The trinidad Guardian / Downtown Port of Spain experienced some excitement last week Friday when the City Corporation officially renamed Queen Street to Queen Janelle Commissiong Street. The former Miss Universe, still as poised and fashionable as ever, toured the major thoroughfare alongside Mayor Joel Martinez before participating in the unveiling ceremony at Richmond Street corner.
This honour is a well-deserved one for Ms Commissiong. Trinbagonians born of my generation and after might not be able to fully appreciate her achievement but when she was crowned in July 1977, the first woman of colour to win the title, she attracted quite a bit of international attention for our country.
Even so, there are those who have taken issue with the event, citing the fact that she has already been recipient of numerous honours, including the Trinity Cross. There is also the argument being made that the arbitrary renaming of locations-like King George V Park to Nelson Mandela Park in 2014-overwrites the original historical context, robbing us of our shared colonial heritage.
While these are valid concerns, we shouldn’t underscore the benefits of having a part of the city associated with a local celebrity. It isn’t so much what such immortalisation does for Ms Commissiong’s reputation, but how her reputation can serve as inspiration to make the capital better than it is now.
In her dedication address Queen Penny said she wanted the street to be known as ” . . . the cleanest street in Trinidad and Tobago.” That was probably her way of graciously acknowledging Port-of-Spain’s persistent problem with sanitation. Even president of the Downtown Owners and Merchants Association Gregory Aboud voiced the hope that the same level of upkeep for this one street would be extended to the rest of the city.
But let’s be realistic, no city is perfect. Even in those capitals famous throughout the world, behind the glitz and glamour, they too have quarters that are dilapidated and reek of garbage. But what they have, and what Port-of -Spain lacks, is a sense of pride.
Other than administrative purposes, cities should be places citizens gravitate to for opportunities and excitement. Although people work in Port-of-Spain, they go home at day’s end, leaving much of downtown dark and deserted. The capital isn’t a place of grandeur where our culture is celebrated, but instead represents a sombre irony of our misplaced priorities: how new structures are built while historical ones are left to decay and how resources are wasted on plans and initiatives while basic services remain substandard.
These issues, however, aren’t solely the fault of Government and the City Corporation. Previous attempts at streamlining the flow of foot and auto traffic have been hindered by the vending community, whose illegal occupation of public spaces creates most of the chaos that plagues downtown. This attitude of “setting up shop to make a living” highlights just how little regard is given to sharing the capital. Just look at where the Drag Mall and the Salvatori Building once stood. Since being razed both lots have been appropriated and overrun by vendors. These shanty towns aren’t charming examples of street commerce but symbols of untapped potential, locations that should have been put to proper use but instead have become largescale eyesores.
It’s a surprising then that anyone would want their name attached to Port of Spain, especially in its current state. Mmaybe it takes the reputation of a beauty queen to inspire us to reclaim the beauty of our capital. It’s far from being an insurmountable task and we can all contribute by caring for every street and every building in our own way.
Shakespeare wrote, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet; Act II, Scene II) Uunless something meaningful is done, a street simply renamed isn’t going to smell any better.