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John Roughan: Public Space. Private Concern!

Public Space. Private Concern!

By John Roughan
22 August 2004

Recently the Honiara Beautification Committee had to take things into their own hands. City leaders, over the past ten years, have been selling off, piece by piece, the city's prime real estate. In a real sense we have lost our whole beach front so that less than one mile of ocean front is left for city residence to enjoy. It now belongs to the money people, those with influence, those who have made public property their own.

From the While River area west of the city out to Ranadi at its eastern end, vast amounts of prime seafront locations are lined with casinos, clubs, private residences, small shops and a paultry few open areas. The city's 65,000 population can currently use only a few yards of sea front to sit around and admire the ocean.

The city's public space shrinks by the week. In less than eight months this year city people have experienced the growth of no less than 15 small shops fronting the ocean, all selling the same items: sugar, tea, coffee, sweets, etc. etc. As if the city needs another 15 new shops. Honiara already has dozens and dozens of the same all over the city.

Public space are those places--footpaths, motor ways, public recreation areas, shady rest spots, etc.--which ordinary town people need to make life a bit easier, to slow down, to take in the beauty of ocean, sky and land. Unfortunately one of the most restful spots--the shoreline--has been sold left, right and centre. In the early 1990s, for instance, Kukum's beachfront was open to the town's poorest. Kids easily crossed the busy highway, sat along the shoreline to watch the waves and went swimming with little trouble. Now, the ones with the least have lost the little bit they had. They are lucky to see the sea!

Honiara's political and business leaders, however, decided it's better to make a quick buck, a personal financial killing rather than make the lives of ordianry people a bit less difficult, slighty more liveable. Fortunately such thinking and acting doesn't grip the hearts of all. There are some in town who are not only upset about how the city's public space has been stolen but intend to do something about it.

That brings me back to the Honiara Beautification Committee which recently opend up not one but two different recreation centres for Honiara's people. Both lie opposite Rove Police Station and, although small, are a great way to start. The design for both public spaces is basic--open to the sea, place to sit down, filled with shady trees and an oasis away from the busy streets. It took private concern to rescue public space.

Another site--the Rainbow Project--at the site of the old Community Centre is another case of public space being saved by private interests. The UK High Commissioner won more than $5 million to convert an abandoned public space into something which will turn out to be a gold mine for our young people.

This time next year the old Community Centre site will be humming with action. Of course those interested in tennis will have three courts but others who won't be experts in anything but having a good, healthy time. The site will feature a running track right around the whole area, two volleyball/netball courts, eating areas under trees, a multi-room centre where youth will play games, learn new skills, skill themselves at computer and most of all just drop in and have a good, healthy time. Once again it's private concern for public space!

But I'm not sure how Honiara's people will treat these new public spaces. Our track record on keeping the town clean, enjoyable and healthy has not been a good one. How many times have the good SDA people have had to clean up the town starting at Ranadi out to White River? We can't keep depending upon their solid efforts but we ourselves have to have a caring heart for out city. The two new beauty spots in Rove and the nearly finished recreation centre at the olf Community Centre will test us. Will we measure up?


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