At the junction of Regent and Camp streets, the modest old commercial buildings of a few decades ago have been completely supplanted by twin towers, multi-storied glass and concrete edifices, symbols of a contemporary era of outrageous investments in new-fashioned shopping malls and complexes that sound the death knell of what was once clusters of more modest downtown stores that offered a more quaint commercial culture.
These days, edifices are reaching further skyward transforming Georgetown. We are witnessing the emergence of a different entrepreneurial culture, a more elaborate one characterized by multi-million dollar investments in huge edifices that provide trading spaces for a new generation of would-be entrepreneurs… from modest investors in barber shops and beauty parlours and long-standing snackette operators trying their hands in a more salubrious and demanding environment to converts to the popular trading culture that evinces a preference for fancy kiosks with background music offering a bewildering array of cheap but ‘catchy’ items ranging from costume jewellery and cellular phone accessories to decorative toys.
Those structures that provide a reminder of the old trading culture, persist cheek by jowl with the more modern edifices, though, gradually, they appear to be falling silent, slowly, inexorably giving way to the competition.
In downtown Georgetown, business premises are changing hands, signalling requiems of long-established shops and stores and marking the emergence of the energetic Chinese merchants who have, in a few short years, graduated from traders in inconsequential bric-a-brac to full-scale merchants, offering greater volumes of cheaper imports like clothing, craft and coffee tables. Apart from having appealed to the Guyanese consumer’s insatiable appetite for ‘bargains the Chinese invasion has left the traditional micro businesses – mostly the small seamstresses – crying foul. The authorities, meanwhile, have responded with pronouncements about the legitimacy of competition.
The urban transformation manifests itself in huge structures crammed into small spaces, the aggressive building boom proceeding within a counterproductive framework that manifests itself in a lack of regard for building codes and safety protocols. We accept as an occupational hazard of the construction drive, the dangerous encumbering of the streets and walkways and the endangering of the citizenry.
The fact that we appear to have lost the capacity to manage our capital effectively is a telltale sign that there is nothing planned about our urban transformation. In some of the more glaring cases of elaborate investment, the projects appear ill-conceived, their sheer size seemingly a threat to our capacity to maintain a sense of order in a city not fashioned to accommodate such monstrosities; so that infrastructure for coping, for keeping things in order, lags worryingly behind. Our garbage and sewage disposal systems can no longer cope anywhere near effectively with the additional mountains of disposables generated by the continually bloating capital. Our urban roadways are groaning beneath the wheels of increasing numbers of cars, vans, minibuses and containerized lorries moving goods from ports to trading locations around the capital; and we have long run out of parking spaces.
In response to our failure to manage a transforming capital effectively we appear to have resigned ourselves to the consequences of that failure. We marvel, for example, at our high-rise buildings and our expanding trading culture while accepting as a trade-off the consequence of having to wallow around in additional mountains of garbage…piles of plastics, corrugated cardboard and polystyrene disposals deposited in prominent spaces like monuments of shame beside those edifices that we regard as monuments of progress.