By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
September 20, 2013
I don’t know what area of Trinidad Anil Roberts comes from and on what basis he makes the claim that a Regional Sporting Complex “is forty years overdue” or why he feels that a sporting complex “equipped with facilities for all citizens to use for sports such as cricket, football, swimming, squash, tennis and table tennis” (Newsday, September 16) is the best use we can make of the remaining ten acres of the natural savannah of Tacarigua.
My family and I have lived all of our lives in Tacarigua. My great-grandfather, Jonathan Cudjoe, and my great grandmother, Amelia Cudjoe, were born in Tacarigua in 1833 and 1837 respectively. This means that my family has been a part of this community even before slavery ended in Trinidad.
As a scholar, I have devoted my entire life to documenting the importance of Tacarigua and its savannah to the village, the country, and the world. In 1985 I brought a team of four people from Cornell University to document the history of Tacargua. We produced a documentary, “Tacarigua: A Village in Trinidad,” which is shown sometimes on Channel 4. It was intended for PBS of New York.
In 1995, on the 350thanniversary of Tacarigua’s founding as a village, I produced a book titled Tacarigua: A Village in Trinidad. In it, I argued about the importance of our common green space that is so necessary for the mental, physical, and aesthetic development of our people. I wrote: “The Orange Grove Savannah has also served this function [that of providing a common green space] because people gravitate naturally to the savannah on Sundays or weekdays to play or to watch a cricket or football match. It is one thing they could do in common without let or hindrance. Could you imagine what should happen if the savannah was barred around and then one individual possessed the exclusive right to say when a districker [a member of the community] could or could not play on these grounds?” (p. 58). These were prophetic words.
This is exactly what is intended by this proposed sporting complex: a building for a select few in which persons from the village and surrounding areas would be denied access completely. That is what happens at the Hockey Court that was built on a valuable piece of the savannah. Guards sit at the entrance of the compound twenty-four hours a day.
When Carol James, an environmentalist and a member of the “Save Our Green Space Committee, Tacarigua,” met with Mr. Roberts and his staff on September 3, 2013, to discuss the inadvisability of turning the Tacarigua Greens into a site of concrete and clay, she reminded Mr. Roberts of the exclusionary policy of the Hockey Center. In his brusque manner, he retorted: “I don’t want to hear about the Hockey Center. I didn’t develop it. It was before my time.”
And that is precisely the problem. All of this was before Mr. Roberts’ time so he does not know anything about the history of our village or could he possibly realize the role the savannah has played in our social and cultural development. If he had, he would have known what that savannah means to Tacarigua districkers.
In our submission to the Ministry, we tried to impress upon them the importance of open spaces in the life of any community. We said to them that the Orange Grove Savannah is the only open space we have left along the East-West corridor of the county. In its glory days, next to the Queen’s Park Savannah, it was the second biggest savannah in the country. Over the last thirty years or so there has been a major demographic shift of the population from Port of Spain to Tacarigua. In the process, over two hundred thousand people have moved into the area. This requires more rather than less open space. If we deny people the use of open spaces, we can confidently expect more rather than less crime.
Tacarigua is the water table for the surrounding areas. There are approximately eight water pumps around the savannah. No one in his or her right mind would want to interfere with this invaluable resource which is so necessary to preserve the lives of future generations.
Then there is the question of health. Given our addiction to fast foods we can predict the catastrophic rise of chronic diseases over the next ten or twenty years in the population. We do not need less space to exercise. Thousands of people use the Orange Grove Savannah on any given day to exercise. Ten schools also use the savannahs. If we want to prevent diabetes among our growing population, particularly in our young people, we need more open spaces they can use rather than fewer. Today our government spends $460 million annually to buy drugs from abroad. Decrease our green spaces and that amount is sure to increase.
Then there is the question of aesthetics. Why would one take a natural savannah, so identified since 1846, build a road through it, a car park for 300 cars, and a swimming pool? As our committee has pointed out, “Do you think the residents of Port of Spain would ever countenance the building of a swimming pool, the construction of a car park, etc. on the Queens Park Savannah? Do you think the city of London or the city of New York would condescend to turn Hyde Park or Central Park into a zone where you would put down car parks, roads, etc?”
In October 2012, John A. Paulson, a hedge fund manager, gave $100 (US) million dollars to the Central Park Conservancy to enhance the usability of Central Park. It was the largest monetary gift the New York park system ever received. The New York Times reported: “The gift comes as Central Park is at a high point, after decades of improvements and restorations…undertaken by the conservancy….The park, by all accounts, has not looked this good since the landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux created it in the mid-19th century from an 843-acre rectangle in the center of Manhattan.” (New York Times, October 23, 2013).
This is what great countries do. They preserve, maintain, and restore green space in their cities and their villages because they are essential for the well-being of their citizens.
This is all we are asking of the government. Leave our savannah alone. It has served our needs for over two hundred years. We do not need, and do not accept the proposition, that it should be turned into a concrete jungle only for the few. It is a cause the entire country should support.
Professor Cudjoe, a districker of Tacarigua, is the Margaret E. Deffenbaugh and LeRoy T. Carlson Professor of Comparative Literature at Wellesley College, Massachusetts.