Bula! Greetings from Fiji
Karin Taylor, CHF Trustee writes...
It’s four years since I was last in Suva, and, despite the interruptions of a global pandemic and life 10,000 miles away, it suddenly doesn’t seem that long! I’m back with the National Trust of Fiji (NTF) for a month, but also this time representing the Commonwealth Heritage Forum (CHF). I’ll be finding out and talking about all things Planning and Heritage. It was good to return to the NTF offices in Ma’afu Street and to meet up once again with Elizabeth Erasito, the Director. We’ve been in touch remotely many times over the past four years, but there’s nothing like meeting face-to-face. And there’s a lot to catch up on!
I spent Monday settling in and acclimatizing (it’s rainy season again…) and, since I’m staying in a much more central location this time, I was able to walk into the city centre to see what had changed. The answer was not much, but some of what had changed was pretty obvious. The huge tower block under construction at the rear of the NTF offices is still under construction but, I suppose, being positive, it looks marginally better in its near-finished state than how it looked four years ago. It remains a huge geopolitical statement in the governmental quarter of Suva. The ”Chinese Tower” as it’s called locally, has now been joined though by another tower block, being built rather more rapidly. Suva’s bid to go high-rise proceeds at some pace…
Here’s a “spot the difference” challenge for all you Planners; it’s not hard…
Left Feb. 2020 and right Feb. 2024.
The Government Buildings with their clock tower are Protected Buildings. They were built in the Colonial era after the capital of Fiji was moved from Levuka, on Ovalau Island, to Suva which is on the south eastern side of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island. The buildings are still in active use by the Government today, and the park in the foreground, Albert Park, is a popular and well-used sports ground including – unsurprisingly – for rugby.
Whereas on my last visit I was staying in a pleasant northern suburb of Suva, this time I’m at a B&B very close to the NTF offices. It’s a family home owned by an Anglo-Fijian couple, Harry and Litia, and the other three guests are all working in Suva, for the United Nations and the IMF. This makes for fascinating conversations over breakfast and supper, on subjects ranging from international debt to climate resilience, and already I’ve made some interesting connections. A chat about buildings insurance problems in a small island developing state (SIDS) made me think about the relevance of this to sustainable development and conservation in coastal communities such as Levuka (a World Heritage Site), where a recently-restored and NTF-owned building fell down during a particularly severe cyclone a couple of years ago. There’s no money to rebuild it.
Traditional Fijian homes in villages such as Navala, which I visited in 2020, are built from natural materials, which can be blown away during storms – but quickly and relatively easily and cheaply rebuilt using skills handed down through generations. The Government were encouraging people to rebuild their homes using more durable materials such as concrete blocks, but is it better during a cyclone to have palm leaves and other thatching materials blowing around, or sheets of corrugated iron? Plenty to think about in terms of what comprises sustainable and resilient development.
One of the purposes of my current visit is to progress a CHF-funded initiative to establish two one-year posts for young built environment professionals with NTF, and one of the ideas Elizabeth and I have been talking about that these postholders could help with is researching the current resource and geographical extent of traditional bures and their associated building skills, and working on ideas to develop appropriate sustainable building methods that would increase climate resilience whilst maintaining the local character that the residents of Navala and other traditional villages are rightly so proud of.
Then there are other issues like the appropriate planning and management of the Levuka WHS, for which NTF and Elizabeth along with other agencies are currently working on an audit of the WHS with a view to revisiting the management of this important place in Fiji’s more recent history. More of that anon. There’s going to be plenty to keep me busy!