The 15th Caribbean Urban and Community Forestry Conference held this year in progressive Caguas, Puerto Rico, was for me a confirmation of many of the same issues and points I have been stressing and addressing.
There was example after example supporting the collective effort needed by the government, private and corporate businesses and the community to protect and preserve the green spaces in our urban communities. Study after study all conclude that green spaces in urban areas have measurable economic, social, physical and psychological benefits for everyone.
The Theme, “Community Empowerment: Nature Tourism” of restoration for self echoed a conference forum held here 10 years ago, sponsored by the Department of Tourism, “The Small businesses and Cruise Ship Industry.” The guest speaker from National Geographic spoke about creating a global appeal that would attract visitors to our shores. Her message was, “Do it for yourselves, and the World will come to enjoy it with you.”
At each conference, membership votes for an outstanding project, a group and an individual recognizing their contribution and the impact their efforts have made in their communities.
This year, in the category of Outstanding Citizen-Volunteer (the recognition of an individual most instrumental in organizing urban or community forestry activities in U.S. Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico) the recipient was Alma Winkfield for her efforts in spearheading the development of the new community park called “Sundial Park” in Tulipan Welcome, Christiansted.
The Spring Garden Homes Association Inc. received funding from our V.I. Urban and Community Forestry Program over a two-year period to clean up what was essentially a two-acre dump site and restore it to a beautiful community park. The movers and shakers who made this happen are Alma Winkfield and her husband, Rudy Winkfield. These two have people have spent countless hours hauling garbage, raking soil, moving rocks, digging holes, planting trees, and a myriad of other tasks, along with their neighbors, to make this park happen.
This project should be used as a template to create parks and green spaces in neighborhoods throughout the territory.
During this financial and social realignment period here on St. Croix, opportunities in abundance are opening up in many sector of development. Studies are indicating that the trend of today’s travelers is not to stay at the mega hotels and resorts, because they can get everywhere else. We can and should offer different accommodations.
Consensus among those who are encouraging in an agri-eco cultural tourism package feel that the best way to go is the bed and breakfast, the mom and pop (family-owned) type business. Travelers who are coming solely to experience the culture and environment would flock to these establishments.
This would open up the financial benefits for many by having visitors hosted with the in community and not isolate din hotel compounds. Community park areas would support all sorts of neighborhood activities: parties, shows, concerts, lectures, meetings, weddings, etc. This economic empowerment would immediately address our most basic social issues: crime, unemployment, poverty, depression.
If the government can give tax exemptions for millions of dollars to businesses offering a handful of jobs, I surely believe that we the people as a community would not object to supporting a B&B industry here in the Virgin Islands, empowering the residents.
All throughout Cuba, B&B’s are opening to meet the increased demand for rooms and Puerto Rican municipalities are now supporting the B&B’s sindistry, which brings visitors into the communities and expands their economies.
Backing a green space in every neighborhood and a Bed & Breakfast industry, we would establish a growth opportunity for the residents of St. Croix in no time.