I was very pleased to hear of the recently announced “Smart Communities” initiative and that Jost Van Dyke, Sea Cows Bay and East End/Long Look are included in the first implementation run.

It was only last week in a meeting at the Central Administration Building breezeway that my distress at the rundown state of my community found utterance. I could not hold restraint any longer. To my further dismay, an attendee responded, “Well, East End is a slum.”

Now, that word means a dirty overcrowded district inhabited by very poor people.

I retorted, “It was not always so. It used to be one of the most picturesque villages on Tortola: Houses along the roadside were surrounded with inviting gardens, neat fences and little gates. And I am just wondering how we come so!”

The tendency is to blame everything on hurricanes Irma and Maria, when we very well know that the inertia had set in long before the hurricanes.

That night my mind went into full gear thinking of all the former cleanup and beautification initiatives that had been introduced by various departments and community groups, and of the expressed concerns conveyed in articles and editorials for the past 30 years or more. A book devoted to promoting the well-being of the environment in its entirety was published in 2014.

And yet such a careless attitude towards our surroundings and the environment is still so prevalent. I analysed the earlier short-lived initiatives, posited reasons for their failure, and suggested “the success-of-failure” phenomenon. I then sent out positive vibes for putting it all right.

Two days later, lo and behold: The Smart Communities initiative was announced. According to a government press release, the initiative was “devised to bring groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and communities working together in a collaborative fashion to make communities safer, greener and smarter in the face of disasters.”

I was delighted with the news and with the expectations of the initiative: “The project is expected to empower communities, individuals and businesses to ‘own’ their community disaster risk reduction initiatives.”

It is being supported and implemented in the three communities by the Jost Van Dykes Preservation Society; the BVI Red Cross; Rotary clubs; the Lions Club of Tortola; and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency.

Various activities are planned for the EE/LL community, including emergency response training sessions, business continuity planning training, and mangrove restoration and replanting.

“Rotary BVI will support these and will plan and implement others including a community wide cleanup initiative planned for the last quarter of the year,” according to government.

Needed project

The project is a much needed incentive that should encourage local grassroots groups, like ELAC and others, to regroup and chime in with other blatantly needed activities to assist the programme over all. It presents an opportunity to work in collaboration with the abovementioned volunteer organisations.

For example, the broken fences and indifferent posts bordering the roadsides making the entire place so unattractive and “slummy” looking should be taken in hand. That may not be an easy task — it could involve encountering difficult, uncooperative private householders or landowners — but persuasion, persuasion, persuasion and persistent persuasion generally works. Do a heart-to-heart talk and explain how a tidy, attractive place boosts personal well-being and corporate national pride. Explain “heritage tourism” and how a clean and pleasant environment also enhances the tourist product. Additionally (if need be), apply the existing reasonable legitimate means of “acquiring for improvement” in the public interest.

Dangerous trees

There are also some seriously huge trees that are dangerously positioned near electric poles and houses where the Public Works Department should step in to assist with cutting and felling. In the event of high winds with velocity even less than experienced in 2017, flying branches could be extremely destructive. Stormy high winds aside, some of those trees need drastic pruning that will require more than household gardening shears!

Let us all join hearts and hands to support the Smart Communities initiative.