On my first ever visit to Kingstown I was in the Cobblestone Hotel in the centre of the city. When I started this project I could not get a room at the Cobblestone and the house rental had not been established so I was put in the New Montrose hotel on the west side of town . I had briefly stayed in this hotel for a workshop a few years beforehand, but the effect of approaching the town from the west every morning was novel. You saw different elements of the morning commute, you passed by the a new range shops opening up in the morning or shutting down in the evening.
Kingstown is a bustling little city; although one of the smallest capital cities in the world it has all the functions of primacy you would expect; the government offices, the key commercial and retail outlets, as well as the institutions of religion, society and culture, albeit on a much smaller scale than a mega city like London or Tokyo. But as well as that it just hums like a busy market town. People come in to the city from four directions; from the suburbs themselves on the hills behind the city centre, from the leeward and windward coastlines of St Vincent and across the sea from the string of Grenadine islands to the south.
Eduardo and I met up for that first trip; Edsel was not available. We interviewed all the different agencies and tried to understand the detail of the scope of our job ahead. Part of the project would be to analyse case studies using GIS to solve particular land issues. As we interviewed people they all gave their opinions on what topics we should look at. Towards the end of the trip, we had two days to investigate a couple of these in more detail; which gave us a fantastic excuse to explore the islands.
The first of the field trips was to head back to one of my most favourite islands in the world, Bequia. I may have given the impression that this was a sleepy idyllic island elsewhere, but it had similar problems to everywhere in the world; one of these being population pressure. Islands can suffer more than most from this. Maybe the sheer numbers of population increase are not as great as in, for example, South East Asia or the urban centres of Africa, but the amount of land available to house those new people is much more restricted, and the effects on the environment much less absorbable. On Bequia plans were afoot to subdivide land parcels. In most of the world land is owned by someone, and the ownership is recorded geographically by the boundaries of parcels or plots on the ground. Some people own one small rectangle of land, others huge swathes of countryside. And those people might be individuals or they may be families or institutions such as government. In many of the Caribbean islands, the government took on the ownership of the big plantations – the sugar on Antigua, Barbados and St Kitts, the bananas on St Lucia, Dominica and St Vincent. This meant they have a land bank that when the population increases they can subdivide their own plots and sell them off. There was a plan on the north coast of Bequia to do just this and it would be a useful trial of the National GIS to see what could be provided geographically to help this process.