Rejuvenation Project Transforming Downtown Belize City - 10/27/18 10:26 AM
The Origins of the Downtown Rejuvenation Project
Our approach on planning for heritage preservation in historic downtowns
The experience gained by us working for a long time in Planning for Heritage Preservation in historic downtowns has shown that it is no longer possible to continue with the traditional approach based on just fulfilling the contents of heritage laws (when there are laws).
Either the value as heritage of an historical area is understood as a wealth-generating asset (opportunities) and a way of improving the quality of life, and the protection policy is understood as the result of strategic processes of urban renewal with the participation of all actors that have a role in the development of the city –residents, businesses, developers, builders, etc.-, or the Heritage Protection Plan becomes just a regulatory document, that links protection with prohibition and that, of course, fails at giving back the historic downtown the necessary vitality in order to survive and avoid complete destruction and disappearance for good.
There is no secret in this, simple enough: what is alive is preserved, and is alive what is used by the community. Urban planning tools (traditional plans), are only part of the development process, important, but partial.
For us, the success of a Heritage Preservation Plan does not lie in the fact that the technical documentation that support it, is complete or comprehensive (it should, of course), but to be possible and exciting for the community to implement it. In other words, “the community has to believe in it”, to make it their plan, as the tool to empowerment over the historic town. Either the Historic Downtown is “an opportunity” for the population or it is worth almost nothing.
Therefore if we start with revitalization criteria and strategies for a Comprehensive Development, the balance between protection and development must be present from the first moment, guiding the approach to carrying out the planning work (it is not something that could be raised “afterwards”).
Hence, even from the definition of the scope and the content of the survey, to the writing of regulations must be carried out with this goal in mind. Any actions other than these are useless. A true Heritage Preservation Plan IS A PLAN OF ACTION and cannot remain as a theoretical or technical information on the future of the Historic Downtown.
From the start, the Heritage Preservation Plan and the town as a whole (all the stakeholders that represent it and not just the City Hall) should be able to answer the following question: what role do you want the Historic Downtown to play in the future of the town?, or for that matter, what do you want the Historic Center for… and… for whom are we planning?
But a Plan with this approach is very demanding on time and human resources –and hence, on money--. That’s why I am proposing my methodology for Belize City as a FIRST STEP towards a more comprehensive way of planning: I am putting forward the proposal to start by an INVENTORY so that the main buildings are listed and a regulation is written, so that a real plan can be made in the future.
SOURCE: PADECO’s consultant on Heritage: Rafael Fontes
The fifteen million-dollar Downtown Rejuvenation Project in Belize City is moving full steam ahead since it was launched in 2015. The project, which intends to revitalize and open up cultural, has completed some of its goals including upgrades at the Yabra field where a covered structure was installed and fixtures put in place to enhance the public space. The project has also completed repairs at the Anglican Cathedral and made ceiling and roof improvements on the Supreme Court building. When we caught up with the Project’s Liaison Officer Albert Avila he told us about what you can expect in the downtown area.
Albert Avila, Community Liaison Officer, Downtown Rejuvenation Project
“We are building a restaurant at the corner of Cockburn Lane and Regent Street. We are currently driving piles there and we are also driving piles at a new building which will replace Women’s Department on Albert Street. And then soon after that, we are going to start with Paslow. We are in the process of designing a new building for Paslow and finalizing the new House of Culture which we will build at the Government House. And then we will do the second part of Yabra which will be rebuilding that football field area.”
Here is the Facebook page for The Belize City House of Culture and Downtown Rejuvenation Project