Today, the countries of the United Nations observe World Habitat Day under the theme ???Public Spaces for All???.
This years??? theme could not be more apt as it cuts across the main thematic areas of the New Urban Agenda, and highlights the Sustainable Development Goals adopted just last week by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Sustainable Development has many definitions but is most commonly understood as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
Public Spaces are areas where we can collectively engage in entertainment, recreation, education, relaxation, and work. They are integral to creating successful communities. Without them, we simply have a collection of buildings.
Therefore, it is critical that these spaces are kept safe, useable, comfortable and accessible to all. Good public spaces enhance community cohesion and promote health, happiness and wellbeing. In Barbados, we are fortunate to be able to count our beaches and our National Park System among our Public Spaces.
Our capital city of Bridgetown, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has no less than nine Public Spaces, not including the markets. These spaces are: Queen???s Park, Church Village Greens, Heroes??? Square, Jubilee Gardens, the Amphitheatre of the General Post Office, the Wickham-Lewis Boardwalk, Independence Square, Golden Square and the Montefiori Gardens opposite the Public Library.
I am aware that the issue of street vending often provokes mixed reactions but vendors are a reminder that for some, our public spaces are also workplaces. Can you imagine a trip to Bridgetown without seeing a sno-cone vendor? When vendors operate in squares and parks, they also attract users for longer periods of time, with positive consequences for the safety, social and economic viability of these spaces.
As a Small Island Developing State, there can be no discussion about Sustainable Development without including the impact climate change is having on our beautiful island. This was reinforced by our Prime Minister during his recent address to the United Nations??? General Assembly on Friday, September 25, 2015, where he indicated that the Caribbean is looking forward to an ambitious outcome from the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) this December.
Barbados??? Urban Corridor spans three coasts, from St. Lucy in the North, along the West and South Coasts to Ragged Point in the East, with Bridgetown being home to arguably the most popular beach for tourists and locals alike, Browne???s Beach. The probability of more intense storms and hurricanes as a result of climate change poses a very real, clear and present threat not only to our tourism sector but to our largest Public Space, our coastline.
As Barbados continues the process of crafting its New Urban Agenda and prepares to participate in the Third United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) in Ecuador next year, we are mindful of the linkage to Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals, which states: ???Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable???. Ensuring access for all to Public Spaces is a key factor in achieving this goal.
During our recently-concluded community consultations as part of our preparations for Habitat III, you, the people of Barbados, made it clear that continued access to Public Spaces is important. We have heard your call to make these spaces more comfortable and user-friendly, through the planting of shade trees and the placement of benches.
The youth can be assured that as we move along our development pathway, green energy technology will be utilised for lighting and security and free wi-fi will eventually become the norm in our parks and open spaces.
My fellow Barbadians, I want to encourage you to use the month of October to reacquaint yourselves with the Public Spaces of Barbados. Take a hike along a nature trail, organise a picnic in one of our National Parks, tour a museum, introduce your children to the Public Library, take an evening stroll along one of our Boardwalks or spend a relaxing day at the beach.??Our National Anthem reminds us that ???these fields and hills??? belong to ???all ah we???.