Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Beyond Capacity


For one year my family had no TV. The one we had no longer worked. Without a TV I found myself watching cheap pirated DVDs on the home PC. For news and other inforrmation I relied on the daily newspapers, radio, and other electronic media such as the internet and Face Book.

I can easily get my news in seconds using the internet or on my mobile phone. Incredible, within one year the world of information was just at my finger tip—I didn’t have to wait until the 6.00pm news or for &.30 Report for my news.

I depend on my traditional print media for other news and information. I walk every morning down to Waigani market and shopping centre to pick up my newspaper. In doing so I am also exercising and refreshing myself before tackling the challenges of the day. I’m usually up by 4.00am and by 6.00am I need an hour’s walk to and back from Waigani.

There aren’t many people in the mornings so it is kind of nice. By the time I head back to my house I meet people making their way to work, together with those who have nothing to do, but loft around the city. By the time all the shops and offices are open the population at Waigani and elsewhere in the city swells beyond its own capacity.

It’s unbelievable the population in our small commercial spots in the city have a plethora of developmental challenges as far as urban planning is concerned. I wish people never use the front of shops as mini-markets, for street sales, and for taxis to occupy all the available parking spaces. I wish the shop owners can work together to develop the front and the back of their shops. Waigani commercial centre is a good example of civil and commercial ignorance working together to promote irresponsible development. It should be a case study for urban development, and public health and hazard authorities.

Should we continue to ignore this poor development? I think not. I think there should be regulations and expectations on shop owners’ responsibilities to keep their front and backyards cleaned, managed, and regulated. Taxis should not be allowed to occupy all the parking spaces, instead they should be regulated to use only one designated space.

As users of the public space we must also change our mindsets as responsible citizens. We need to stop selling goods outside shops, dispose our trash in proper rubbish bins, and observe some decent standards of urban living. Is it too much to ask?

I have travelled in the South Pacific region, but have never come across a filthy capital city like ours. We seem to be bent on making Port Moresby become a dirty city, full of mindless people preoccupied with creating a miserable life for others. We need to exercise some civic responsibility, observe some basic principles of hygiene, respect, and honor. We are just our worst enemies, imagine that.

In my book of poems, A Rower’s Song, I had penned a poem “Urban Natives”, which describes this scenario. I now share this poem with the readers of this column:

Too much rubbish on streets
We don’t care anymore
We don’t know ourselves
We are the sores of our eyes
We are lost in the crowd
Milling around Chinese shops
We listen to the street preacher
Choreography in natural form
Few are women preachers
We observe and cross the road
There are no pedestrian signs
We brought the village to town
We are the urban natives
We will never return home.
  
The new market at Waigani has more space and a good car park. It’s good to see a security company maintaining the market, but how long this will go on is anyone’s guess.

The issue I have with the market is with those canvases and strewn bags as shelters for those selling vegetables outside of the building. Those should be removed. Keep it neat and tidy. This is not a bush market.

No one seems to care if the trees adjacent to the Waigani Police Station are used as a market. I won’t be surprised if all the Neem trees standing there are cut down just so that people don’t use it as a market in much the same manner the market behind Boroko Post Officer was established.

The betel nut and cooked food market on either side of the drain are beyond me. In both locations people make so much rubbish that one would think we are living somewhere without a sense of cleanliness. How can we encourage this urban ulcer to grow?

The point here is that we need to drive at developing a program of ‘urban literacy”. That is, a program targeted at developing a type of literacy aimed at educating both individuals and corporate citizens about urbanization and urban civility and responsibility. I know there are annual cooperate programs organized around this theme, but perhaps we could look at elements of social engineering that encourages literate behaviours to take us further from where we are now.

Some of these social engineering practices include spot fine, parking meters, specified parking zones, policing, and city-watch. Instead of waiting until social conditions worsen as in Eriku a more proactive approach should be taken. Review the social engineering practices of once beautiful Madang town or depolutated Kainantu town for example—two places that now have caught the viral disease of unchecked urbanization and urban population growth. Much worse could happen.

Instead of thinking in terms of vertical urban planning we should think of urban planning in lateral terms. Decentering and widening commercial activities in densely populated areas can help as is the case of Badili, where a new commercial centre built by the Steamships Group of companies has helped to keep magnetize the population in that corner of the city.. The Vision City mega-mall and the development at the Harbour City are great examples of such thinking.

Port Moresby is what we make of it.


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