Naturalistic and existential realms of place in Roseau, Dominica

by Niko Lipsanen (2001)


  1 Introduction


Chapters 2 to 6


Chapters 7 to 10


Chapters 11 to 13


14 Districts of Roseau

15 Roseau as a place


16 Discussion


    Appendixes : Places : Dominica : Realms of Roseau : Roseau as a place


15 Roseau as a place

In Chapter 7, the analysis of Roseau started by reducing its placeness to 'site'. However, as Casey (1997: 201) says, 'site does not situate'. Site is not a place but a mere subdivision of space. In space one cannot locate things nor event in any other manner than by giving them coordinates in a uniform geometrical system. To proceed from 'site' to 'place' one has to give a sensible meaning for it.

Stefanovic (1998) finds especially themes of 'clear centre', 'privacy and enclosure' and 'reflection of time' as essential features contributing to the placeness of a place (see Chapter 5.4). As a matter of fact, absence of clear central point is the most significant aspect that reduces the placeness of Roseau. As Heidegger (1971: 158) notes, place is a location that gets its placeness by connecting other locations. Connecting centre gives coherence to the place, a sense of wholeness.

Stenros (1992: 148) gives a typology how places can be delineated. Most basic example is a standing object in an open space. A tree, for instance, points a place and delianeates it by its shadow. The place, however, does not end where the shadow ends. Places, unlike regions, are not defined by their border but by their central point.

The Cathedral, being the most important of the permanent landmarks in Roseau, fails to increase Roseau's placeness due to its peripheral location in the city. It lacks the connective aspect. In Cavtat--example of Stefanovic (1998: 34)--the two churches are on the seaside, and their towers delineate a clear centre to the harbour lying between them.

Roseau has a sealine, too. Its waterfront is the façade of the city. The Bay Front as seen by the sea is, in fact, the 'image' of Roseau. It is displayed in various instances: in postcards, both old and new ones (see e.g. Gilmore 1995: 89); in front covers of books (Honychurch 1995a; Christian 1999); in National Geographic magazine (Booth 1990: 106); and probably somewhere else, too. Surprisingly, there was no such a photo in any of the analysed guidebooks (see Chapter 11.3).

The Bay Front, however, is everything that Roseau is not. It has a spatious boulevard with even pedestrian sidewalks and well-kept buildings in a row. Even though it has historical buildings on it, it has a modern atmosphere more than any other district of Roseau, with the exception Upper Goodwill and St. Aromant. Behind the façade is the city itself with small wooden buildings and narrow congested streets.

At times when the most important landmark of Roseau--the Fascination cruise ship--visits the Bay Front, a kind of central square is formed (Fig. 69). The Fascination and other large cruise ships (see e.g. Fig. 41) block the seaview to the horizon and delianeate the infinite space to a place with square in the middle. Ship's arrival creates also movement to the Bay Front which then becomes a node of action, too, with its focus in front of the Dominica Museum where tourists arrive from the ship. However, since access to the ship is restricted, the introduced placeness of this marine square is evidently most intense for the cruise ship tourists. Those who cannot access the ship--and do not therefore visit the other side of the square--are not able to feel the square as a connective place.

Bay Front

Few open spaces in Roseau can be seen as potential nodes (see Fig. 70). The Old Market once was the central node. New Market can become one if future development increases the importance of the Riverside area. If developed as a central square, the empty lot on the Bay Front between the two markets could become a serious challenger. The lot is owned by Dominica's former President Sir Clarence A. Seignoret. The Independence Square at Riverside, and a square opposite to the Government Headquarters at Pound, due to their relatively remote locations, are unlikely to become central nodes but could serve some more specific purposes. The Independence Square already functions as an entrance gate to the central district. The Pound square could have some kind of civic role (see Winston 2000).

Government Headquarters functions to remind one of the capital position of Roseau. Being central node for the whole country, Roseau gives feeling of a bigger city than it actually is. Two other capital functions, the State House and the Parliament, are situated on a transition zone between central district and Newtown. Public Library is also located there.

Transition zone is an in-between district between two or more foci (see Stenros 1992: 145). These foci form places in their respective levels. In this level, the zone between them is transitional. Compared to the foci, it forms a relative periphery, and in many occasions also a zone of peace and relax. This kind of zone is, for instance, the Botanical Gardens which is left behind the city itself but is still under the influence of it. The proposed development in the Gardens and linking of it more tightly with the central district may cause it to become another focus. In a more restricted level it already is a place, like the Parliament and the Library, too.

The Riverside district on the side of Roseau river is under process of renovation. It is becoming the secondary façade of the city. It is not, however, as striking as the Bay Front. The Bay Front stands where the open sea begins. Before arriving to the Riverside, one has already passed through the suburban districts of Goodwill and Potter's Ville (see Fig. 70, cf. Stenros 1992: 277-297). First, after Woodbridge Bay, one passes by the warehouse district of Lower Goodwill. At Potter's Ville the road enters the city, and the seaview is blocked by the buildings. When Goodwill Road turns to the left, one can see straight through the whole city. A terminal figure at the other end of Queen Mary Street would impress the view by giving something towards which to head. If Great George Street was the entrance route, the Cathedral would form such figure. The new Independence Arch probably enhances the legibility of the northern entrance route.


