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Cruz Bay
Wednesday, October 5, 2022


In the 1957 'Eisenhower recession' the automobile industry, then employing one out of seven American workers, could not sell new cars as the used car market failed to absorb 'trade-ins'. Stimulating the resellers market in cars was perceived as necessary for the American economy.
The Housing and Urban Development (HUD) bill of the new Kennedy administration, as passed by Congress and worked-up on Capitol Hill, addressed this by creating incentives to housing developments in proportion to distance from cities centers and inversely to land cost.
The less the land cost, the greater the federal contribution. This created a demand for used cars from both the least well off in public housing and the emerging middle class of the Levittown-type partially subsidized developments. Second and third hand cars began to sell. "What's good for General Motors is good for America" Mr. Wilson was quoted as saying at the time. We were unintended victims.
In the Virgin Islands, no one thought to seek exemption from this bias and our "Levittown," Tutu, and our Bovoni, Nadir, Kirwan Terrace and Donoe Public Housing were built with the maximum federal funding as far from town and on as cheap land as then existed. When this needed housing was completed in the years of Ralph Paiewonsky they were built without waterlines, power lines, sewage lines, sidewalks or even adequate roads.
The Evans administration tried to build sewer lines. Water lines to the East were begun in the King Administration. Long time Public Works Chief Donald Borham was so disgusted with the local Legislature and the Federal Government, he never hooked the Legislature or the Coast Guard to the Sewer system and to the best of my knowledge to this day they literally do to their near surroundings what lack of aptitude has done to our community. But ignorance is bliss.
The cost of the infrastructure exceeded any federal benefit. Had this housing all been built in the area surrounding town: from the West Indian Company docks to UVI in rows behind and around the town so that electrical lines, water lines, sewer lines, sidewalks were extended a hundred yards at a time, we would have been ahead. Cost would have been half. More and better housing could have been constructed.
Kirwan Terrace, and the public housing Earl Ottley managed to place above Hospital Grounds, are the only logically placed housing built since the 1960s. Our roads have become proof of the success of the stimulation of the used car market.
More subtle things were at stake. As a child playing with friends in the Pollyberg 'slum' that was cleared, there was a real community. I cannot tell you how many times our mischief was cut short by some lady calling "Mikey, Leroy, I going to tell your mommy!" The families of these living communities, in a culture where children were civilized by shaming, (not by internalizing guilt in the puritan tradition), were scattered amongst the new projects. Evolved community bonds were not preserved.
Had the town evolved into a small city, dense and all within reach, this might have mattered less. I remember an incident in the late 1970s when children bouncing a ball off the wall of a building in Tutu Hidden Valley Project resulted not in "Melvin, Chichi, I going to tell your mommy" but a call to the Police. The Policemen took the children's ball away. The children then vandalized the nearby kiddies' playground.
Worse, the town I grew up in, racially, culturally, and socially mixed and tumbled together, gave birth to isolated ghettos of the poor, where racial, cultural and social mixing ceased. Worse, the cultural growth of our community, the density that would have made libraries useful, theaters and cinemas economically feasible, was aborted. Some things cannot change.
Tutu is here to stay even if our absurd zoning laws have guaranteed that the community has no center and no small, locally owned businesses. People live there without a library and without parks like Emancipation Gardens and Roosevelt Park.
I stand at the new K-mart and look at the view North to the Done bypass and East and West and pray we have the wisdom to keep all that is left green between Tutu and town. We need walking paths, playing fields, parks, tiny-tot lots, vendor areas for foods and sundries, stadiums, savannahs planted with Mahoganies and Lignum Vitiaes, Mangoes in mass, and Tamarinds and Genips bringing beauty back into the lives of ordinary people. How lucky we are that investment in beautification for ourselves is a realistic capital investment in our major tourist industry. How foolish to fail to take the benefits so within grasp.
Ariel Melchoir one time, perhaps thirty-five to forty years ago, had gathered Flamboyant seeds and from a small plane scattered them around the island. What a great gift he gave. My daughter when she was six, 23 years ago, gathered Lignum Vitiae seeds in Emancipation Gardens by the bag full. These I gave to classes in schools, recommending that they grow them for plant sales and there are many 23-year-old Lignum Vitiae trees from Bourne Field to Tutu. It is so easy. All the Golden Shower trees (Acacia fistula) on St. Thomas come from one tree on Hassel Island spread through school children.
I cannot address St. Croix in the loving detail I know St. Thomas, but if Tutu is here with great positive value, is this true of all the public housing now in need of rebuilding? Paradise Housing in St. Croix is blasphemously named and a disgrace to a civilized community to offer such rotten help to the needy. Bovoni Housing looks like a moon colony, designed without concession to the tropical environment, without verandas, without knowledge or concession to the way Caribbean people like to live, to cook, to wash, to mix.
As fast as quality, decent housing could be built adjacent to the town center, or perhaps in St. Thomas now, Tutu center, these concentration camps should be demolished. Only this time, any housing project resident of long standing should have the option of relocating together to the new more central housing.
A real community would have the people define their requirements. First we must be freed of the urge new elites of former colonies have for stepping into the shoes of the former colonial masters.
It is not true that the reefs around our Islands are dying from soil run off. They are dying. But after torrential rains go look at Little Tobago off Jost Van Dyke. The sea is as muddy as anywhere off St. Thomas.
The reef there is vibrantly alive. The truth is that of a complex mixture of chemical accumulation in the surface dirt of our soil. Automobile exhaust is the major problem settling into the soil day in and day out,insecticide sprays, cleaning fluids and other newly developed toxic products used and dumped with lack of necessary caution. Come heavy rain it is this toxic material that washes with the soil to the sea. In areas where the concentrations of toxic material is trapped between shore and reef, the reef dies and the fish die. The double economic loss of fish and reef beauty is incalculable. The fish exposed to these toxins that we eat increases risk of cancer and nervous disorders.
Most gas stations do not have required vapor valves on the dispensers even though the workers at the station are thus exposed to Benzene a known cause of cancer. How we pay for the abundance of automobiles so unwisely unplanned into the structure of our everyday life?
The consequences of our urban sprawl is beyond measure to the ecology of a small island like St. Thomas.
Aggravating the deterioration of the town centers is a very local problem. The closed up empty often collapsing housing in all of our precious three towns. There are literally thousands of closed properties in the three towns. Some are little shingle houses that were unfit for the large families who once occupied them, but as a first house for young singles or as a small shop have much potential. Others are fine houses that are closed but have the potential to live on
ce again. In most cases these are properties inherited by a dozen or a score of heirs and no consensus can be made as to what to do. Many are eye sores. Many are fire risks.
The deprivation to the community of these houses is so great because of residents who would live in town but cannot, the car that might not be needed, the tax that is lost and the charm that a well groomed community has for its residents and for its visitors. A good government would be concerned.
I feel the community would be justified in doubling the tax on any closed property in each of the three towns each year. That will concentrate the mind and force agreement among the dozen owners. With this one proviso, a program be instituted so that owners who simply lack funds be given assistance and guarantees to enable them to get inexpensive loans. Repayment would be possible with help to develop a resonable program for reconstruction and commercial use. We have a useless VI Government bank wasting talent because there is really no money to loan. This institution might well be able to take charge of this program.
Where will all the money for such programs come from. We shall look at that soon. But think of any State in the Union with three Government houses, two Legislature buildings, an unaccountable Port Authority.
Editors' note: Michael Paiewonsky is an editor and founder of MAPes MONDe Ltd. He served as a senator in the 13th and 14th Legislatures. He is the author of "Conquest of Eden."

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