By Diane Phillips
You’ve probably never heard of Stella McCartney. I never had either, until she landed on the cover of my favourite business magazine, Fast Company, in October. McCartney, a famous fashion designer, it turns out, is known for her men’s, women’s and children’s clothing as well as shoes, bags, caps and even gifts.
In the world of fashion, she is a star. It is not her stardom but what got her to where she is that makes her interesting (even to someone whose idea of well-heeled starts with a premise that the finest clothes are those that neither rub nor irritate). And what made McCartney famous was not her lineage, though she is the daughter of Beatle Paul McCartney and first wife, photographer Linda McCartney. What made her interesting was her courage.
Twenty years ago, when the word sustainability was more likely to refer to physical stamina than natural resource preservation, McCartney inked and linked the concept of sustainability to the creation of clothing. She shunned fins, furs, feathers. She eschewed materials that even in their disposal would pollute in favour of natural threads that wouldn’t. She included images of the animals whose feathers she did not pluck, or fur she did not skin, in her designs, leaving the lamb and the livestock to graze in fields and on prairies.
She taught a generation that polyester takes 200 years to disintegrate and microfibers pollute oceans, making clothing one of the world’s least known yet worst pollutants. She did not preach. What she did struck a nerve, reached an audience. And her star continued to rise.
Just as Stella McCartney went where others in high and mid-fashion had not gone - tying planet preservation to everyday dressing - and just as she made a success of the unexpected, Nassau has an opportunity to do the same. But it will take courage, courage on the part of owners, partners, government, financing facilities and a public that says just because we never did it this way before does not mean we should not do it in the future.
I am talking about saving the city of Nassau and though I never thought I would say this, there is only one way to do it and that is vertical.
First, the background. The City of Nassau is home to irreplaceable architectural treasures, buildings whose lines not only please the senses from the street level but whose rows of open gable and box gable roofs tell a story of shipping and trade, wars and supplies, rogues and romantics. They are the remains of warehousing along the waterfront. They remind us of why Nassau is the capital and of the days, long before airlift, when people arrived and goods and supplies were traded by water.
Nassau’s deep and protected harbor with its strong flow through eastern and western entrances created a clean, healthy and largely safe trading depot. That is the waterfront of the gateway to the New World, a city with a history that must be celebrated. How foolish it would be of us to ignore the potential of that gateway as part of the story we tell.
Sentimental value for preserving and resurrecting the city of Nassau aside, the most compelling reasons to do so are economic and for national development. The historic city and particularly the property to its east hold the key to creating and defining our new national urban identity.
From East Street east, opportunities are staring us in the face and we cannot see them because the old concrete walls and increasing pieces of construction equipment are hiding them.
The right blend of mixed-use development rising on and along a stretch nearly half a mile long has the power and potential to breathe new life into all the surrounding areas, spilling over with benefits to properties south of Meeting Street, rejuvenating and reinvigorating the entire economy of New Providence.
Waterfronts across the world have reinvented themselves with great success. What is preventing us from doing the same in Nassau where we welcome nearly five million visitors a year who now traipse through a mostly downtrodden area kept alive by artificial respiration administered by cruise passengers, according to Downtown Nassau Partnership’s Ed Fields, who has been trying his hardest to make improvements.
The real improvement needed is the one which starts with courage. It will take a courageous owner, ombudsman or developer to be the first one to pull together the half dozen or so families who own the bulk of the land east of East Street - that is the key to the future of Nassau and, possibly to the city’s very survival.
Knitting together a consortium is step one. New plans must be drawn, though existing ones that were denied when submitted for approval may be part of the new plan. Community must be consulted with town hall meetings and social media forums. Redevelopment could include two towers, as much as 12 to 14 storeys high to make the numbers work. Ideally, one of the towers would be on the south side of the street.
On the north side, the new Nassau will have five- to six-storey residential blocks with shops, a pre-school, fitness centre, restaurants, night spots, boutique grocery or deli along with open spaces, parks, cycling and jogging trails.
Government’s role would be to expedite, provide incentives, including the possible creation of the first real economic zone for New Providence, forgiveness of real property tax for seven years for owners and for those who buy residences in the new Nassau which we could simply name Nassau East or find something more glamorous like Port Nassau.
For years, we argued the commercial shipping with its heavy truck traffic would have to move from downtown Nassau to clear the way for revitalisation.
It was the first recommendation in the Historic Nassau Study commissioned by the Ministry of Tourism and the Nassau Tourism and Development Board and authored by the late Jackson Burnside. Shipping moved to Arawak Cay. The 56-acre Nassau Container Port opened in 2012.
In the five years since, the area it moved from has increasingly become extra space for more cranes, roof trusses and construction materials, handy perhaps for some, but not the best and highest use of some of the most valuable waterfront property in the region.
No new buildings have been erected, no new life has evolved and the continuing deterioration of downtown Nassau seems inevitable. This is not what we want to show our guests.
More importantly, it is not what we want to leave for our children. This cannot be the legacy of a city like Nassau, so integral to the history of the New World, so much a part of our lives, the centre for our government, our judiciary, once the heartbeat of our financial services and robust shopping and entertainment experience, today a hand waiting to be held, desperate for a little attention and affection.
The key to a new Nassau East or Port Nassau and the survival of the heart of the city which must be preserved at its current two-storey level lies in gaining a residential population. No living city thrives without a population living in it. People bring it to life. And the only way to make the city to the east of historic Nassau work is by apportioning a piece of it as tall vertical construction. It may still have a cottage feel with the right type of shutters and Bahamian touches. Imagine young families out for a stroll in the evening, cafes, a small art gallery, bookstores, jazz or a movie in the park, runners in the early morning, cyclists on the weekend. Imagine.
If Stella McCartney could imagine designing clothes in a way no one else had, surely we can imagine re-inventing the city of Nassau waterfront in a way others have with immense success all over the world. Imagine. Then dig deep for the courage.