The ups and downs of the Caribbean, plus life on the farm in downtown Detroit.
On the up
A Boston-based firm has begun work on an ambitious $1.8bn (€1.3bn) development project to revive a long-neglected Bahamian island by bringing basic services to the local population while building a low-impact tourism industry. With around 300 residents, Mayaguana is the least developed – and visited – island in the Bahamas. Through a 50/50 partnership with the government, the firm I-Group is literally starting from scratch – resurfacing an old airstrip, building wastewater treatment and desalination plants, laying new roads and improving the power grid. “The island is basically deserted. In some ways, it’s a blank slate,” says Jim Blakey, vice president and general counsel of the company, who wants to retain Mayaguana’s rustic charms. “You can put in a few hotels and houses and they would go completely unnoticed,” he says.
On the down
Tourists take heed: the Caribbean has the highest murder rate of any region in the world, according to a recent UN/World Bank report. Assaults, burglaries and kidnappings are also increasing, due in large part to the Caribbean’s unenviable position as a transit point in the drug trade from Latin America to the US. The effects of crime on the economies of the region are staggering: Haiti and Jamaica could boost their per capita economic growth by 5.4 per cent if they lowered their murder rates to Costa Rica’s level, the report says.
When G8 leaders convened at the exclusive beach town of Heiligendamm, Germany, on 6 June, they arrived in a fleet of aircraft as diverse as the cars stockpiled in the Sultan of Brunei’s garage. Each one broadcast its occupant’s power, taste and politics.
Russian President Vladimir Putin touched down in an Ilyushin 96-30 with a £10m (€15m) renovation by British company Diamonite Aircraft Furnishings. It features marble floors, silk-lined walls, and gold-plated bathroom fittings.
Next to Putin’s imperial craft, outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s lift seemed downright common. While two so-called “Blair Force Ones” have been decided on by the British cabinet, the PM currently charters civilian crafts or utilises the Queen’s BAe 146, part of the Royal Squadron.
Other G8 leaders maintain sizeable fleets, most led by Airbus planes: Canada operates five, along with four business jets; Italy’s single Airbus is accompanied by two Agusta SH-3D Sea King helicopters; France keeps two A319s and two A340-200s for medium- to long-range flights, using six Dassault Falcon 900s for trips within Europe; Germany maintains two Airbus planes while Japan, not bound by pressure to buy European, opts for two Boeing 747-47Cs.
The US President’s Air Force One, currently two customised Boeing 747-200B jets, is always accompanied by the President’s helicopter, Marine One, which flies alongside a number of decoys.
President Bush recently contracted Augusta and Lockheed Martin to replace the current fleet of Sikorsky VH-3 Sea Kings with 23 VH-71 Kestrel choppers, with production costs of $6.1bn (€5.4bn). However, an internal report by the US government has found that the forst five of the new VH-71s, due to hit the White House lawn in 2009, are 544kg too heavy, behind schedule, and will cost 18 per cent more than expected.
Which city offers the best quality of life?
I love Freiberg, Germany. It is gorgeous, the architecture is amazing and you can just walk to the farmers’ market around the church – the Münsterplatz – and then just hike out into the Black Forest, dropping into villages during their wine festival season.
Is this also your favourite city?
No, I love everything about Salt Lake City. We are in the valley with beautiful mountains and within five minutes you have the opera, symphonies, ballet, modern dance and theatre. There is great nightlife and you can be hiking in the wilderness or skiing at one of six world-class resorts in 20 minutes.
What makes a perfect city?
You have to have clean air, clean water and places where people can exercise and mix together. It also has to be a safe community.
If you could make one change to the urban fabric, what would it be?
What I would like to do is charge those commuters who are driving high-polluting or energy-inefficient cars because there is a real cost to the rest of us. Clean air belongs to everyone and if you are going to foul the air you ought to be paying for it.
What are the biggest challenges facing cities today?
I think the biggest challenge is air quality – and 60 per cent of poor air quality is due to vehicles. Most of the commuters’ cars coming in to the cities are carrying one person per automobile. Another serious challenge is meeting the school requirements of so many children.
Detroit has lost more than half its residents since the 1950s, leaving 40,000 plots vacant – amounting to more than a quarter of the city’s total area.
“It’s also a food desert here,” says Ashley Atkinson, co-chair of the Detroit Agriculture Network. Seeking to fill the food gap, urban farms are springing up on the unused land, allowing lower-income residents to grow affordable produce. The Garden Resource Program started with 80 small farms in 2004; this year it has expanded to 312 farms across 80 acres of city land. Most of the food is consumed by the growers, but a small amount makes it to local organic farmers’ markets with the label “Grown in Detroit” proudly attached.