The Suva Market: An act of architectural terrorism [The Fiji Times, 19 July 2005]
City waterfronts can be beautiful or ugly.
Sydney’s Harbour and the Opera House area is a delightful place of architectural beauty, commercial functionality, and recreational popularity.
There are also many Third World city waterfronts which are architectural and functional disasters.
Suva’s harbour area could go either way, depending on a planned new $40 million dollar Suva market and bus-stand complex.
For years, the users of the Suva market have patiently suffered congestion, hot sun, rain, dirt, mud and lack of parking space- all faults which naturally drive consumers to good super-markets.
A year ago, with the Town Planner in agreement, the SCC set up a Project Implementation Committee (with myself included) to facilitate a new market/bus-stand complex. The Committee concluded that the complex must be an architectural icon for Suva, the eventual architectural design must maximise the commercial potential of the site (to maximise rental income for the SCC), and facilitate the desired development benefits (to “sell” the project to Government and the donors).
Last year, the economist made a project justification presentation to the Cabinet’s Sub-Committee on Investment. Another presentation was made this year to potential donors and financial institutions. And the Committee called for expressions of interest from architects.
On 15 May of this year the Committee unanimously selected five companies (4 local, and one NZ) to be paid $15,000 each for more detailed design proposals, from which one would be selected to do the final drawings.
Until the process was stopped by a blatant act of architectural terrorism.
Pressured by a small group of Councilors, the SCC overturned the decision of the Project Implementation Committee, and gave the design work to one “Chosen Company”.
This same “Chosen Company” several years ago had also been the only firm (another coincidence?) asked and paid to do a similar task, but with less than satisfactory results.
This “Chosen Company” may come up with a great design, or it may not. But the public must ask: why was the open, transparent and competitive process stopped, thereby excluding the best local and international architects from offering their designs? Why should ratepayers and taxpayers be forced to run the risk of yet another architectural and functional disaster?
A useful architectural icon?
A Suva market, selling local agricultural produce, marine products and Fijian handicrafts, is surely a prime candidate for the construction of a Fijian architectural icon. And Suva is in desperate need for beautiful buildings.
At the same time the Suva Market could be a paragon of usefulness and functionality.
A building spacious enough to ensure that our farmers and their children do not have to squat in the mud and rain, under flapping tarpaulins to sell their produce; with enough covered external space so that they do not have sleep out in the open the night before; with enough parking spaces to accommodate all the likely consumers.
The complex could eventually be connected by above-street walkways to the other main shopping areas in the city- right to the FNPF Boulevard.
It could be a grand icon visible from way out at sea – so that incoming tourists could be told – “that’s where you must go”.
It would be a fantastic kaleidoscope of colour and multiracial gathering, all under one roof .
Such a project must generate commercial revenues for the SCC: fees paid by farmers and market stall holders would not be enough.
Luckily, the market location has great commercial value, given the panaromic views of the harbour, the need for essential services by the rural people, and the volume of people who use the bus-stand every day.
The upper area of the market complex with the magnificent views of the harbour area could be devoted to commercial space (especially allied with ample parking spaces) which would fetch premium rents as restaurants, open air bars etc. open to all hours of the night.
The upper parts facing the city could be rented out to a whole range of service providers who rural people must deal with: offices for registration of births, deaths, and marriages; NLTB and FAB; electricity, telephone, water; pharmacy, supermarkets; nor forgetting a children’s library (including access to Internet). Imagine the convenience to rural farmers.
Of course, there would be fees from the farmers and stall-holders. But there would also be fees from dozens of handicraft sellers who would use a larger part of the market space in mid-week (when the vegetable and seafood sellers are not in abundance).
Can anybody doubt that such a market with all the abundance of our local produce, exotic marine products and handicrafts, would become an instant attraction for the tourists? Note, it would be a short walk from the cruise liners docked at the wharf.
Such a market complex of course costs a lot too- which is why it had to be justified to government and donors on development grounds.
The development and financing objectives
Indeed, this project is so tailor-made for our political parties, that even the SDL and FLP would shake hands on it.
Improving the marketing of rural produce and handicrafts must boost rural employment and incomes, especially of land and marine resource owners (mostly indigenous Fijians). Without better marketing, all the past grand agricultural schemes are futile.
This project would not only strengthen multi-ethnic economic interaction, but strengthen the role of rural indigenous Fijians as suppliers of products and others as buyers (opposite to the norm in Fiji).
Rural development would reduce rural:urban drift, hence lessening all the other problems arising out of urban squatting and crime.
A better market would foster our local foods, thereby improving the nutrition and good health of our nation, reducing illnesses and health care costs, and improving economic productivity.
We would be strengthening our traditional food cultures and varieties, crucial in the battle against the ill-effects of the tidal wave of globalised consumption habits.
It would help reduce the cost of living for urban workers, thereby increasing their real wage.
By reducing food imports (now a large proportion of total imports), we would reduce the leakage of foreign exchange. This would increase the domestic multiplier effects of all investment and consumption expenditure, thereby increasing the rate of growth of employment and income.
In all, we would be reducing poverty and improving income distribution throughout Fiji.
Indeed, a project made in heaven for political parties, governments and donors.
Rarely do Third World countries face the possibility of a large capital development project benefiting the rural poor, while being a grand architectural development for a city. Suva is facing this heavenly possibility.
Except that now there is no guarantee that it will be a grand architectural development, or anything grand at all.
Because a few Councilors pushed through a decision to stop the best local and international architects from putting forward their architectural ideas.
Ratepayers and taxpayers are denied the choice that is their right under an honest, transparent and accountable governance.
The Town Planner and Town Clerk were no doubt helpless: as mere SCC employees they could not apply the universal lubricating fluid which is ever present in our capitalist markets.
Which is rather sad for one market which does matters to our poor people.
Will our architects and ratepayers do anything? Or is the ball now only in the Minister’s court?