Arriving from the south, one passes by Newtown district. The districts of Newtown and Potter's Ville are somehow like a brother and sister (not saying which is which one). Both are old extensions to the city, and due to the similar ramshackliness and long common history with Central Roseau, these two districts evoke significantly more intense sense of citiness than the newer suburbs of Goodwill and Bath Estate.

At Newtown Savannah there is an open space on both sides of the entrance route: the Savannah on the right, and the Caribbean Sea on the left. It gives a break to the intense urban scene of Victoria Street. After the Savannah the way climbs up. The hill forms a transition space between Newtown and Central Roseau. Entrance to the city itself is through a gate formed by Fort Young Hotel on the left and Anglican Church on the right. An impressive flamboyant tree, however, hides the church in such manner that it is visible only when next to it. After the church, Victoria Street winds down to the Bay Front. Althought no terminal figure is available on this route, either, several different spatial sequences are passed by. Visually the southern entrance route is more varied than the northern one.

Those who enter Roseau from the east traverse first the new suburb of Bath Estate. As the buildings are hided behind land walls and vegetation, however, one has not an impression of being in city. Even the crossing of Roseau River does not offer such feel of entrance as crossing the same river at Potter's Ville. First hint of the city is the Botanical Gardens wall that guides one ahead. At Bath Road one enters the city but, however, if not walking, one has to interrupt the journey and turn to the right since King George V Street is one-way in the opposite direction. Otherwise, one would have an impressive entrance all the way through that verandah-framed street to the Bay Front and the Cruise Ship berth which would form a terminal figure.

The new suburbs form actually three different kinds of districts inside the urban area of Roseau. Lower Goodwill is a relatively dense district with small lots and concrete buildings. Upper Goodwill with St. Aromant, on the other hand, is an upper class residential district with large lots, large houses, and well-kept gardens. Bath Estate, unlike Goodwill, is situated at the bottom of valley. It contains more green space than Lower Goodwill but is not as highty-tighty as Upper Goodwill. All three districts, however, are distinguished from Central Roseau and the older suburbs.

The new suburbs have high degree of internal univocality (see Norberg-Schulz 1997: 135). It does not mean that they are monotone but that all their parts belong to the same genre. Mutual interaction increases the univocality in the span of time. The districts belong to the same genre when they follow the same narrative (cf. Entrikin 1991: 129-134). Basically, the question is about the way of life. The univocality of the new suburbs is manifest especially in their plannedness. Central Roseau is planned, too. Being planned in the 18th century, however, it belongs to a very different genre. It was planned for significantly less mobile community that now exists in the new suburbs. It exists more and more in the old districts, too. The new suburbs, especially Goodwill, are introducing their own narrative to the whole city.

The univocality between the new suburbs and the rest of Roseau is increasing all the time. This is, however, more due to the changes in the old districts than in the new ones. Potter's Ville with its new concrete buildings is goodwillisating. The new Bay Front belongs undoubtedly to the same genre with St. Aromant. It is just implemented in more urban manner.

The difference between the old and new districts is most clear if they are evaluated in terms of Lynch's (1981) performance dimensions and Alexander's (1977) pattern language. Lynch introduced five dimensions: vitality, sense, fit, access, and control. In terms of vitality the districts are mostly in similar position. They have same hazards as threats, i.e. tremors, volcanic eruptions, and hurricanes. Goodwill and St. Aromant are slightly cooler than the low-lying districts which makes them more comfortable in climatic terms.

As far as 'sense' is concerned, the orderly structure of the new districts makes them easy areas to orientate oneself. On the other hand, for the very same reason they lack attributes which Lynch associates with identity. In the planned environment everything has its location which reduces the number of unexpected elements. They are less transparent than the old districts where one can still see people working in small workshops with doors open to the street--or see a shoemaker sitting on the sidewalk repairing shoes (common view for instance on Kennedy Avenue in Pound). In Goodwill one can see somebody repairing one's car but what people actually do for their living is not visible in the streetscape. It is a modern segregated environment where work and home are clearly separated from each others. Goodwill has its working district, too, the area of offices and warehouses between the sea and the houses of Lower Goodwill. Nevertheless, one cannot see outside what is done inside the buildings.

Since the mobile lifestyle is becoming more and more predominant everywhere in Roseau, those districts that are planned for it clearly show better 'fit' in this respect. The streets of Central Roseau but also many of those in Potter's Ville and Newtown, too, are congested while the wide roads and orderly lanes of Goodwill and Bath Estate are half-empty. Lower Goodwill, however, has a minor parking problem at nights when most of the residents are at home. Central functions are situated in locations where there is least space. Mary Eugenia Charles Boulevard on the Bay Front, for instance, the most spatious street of Central Roseau, has only Post Office, City Council and Court House on it but not significant commercial services except for those that exist for tourists.

