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Diane Phillips: Virginia Got Her Wish, Santa, Can I Have Mine?

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Diane Phillips

Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

Those few words hold a special place in our holiday vocabulary, cementing deep hope in the face of unwanted reality. How they came to be part of America’s best-known editorial for more than 120 years is a back story set in simpler times but the message of trust vs. threat is as powerful today as it was when an editorial writer penned it for the New York Sun in 1897 in answer to eight-year-old Virginia’s question in a letter to the newspaper saying her friends told her there was no Santa Claus and she wanted to know if there was.

“Your friends are wrong,” the editorial stated. “He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias.”

So every year, we think, Virginia, since you got your wish and there really is a Santa Claus, could I be as fortunate as you? For then I could ask him for anything I wanted so long as it was pure and innocent as your question.

Aside from the usual - material goods, world peace and an end to hunger - what would it be?

The first wish is all too obvious – a post-pandemic globe where not even your enemies suffered from a silent, invisible killer against whom they do not have a chance to arm themselves.

Closer to home, I’d wish for an end to statelessness for the thousands of hard-working men and women who fear every time they ride public transportation or go home to a darkened house at night whether they will be safe and have a place to call home in the morning.

I’d wish for an end to corruption at every level and a cashless system that makes thieves work that much harder to figure how to ask for, get or give a pay-off.

I’d wish for a government that thought long-term about saving resources instead of short-term about providing jobs, and long-term about building a middle class to ensure a strong foundation for the economy with home ownership for more people.

I’d wish that citizens and residents of The Bahamas would be heard when they cry out against risking the waters and marine environment they treasure so a few could earn money from drilling for oil.

I’d wish citizens and residents could be heard when they say they do not want a high-density, high-rise on Love Beach, that the voices of a community singing in harmony be as respected as those of a choir singing in church. Are there not areas of New Providence already dedicated to high density, high rise structures – Cable Beach, for instance, where dual carriageways with medians and roundabouts and side streets all make it feasible to build tall structures, or in the underdeveloped Eastern district where low-rise multi-family, upscale condos would be suitable or in on other islands like Grand Bahama or Abaco where assisted living facilities would be ideal?

I’d wish that every student spent as much time in school learning about farming and fishing and music and art, about how to manage an allowance or balance a check book, about what the ageing process is like or what it means to parent a child when you are still a child yourself, as they do about some ancient date in history or a form of mathematics they will be unlikely to use again.

I’d wish there was less dependence on government and more dependence on self.

I’d wish that successive administrations would stop throwing out what the administration before it did yet insist that it is only right to keep the deals they made.

If only we are able to see one of those wishes – a stop to even a whisper about drilling for oil in the most beautiful waters in the world, an Act to give the deserving stateless security, a demand that the National Development Plan be adopted, a new kind of curriculum and teaching suited for the years ahead – just a sign, any sign, that we are not whistling into the wind and we, too, will agree. Your friends were wrong. Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus.

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The Royal Victoria grounds across from the post office.

A time for capital improvements

As the heavy equipment moved in to prepare for the demolition of the Post Office and make way for the revitalisation of the Shirley Street and East Hill Street area, it might have been tempting to lament the finality of the old Royal Victoria Hotel and the place it once held in Bahamian cultural life and society.

The truth is The Bahamas gave up on the Royal Vic long ago. Yes, it was sad but the real tragedy is what it was allowed to become, to disintegrate and to deteriorate as it did. There are still small buildings on the site that can never be replicated but here is what it looked like recently. Shame on us.

And that brings us to the point that a bad economy makes for the best time to invest in capital improvements. Government House is in desperate need of salvaging before one of the finest architectural treasures goes the way of the old Royal Vic.

To those who say this is no time to build sidewalks, I say, there is no better time. Budgets are not a zero-sum game, money saved by not building a sidewalk is not going to find its ways into a fund marked COVID-19 testing.

Benefits abound from temporary jobs slicing record high unemployment to bringing long-lasting community improvements.

This is the best time, in fact, to build parks. Look at MP Mark Humes’ dream of plans for a dozen parks or more that could transform neighbourhoods, build pride in communities and eradicate derelict areas, a combination known to produce greater pride and less crime. Cleaner, greener places are safer spaces – remember the Be A Hero campaign based on that premise? It was absolutely true and it’s been proven around the world that crime and dirty places hold hands, pride, on the other hand, holds together communities.

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