Barbados’s Habitat III community roadshow (and jingle!)

How one Caribbean country is preparing to discuss the New Urban Agenda.

A view of the marina in downtown Bridgetown, Barbados. (John Wollwerth/Shutterstock)

This report is part of an ongoing series looking at the issues and actions that characterize select countries’ engagement in the Habitat III process; read more in this series here.

CUENCA, ECUADOR —  From door-dropping fliers at homes in the capital, Bridgetown, to enlisting the prime minister for a keynote speech, the Habitat National Committee in Barbados has left no strategy aside in its nationwide effort to gather input about housing and urban development ahead of Habitat III, next year’s major United Nations conference on urbanization.

On the sidelines of last week’s Habitat III thematic meeting on intermediate cities, Citiscope sat down with three senior figures to discuss these preparations: Senior Housing Planner Kelly Hunte and University of the West Indies economics professor Jeremy Stephen, co-chairs of the Barbados national committee, as well as Denis Kellman, the country’s minister of housing, lands and rural development.

What has motivated this small Caribbean country to try to engage its entire population in the run-up to Habitat III? To hear a bit of this initiative, click here for a Calypso jingle the government created to raise awareness about Habitat III.

Citiscope: In the thematic meeting’s opening plenary, Minister Kellman discussed the importance of climate change for Barbados. The United Nations climate negotiations are coming up at the end of this month and Caribbean countries have a lot at stake. What makes Habitat III an important venue to discuss this issue?

Denis Kellman: Environmental issues also affect housing issues, and we cannot divorce the two. A good example of that is what happened in Dominica a couple months ago. We have to appreciate there are risks and we have to find solutions. Whenever we have hurricanes and things like that, one of the major damages is always housing.

Kelly Hunte: Our urban corridor spans three coasts. Fifty-eight percent of the population lives within 2 km of the coastline. Most of our economic activity is within the urban corridor; the greatest percentage of housing is in the urban corridor. If we don’t raise the issue of climate change, we open up ourselves even more to economic vulnerabilities.

DK: Bear in mind that we are an island, so we don’t have another country to shield us from the impact.

Citiscope: Describe your public consultation process to inform the Barbados Habitat National Committee.

KH: We launched the consultative process with a gathering of stakeholders in July — specially invited guests, regional and international bodies, key ministries and key NGO partners, as well.  Two hundred persons in total would have attended that.

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart was the keynote speaker for the event, because he’s also the minister responsible for urban development. Since Habitat III is about housing and sustainable urban development, we thought, ‘Let’s get the highest level we can.’ That alone — having the prime minister buy in to the process and speak about the importance of the process — turned on the country as a whole to what is happening.

[See: The Caribbean seeks to assert its identity in the New Urban Agenda]

Citiscope: How did you get the word out to your citizens?

KH: We had things like a jingle, one of the officers in the Ministry of Housing is one of our Calypso Kings. [Note: “Kings” and “Queens” are the winners of Barbados’s annual Calypso Monarch competition, held during the August Carnival festival known as Cropover.] People heard it and were asking, ‘What is this?’ People wanted to know.

For the first one, in Bridgetown, we actually went door-to-door dropping fliers into houses, as well as newspaper, television and radio ads just to get the word out. [After that event] we did north, south, east and west of the country.

Citiscope: What kind of concerns came up during your stakeholder consultations?

Jeremy Stephen: During our community roadshow, there were some things at the stakeholder [level] that we had never thought about. For instance, accommodate people with disabilities with our infrastructures. Barbados has been lagging with respect to that for a long time.

Housing for youth and women also came up at community events. Housing in Barbados is very expensive and even more so as of late, despite how the global economy has been. Prices haven’t come down — they’ve stagnated. Access to housing has become a critical issue.

KH: In Bridgetown, all sorts of things came up. One guy talked about having a ferry service, that was a big issue — we need to integrate the waterways more with the land. So we’re actually talking about going back to our history to have a modern-day solution. We will get pressure from the country to follow through and actually deliver on that.

Citiscope: Barbados seems to be one of the Caribbean leaders in terms of Habitat III preparation. To what extent are other countries in the region getting on board?

KH: Jamaica is actually a little ahead of us, because they’ve finished their national report. But we’ve had the Caribbean Urban Forum, which will feed in. Some of the issues raised there will be things for discussion at the level of CARICOM [the Caribbean Community, a 15-country political and economic union].

I’m not sure if, apart from Jamaica, any other countries are going the full way in terms of preparing their reports, but some may come to Quito next year. Certainly the Expert Group meeting in Barbados in December will be a big opportunity to gather the thoughts and positions of the other Caribbean countries to be able to integrate it into the Habitat agenda.

DK: Although it’s going to be difficult for Barbados to speak and not speak for the whole Caribbean, because what affects us will affect them.

[See: Will Habitat III note the unique urbanization of small island states?]

Citiscope: If you are one of the few Caribbean delegations in Quito, will it make you the de facto voice of the region?

DK: We would acknowledge that our position might be the position of others. We would not want to come and put a position only for Barbados alone in terms of benefits. Whatever benefits that come, we would like them to be shared among our comrades. We prefer to have a CARICOM approach.

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