In terms of 'access', those who are able to use automobile are most accessible if they reside in the new suburbs but if they live in the central districts may find difficulties accessing even their own homes. For those without cars, the situation is the opposite. In this respect, the old suburbs are in an intermediate position. Potter's Ville is conveniently situated between Goodwill and Central Roseau, and Newtowners if not walking can use the efficient public transportation: the minibuses that operate between Roseau and the southern communities of Dominica.

What comes to Lynch's fifth dimension, 'control', in individual level it is highest in the fenced houses of St. Aromant. Social control, on the other hand, is more dependant on the sense of community. Higher transparency and the resulting sense of identity should increase it in the old districts. However, Potter's Ville is losing its sense of community under the process of goodwillisation. Newtown is seen as the most violent district of Roseau. Bath Estate, on the other hand, shows aspects of developing community sense.

With the patterm language of Alexander et alii (1977; see Appendix 6) one can produce a relatively different evaluation of the city. Even though the pattern language contains some elements, especially in regard to transportation, that favour modern settlements such as Goodwill and Bath Estate, the general tendence is to emphasize cultural and architectural diversity, fine grain of activities and functions, and historical elements in the settlement form. In addition, the proposed pedestrian link (see Chapter 13), if developed as a commercial centre in the Riverside district, would encourage the patterns of 'eccentric nucleus' (pattern 28), 'promenade' (31) , 'shopping street' (32) and 'interchange' (34), as well as 'access to water' (25).

Riverside on the edge of the central district is where most tension between traditional ramshackle Roseau and new development projects is occuring. The construction of the Independence Square next to E.O. Loblack Bridge is the beginning of the renovation project. Riverside differs from the Bay Front in its more topological character. The river has two sides, and they are connected by bridges. If the development increases the economical activity of the district, it will connect Potter's Ville on the other side of the river even more intensively to the central district. This would also enhance the relative location of the Roseau Market in the corner of the Bay Front and Riverside.

Understanding place, however, is not just to evaluate its current state and estimate possible future trends. To understand the existential character of lived environment one has to obtain a phenomenological insight to the place. In the beginning of this chapter, it was approached in terms of Stefanovic's (1998) 'clear centre' and 'reflection of time', the latter enlighted also with Entrikin's (1991) 'narrativity' and Norberg-Schulz's (1998) 'univocality'; and in terms of Stenros' (1992) theory of spatial structure as reflected in the analysis of entrance routes to the city. My final attempt to understand place is with help of Berdoulay's (1997) analysis of the relations between place and public space. Berdoulay's approach is not, however, phenomenological. The phenomenological insight is added by following Stefanovic's encounters.

As a place, public space is a coherent and intelligible whole. The placial narrative anchors human meanings to it and, on the other hand, public space makes attached meanings explicit (Berdoulay 1997: 304-306; see also Chapter 3.4). Existence of public space is crucial for place. The topological connectivity of place can come into existence only if the connective medium is public. Place can be place only for those for whom it is public.

Roseau is an open city. Its location on a rounded headland enforces this impression. Its fringes--the new suburbs and the Bay Front--are easy to come in. They give an impression that public and private are clearly separated from each others. The streets and parks are public, behind the walls and fences is the private. A vendor at the Bay Front who is forced to move to a back alley, however, experiences also the aspect of privateness of the area.

Inside the city, behind the façade, the situation is different. The narrow streets and the ramshackleness of the city create different kind of public space. Since it is not as arranged and clean that the façade is, it is not orderly manifest where the private and the public are located. Dwelling houses open to the street, doors are open if people are inside, people are sitting on the sides of the streets. The ramshackleness introduces cosyness to the place. The publicness is therefore different from that of the Bay Front, for instance. For a local who knows that the Bay Front is private and the behaviour is therefore more regulated there, the downtown is more public. It is place to see and to be seen. In the evening, however, when the tourists are gone by their cruise ship and the boutiques and cafés are closed, the local people take the place.

This interplay with openness and disclosure is one important element in the 'retention of mystery' which Stefanovic (1998: 37) finds important in creating the sense of place. She says about Cavtat that 'perhaps the foundation of the presence for this place comes from that which is left unsaid' (her italics). This is certainly true for places in general. Knowledge of place can never be complete and exhaustive but what is not explicitly said can be implicitly felt.

Hence, to define the 'placeness of place' or 'roseauness of Roseau' in few words or anyhow in explicit manner would not do justice for the subject. What can be done is a careful observance and empathetic living of the place. What Heidegger (1984: 19; see Chapter 3.2) says about translating of ancient Greek texts is certainly true about places, too. To understand a place one has to translate oneself into it. And to perform a study of place is to help the reader to translate oneself to the place, too, to achieve what Relph (1976: 52; Chapter 5.2) would call vicarious insideness.

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