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The built environment in regional integration

Published:Sunday | March 13, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Patricia Green, architect

Patricia E. Green, Guest Columnist

Professor Carolyn Cooper shared that "mi head tek mi" when she saw the poster carried "not even one token woman". She felt that this poster showed a regional face "completely old and totally male", adding also that the programme agenda was presented by 23 males and two females.

Well, my heart sank deeply, not so much over the poster, Professor Cooper, but because it announced a significant conference, 'CARICOM and the Commonwealth: Collective Responsibility in the 21st Century', hosted February 16-18 by University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Commonwealth Secretariat, which omitted any discourse on the Caribbean built environment.

By the built environment, I include our villages, towns, cities, urbanism, engineering, architecture, and heritage issues representing our collective experiences as Caribbean people, the tangible evidence of our development process, or, as some may argue, the lack thereof. The natural environment and sustainable development were on the conference programme. However, there was the glaring neglect of any specific built-environment matter.

The built environment is intrinsically tied to regional economic generation and gross domestic product (GDP). We learn from quantity surveyor Dean Burrowes, writing for the UK Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, that in Jamaica, the construction and real-estate industry make up approximately 15 per cent of GDP. The construction industry also impacts significantly on labour, accounting for approximately 17 per cent of the total labour force. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reported in January 2011 that during the third quarter of 2010 the Jamaican economy recorded growth of 1.8 per cent, when compared to the previous quarter, and that the growth in goods-producing industries was influenced by higher output levels in all industries with the exception of construction, which declined by 2.4 per cent.

Interestingly, the 22nd Intersessional Meeting of Heads of Government of the CARICOM, held in Grenada February 25-26, ended with a decision to hold a heads of government retreat to deliberate on the direction of the regional integration movement. Its communiqué noted "loss in the momentum with regard to the regional integration agenda". The heads of government agreed there was a need to reassess approaches in accordance with their vision.

Should the CARICOM vision be refashioned? Surely, any such vision should embrace the Caribbean built environment in all its associations with climate change, sustainable development, tourism, etc. Has the time now arrived for CARICOM to embark on a 'new vision' of itself and of the Caribbean?

Commonwealth Deputy Secretary General Ransford Smith, in his opening address at the UWI conference, highlighted that within the Commonwealth, Caribbean, countries have been working within a common market for almost 40 years, making it one of the oldest and the most advanced regional integration movements in the developing world. "One might ask," he commented, "is the region strong in values and weak on growth?"

I wish to say yes, strong in values, and, therefore, has the potential and is poised for growth, inevitable particularly against the rich legacy that the region holds in the historic development of the Americas.

Small states are important

Smith continued that the Commonwealth is home to 32 small states, adding that 25 of these are small island states. Therefore, the Commonwealth has always placed great importance on advocacy for small states. Recognising that in the region, the country of the Netherlands Antilles ceased to exist as a legal entity on October 10, 2010, and that two new countries were born on that date - Curaçao and St Maarten - CARICOM now has new opportunities for growth.

From its noble beginnings as the 'Commonwealth Caribbean', CARICOM may now desire to pursue a vision and purpose for advocacy under the regional small states agenda, with greater emphasis through the current integrated environmental biosphere theme of the 'Insular Caribbean'.

What power the Caribbean holds with its 45 per cent voting power within the global bloc of 31 states in Latin America and the Caribbean! Prior to 10-10-10, there were 10 states in South America, seven in Central America/Mexico, with 14 in the Caribbean.

I further contend that the conference at the UWI not only omitted from its programme the built environment, but also the addition of new countries in the Caribbean.

Deputy Secretary General Smith also observed that if progress is to continue, the Caribbean has to grapple with the challenges stemming from globalisation, the emergence of new economic powers, and the Economic Partnership Agreement with Europe.

Tourism is the Caribbean's collective primary foreign-exchange earner, and the built environment offers an attractive product through conservation of the built cultural heritage as an integrating mechanism for Caribbean cultural tourism. The new country of Curaçao possesses a major regional cultural tourism attraction on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the city of Willemstad. To create diversification of the tourism product, the Association of Caribbean States has established a 'Sustainable Tourism Convention' that includes cultural heritage tourism.

Eradicating poverty

The partnership agreement between the members of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Community called the Cotonou Agreement - with its implementation through the European Development Fund - is centred on the objective of reducing and eventually eradicating poverty, consistent with the objectives of sustainable development. Article 27 of Cotonou addresses culture and development, "recognising, preserving, and promoting the value of cultural heritage and supporting the development of capacity".

CARICOM holds responsibility to assist the post-earthquake reconstruction of Haiti. In other words, to help reconstruct its built environment. In 1982, Haiti became one of the first Caribbean nations to have its built cultural heritage listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the National History Park containing the Citadel, with the Palace of Sans Souci, and buildings at Ramiers. By this, Haiti already has a seed through its built cultural heritage for poverty alleviation, according to the Cotonou Agreement.

How can a new CARICOM vision make the built environment work for Haiti, the other Caribbean small states, and the 'Insular Caribbean'?

Patricia E. Green is an architect. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and patgreen2008@gmail.com.