It was with a great deal of happiness that we heard that the Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Charles ‘Max’ Fernandez, and the Minister of Works, the Honourable Maria Bird Browne, were about to embark on a walk-through of the decrepit city of St John’s, with a view towards implementing major upgrades. Hallelujah! As the scriptures would say, “Even so, come quickly, thou long-awaited. . .”
Of course, the fact that these two ministers are engaging in this exercise, albeit belatedly on the part of the good Minister of Tourism, is an admission that St John’s is in an awful state, and it gives credence to what we have been saying on this very page – the city is falling apart. How the Minister of Tourism could feel any sense of satisfaction at visitors coming here to see the piles of garbage and smell the stench that sometimes enveloped St John’s is beyond us. The gutters are filthy, as are the treacherous sidewalks. Almost all the roads need repaving, and signage and manhole covers need replacing. After all, what kind of modern tourist city has missing manhole covers, or broken covers that are replaced by quickly-rotting plywood? And there is more. Many of the relatively new garbage receptacles are quite dirty, and they all seem to have at least one part missing from them. St John’s looks like an abandoned city from the wild, wild West.
Again, we are happy that these two Ministers have found religion, and we sincerely trust that, unlike the legion of downright lies and vain promises from their colleagues, that they will actually deliver on this worthy effort and promise. The long-struggling city of St Johns cries out for relief – relief from the disrepair and decay. In that regard, we are holding Minister Fernandez to his pledge that St John’s will look a lot better by the start of the next tourist season, later this year.
Our fair town of St Johns was beautifully laid out in a grid pattern in 1702. The cross, and up-and-down streets are still in use today. In the 1970’s the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM) government designated the alternating one-way traffic patterns that are also still in use. (Can you imagine two-way traffic on the narrow streets of St John’s?) Anyway, our lovely town was elevated to the status of a city in 1842, especially since it had a beautiful harbour, perfect for anchoring ships, on the leeward side of the island. With the lovely St John’s Cathedral, Government House, the Botanical Gardens, the cenotaph, Country Pond, the Antigua Recreation Grounds, the Foundation Mixed School, the Antigua Girls High School, the Antigua Grammar School, and the T N Kirnon School, the old Holberton Hospital, the old St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, the Public Market, the St John’s Police Station, Redcliffe Quay and Heritage Quay, His Majesty’s Prison, the Queen Elizabeth Highway with its impressive view of St John’s Harbour, and a number of Victorian and Georgian-era buildings on Newgate, Long and Market Streets, and so on and so forth, St John’s has the landmarks that could easily make it stand out as a most delightful and intriguing city.
Sadly, most of the aforementioned structures and places are desperately in need of some tender loving care. The signs of neglect are everywhere. A notable exception is Government House, which was recently restored to its original grace and beauty, thanks to the historic consciousness of our Governor General, His Excellency Sir Rodney Williams, and his dedicated restoration team. Kudos! Another exception of note is the absolutely stunning restoration work still being carried out at the St John’s Cathedral. Without fear of contradiction, we declare that one will easily feel close to the Almighty within its hallowed halls. Te Deum laudamus! (Latin) (We praise Thee, O God). We say thanks to the fine folk who have remained faithful to the grand Cathedral that once was, and we urge them not to become weary in well doing. Obviously, there is work to be done yet, especially on the exterior, the twin towers, the sacred grounds, and the surrounding walls. Let us support the Cathedral in all the fundraising efforts, ever-conscious of the fact that this is one of our national treasures.
The restoration work in St John’s will not be easy. The roads and sidewalks have been so badly mangled over the years. If need be, perhaps we ought to put out bids for a contractor with proven expertise in these matters, to painstakingly work on our now-faded, but still dearly-beloved, city of St John’s, block by block. We do not want a crappy job, with millions and millions of dollars disappearing down that gutter in Tanner Street. If you know what we mean.
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