By THOMAS HUKAHU
Our country is changing.
The physical face of some of our urban centres is changing, and will continue to do so in years to come.
Port Moresby itself is expanding and it is almost like satellite centres are forming where residents do not need to go anywhere else for their basic needs but at their local shopping centres, post offices and health centres.
Moreover, still new residential areas and facilities are being constructed, as at Sky View and 8-Mile, among other places (as I have mentioned in another article of mine).
However, much work still needs to be done in many districts, some not too far from Port Moresby as those in neighbouring provinces like Central, Gulf and Milne Bay.
A need for a town square
It is my view that it is time each district in Papua New Guinea should draw up plans to create a town square.
With this in mind, I am putting together some ideas that district (or town) planners can use to make their district centre (or towns) modern and inviting.
The squares must be made attractive and inviting to their people who come to access services or just spend a few hours to relax in open air away from their homes, or even after picking up groceries from shops.
This idea came to me when I visited Nouméa, New Caledonia, and walking by the Place des Cocotiers (or Palms Square) in Centre Ville, the central business district of the French territory here in the Pacific.
I made mention of that square in my March 19 article.
Just recently too, I remembered that some of these ideas about came by observing and talking to some of my relatives over the years about the need to better develop our local towns and make them inviting to visitors, both locals and foreigners.
(My guardian worked as a town manager for at least two terms and watching him work as well as listening to him talk made me realise that we all should be proud of our locality and take good care of it. His involvement in a storm water project in Wewak, East Sepik, in the 1990s, in working with the provincial and national governments and South Korea as partners, and his trips to and talks about how South Korea plans its cities made me realise that we need to properly plan our urban centres.)
Actually, this article winds up my series on walking – a pastime I am interested in, and more so when I visit a new town or district. (That is, I like to walk and take in the sights as well as learn a little history about the place.)
What is a town square?
Wikipedia tells us that a town square is an open public space, commonly found in the heart of a town and is used for community gatherings. Other names for town square are city square, urban square, market square, public square or town green.
A square is a place where people can meet or relax and it is surrounded by small shops such as bakeries, meat markets, cheese stores and clothing shops.
At the centre of a square is often a fountain, well, monument or statue.
Some of the popular town or city squares you may have heard of, or seen photos of, include:
1. Times Square: It is a major commercial intersection, tourist destination, entertainment centre and neighbourhood in the Midtown Manhattan section of New York City.
2. Trafalgar Square: This is a public square in the city of Westminster, Central London, built around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. Its name commemorates the Battle of Trafalgar, a British naval victory in the Napoleonic Wars with France and Spain that took place on Oct 21, 1805, off the coast of Cape Trafalgar.
3. Red Square: This is a city square in Moscow, Russia. It separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and now the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod.
4. Tiananmen Square or Tian’anmen Square: This is a city square in the centre of Beijing, China, named after the Tiananmen located to its north, separating it from the Forbidden City.
Designing a town square in PNG
These are my views on how a town square should be like – how it should be designed and how it should function.
A town square in an urban centre of our nation should be nicely paved and must have sitting benches.
The square must be surrounded by shops or stalls, places where you can pick up a sandwich or chicken roll with a soft drink or coffee to enjoy.
Souvenir shops and restaurants offering local cuisines (like mumu or sago with creamed fish) should also be near the square.
Also, there should be an information booth set up possibly to the side where anyone who is new to the district or town can get more information about what interesting things there are (like war memorials or traditional treehouses) and where they are situated.
The shops and booths can stay open until very late, possibly until 10pm each night.
That means, there should be a good lighting system designed to keep the place sufficiently illuminated at night also.
There should be public toilets set up, possibly at opposite ends of the square. (And these toilets must be kept open 24/7.)
Furthermore, the square should include a town museum and a town library.
The town museum should be a place where the history of the town and district would be kept. Artefacts, masks, models of canoes and houses should be part of the display in the museum.
I mentioned the need for a library because this is a vital resource centre for the town or district. It is as important as the establishment of schools and colleges.
Students and researchers can access books and other information sources in a town or district library, as they would in libraries of schools or colleges. (It should have a Wi-Fi system installed where people can pay to access internet.)
Books on the district and province can also be displayed in the library for all who want to learn a little about the people and places there.
The square must also have a first aid or clinic nearby to treat anyone should there be an accident. St John Ambulance can be invited to set up the place and man it.
Additionally, the square should have a policing unit stationed there and that should operate 24/7- that is, it should operate on weekends and holidays too.
The policing unit may not necessarily be police officers. A specially trained group of police auxiliaries can be in charge of the place but must be in close contact with the police commander who oversees the district.
They must be properly attired and sufficiently equipped – possibly with radios, handcuffs and batons. They do not need guns to police the square. (The auxiliaries in Nouméa, in New Caledonia, operate in this manner – they do not carry guns.)
So, ideally, the auxiliaries must be Grade 12 or university graduates, not Grade 8 or 10 dropouts.
The auxiliaries must know how to communicate with locals as well as foreigners. They must be taught basic first aid and self-defence too.
Strict rules must be drawn up and penalties imposed on people who breach them. Such rules should include:
• No chewing and trading of betel nut in the square;
• No drinking of liquor;
• Keep off walkways;
• No pissing anywhere;
• No graffiti allowed;
• No swearing;
• No fighting;
• Among others.
If town planners take note of what has been mentioned above and do a good job of planning their town squares, I am sure the place should be a something that their people can be proud of.
It will be an attraction for people coming to the centre from other districts, provinces and even from abroad.
Their visit to the district would be memorable with a trip or two taken to the town square.
And you never know, they may return for a second or third time and possibly with their friends or family members.
That would mean the district may be benefiting financially when visitors pay to access services or buying their lunch or dinner from the shops, stalls and restaurants around the square.
The local women selling string bags (bilum) and other artefacts can also benefit from that as visitors always want souvenirs to take home with them.
• Next week: Themes in education – conditioning is vital. Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.