the citizenry, through the inclusion of their history, belief systems and lifestyles in the planning of the Downtown. A parent must be able to walk his child through the streets and proudly recall the important events of his history, or his own memories of time on those streets. The fabric of the buildings, the trees, the gardens, the types of stores are all part of that collective memory that is critical to the pride we say we want to see our citizens have in our Town. But it must be planned, and the present focus on planning is not the experience of those things, but the experience

of parking spaces. It controls the size and shape of the streets, the ways in which we access the experiences of our commerce and it confirms that human beings are not as important as their vehicles.

 

If this suggests that there is some agenda against the taxi drivers, that suggestion is wrong. Taxis are an important part of the infrastructure of the City, as are hotels and restaurants, and must be accommodated. But they are not the experience for which either we or our visitors travel to Bay Street. Their place is therefore not more important than that experience.

 

It is time to get on with the task of rethinking our Downtown, and the first step is to get rid of the Sacred Cows.

 

 

Patrick A. Rahming RIBA

June 2011

 

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