By SHELDON OSBORNE
THE Queen's Park Savannah is often described as the "lungs of Port of Spain” and has even been compared to New York City's "Central Park", although Central Park is a lot larger.
The idea, however, is the same: A large area of greenery reserved in the heart of a built-up area so that people living in the city could enjoy the benefits of unbroken open spaces and greenery.
The citizens of Port of Spain may well be on the brink of losing this treasured park, not just because of the level of abuse taking place, after all, the savannah has always suffered high-levels of misuse.
But the level of public apathy to government's policy now seems higher than ever, while government seems hell-bent on extending the concrete jungle northwards into the savannah.
Environmentalists and civic-minded citizens, quite vocal in the past, have all but given up on the fight to save the Queen's Park Savannah from total ruin, since their voices went unheard and unheeded while a large section of the park was paved a decade ago.
The 200-acre park, a former sugar estate, was bought by the Town Council from the Peschier family for public purposes, specifically to provide a public park and pasture for the people of Port of Spain and environs.
It was not a gift to the people of Trinidad as many people believe, and maybe if citizens get that idea out of their heads, attitudes might change.
Believe it or not, one of the "public purposes" was the grazing of animals, which is probably why horse-racing was able to gain and keep a foothold on large sections of the savannah for so long.
Its central location also made the savannah the natural home for Carnival celebrations, as "The Big Yard" as it is affectionately called, could be accessed easily from downtown, East and West.
The Big Yard is still a major venue for the Panorama Steelband Competition, the major annual steelband event, the King and Queen of Carnival Competition, Dimanche Gras and the Calypso Monarch Competition.
But that is set to change as a new venue at the National Stadium is now being touted as a "Major Carnival Venue".
This was tried during the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) days, but met with loud opposition from Carnival lovers.
Horse-racing was discontinued at that venue during the 1991-1995 People's National Movement (PNM) Administration.
Later on, under the United National Congress (UNC), a sizeable portion of the savannah was paved while Carlos John was Works Minister.
In the words of one Belmont resident, "that move was the final blow, the end of the big yard".
The paved areas are now being used as fete venues, flea markets, and other activities not in keeping with the original intentions for the use of the savannah, and the park has seen its worst neglect in the last decade.
Observant citizens would have noticed more and more permanent structures being built stealthily around the old paddock and the grand stand.
This activity has now spread to the centre of the savannah near the Peschier Cemetery (the family kept their burial ground).
A large structure built recently next to the cemetery and subsequently abandoned, is now home to vagrants hiding out to avoid being picked up by police.
Prime Minister Patrick Manning recently hinted that government has plans to redevelop parts of the savannah, including the area around the stands.
Manning chose his moment carefully, making the announcement at the annual PNM convention, where he was certain no one would question him on any issue.
Meanwhile, the rot is being allowed to continue indefinitely at what was once considered a national treasure.
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