In recent years, several heritage sites in Trinidad and Tobago have urgently needed to be restored, but this recent renovation has been received with praise and criticism.
For example, the restoration of the Red House (traditional seat of the country's Parliament) and the Mille Fleurs (one of the Seven Magnificent houses that surround the Savannah Queen's Park in Port of Spain) have taken several years to complete, such as Red House works, which have the longest term –20 years in process.
That long period is due in part to the ambitious goal of the projects, and to the fact that some sites – Mile Fleurs is a good example – had been neglected almost until demolition. Reportedly, the Red House was in such bad shape that restoration was the only alternative.
Many projects remained in the planning phase under various political administrations. Only from 2014 or 2105 the necessary funds were allocated so that the works could begin.
Among the sites that have benefited from the restoration are Killarney (also known as Stollmeyer Castle), Whitehall (also called Rosenweg) and the Presidential House.
Before its restoration, there was a great impulse to update them, especially from the National Fund of Trinidad and Tobago, with pressures from the public and private sectors to invest in the administration of the 43 heritage sites registered in the country.
In a function of the Ministry of Finance in October 2019, the Prime Minister, Dr. Keith Rowley, told the public that the buildings did not need to be saved only because of their relevance in the country's history but that the construction works carried out also created employment:
If we could not do that (restore the buildings) (…) we are not worthy of our independence (from Great Britain).
If we do not choose to do this (restore the buildings) (…) we will not be worthy of our independence (from Great Britain).
On Facebook, user Aneka Nicole said:
Travel to DC, go to 1600 Pennsylania Avenue, pose and take pics to post on social media.
Travel to the UK, go to Buckingham Palace, pose and take pics to post on social media.
Cuss about the cost of restoring historic buildings in Trinidad and Tobago, saying they are a waste of time and money.
I wonder if they know the annual cost of maintaining the two foreign examples I used? (…) The same examples they're happy to pose in front of and profile.
Travel to DC, go to 1600 Pennsylania Avenue, pose and take a picture to post on social networks.
Travel to the United Kingdom, go to Buckingham Palace, pose and take a picture to post on social networks.
Cursing the cost of restoring historic buildings in Trinidad and Tobago, saying they are a waste of time and money.
I wonder if they know the annual maintenance costs of the two foreign examples that I used (…) the same examples with which they are happy to pose to put on their profile.
“Underdevelopment of people”?
However, not everyone agrees to prioritize the restoration of heritage sites – especially for the amount of money invested. For example, the Whitehall renovation cost a total of 32 million Trinidadian dollars (about 4.7 million US dollars). The bill for the Presidential House rose to 89 million Trinitarian dollars (about 13 million US dollars), while the bill for the Red House was much higher, with an estimated total of 441 million Trinitarian dollars (just under 17 million of US dollars).
In a letter to the editor of the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday newspaper, Gregory Wight suggested that even if the buildings are magnificent, the money might have been better utilized:
I read a quotation recently on third world development which says, 'All too often development in the Third WorLeold means the over-development of objects and the underdevelopment of people.' Now, that gave me real pause, because what is the value of gleamingly restored historical buildings when many of our young citizens feel so left behind that they would rather burn these buildings down than treasure them?
Recently I read a quote about the development of the third world that said: “Too often, development in the third world means an overdevelopment of objects and underdevelopment of people. Now, this has made me think, because what is the value of brightly restored historical buildings when many of our young citizens feel so abandoned that they prefer to burn these buildings than to treasure them?
Some Internet users share their opinion that money could have been better invested in hospitals, schools and social programs that are more necessary. However, the Government continues to affirm that the renovation of these sites has both cultural and economic importance.
A Newsday editorial agrees:
Money spent on these projects could have probably been pumped into healthcare, education, and infrastructure. The difference is, however, that taking care of our heritage sites is not just expenditure. It’s actually an investment in our future.
Probably, the money spent on these projects could have been allocated to medical care, education and infrastructure. However, the difference is that if we take care of our heritage sites we are not spending (money) alone, in reality, it is an investment for our future.
He also claimed the social value of the heritage sites:
Aside from the economic argument, it is also true that these buildings are of intense social importance, and that means they should not be lost. To preserve our history is not to suggest a wish to return to the old days of inequity and oppression. It is, rather, to remind us constantly of where we have come from as well as our own capacity to evolve.
Apart from the economic discourse, it is also true that these buildings are of a very strong social importance and that means that they should not be lost. The preservation of our history does not suggest a desire to return to the old days of inequality and oppression. Rather, it is constantly reminding us where we have come from as well as our own capacity for evolution.
Many buildings date back to the time before independence (Trinidad and Tobago became independent in 1962) and many see them as a souvenir of the British colonization of the country. However, not only is colonial architecture being restored, other renovation projects include the Brian Lara Stadium and two local hospitals.
Global Voices could not confirm access to visits to completed buildings at the time of publication. For example, Whitehall has traditionally been used as the prime minister's office, so there are security restrictions. Although Killarney has hosted several exhibitions that have been open to the public, interior works are being carried out in the Red House and in Mille Fleurs, so no official statements have yet been made about whether they will be opened to the public, and when it will occur.