Port Harcourt: A Garden City Without Gardens

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Before the coming of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Port Harcourt was the Nigerian city, noted for gardens and recreational parks. This earned Port Harcourt the sobriquet: “The Garden City.” Today, the gardens and parks of Port Harcourt have all disappeared, leaving the once Garden City with no gardens. ANAYO ONUKWUGHA, writes from Port Harcourt.

port Harcourt is the largest city in the South-south region of Nigeria. It is economically the fastest growing city in the Nigeria. More than 70 per cent of all foreign investment in the South-south region is located in Port Harcourt. The city is well endowed with natural resources and notable infrastructures such as international and domestic airports, seaports, five star hotels and local and international conference facilities.
The state prides itself as the treasure base of the nation, given the fact that it hosts critical oil and gas infrastructure in Nigeria and the West Africa sub-region, as such, Port Harcourt, the capital city hosts the largest aggregation of heavy and light industry-technology in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria and the West African sub-region, and by extension, has a vibrant oil economy; offering myriad opportunities for business, investment and tourism.
Port Harcourt is popularly referred to as the “Garden City” because of its well laid out green landscape.
Some of the green landscapes from where Port Harcourt derived its Garden City nickname include the fields located at the centre of the Old Port Harcourt, the green trees that adorn the city’s major roads and streets as well as the creeks and rive lets that snake about the length and breadth of the city.
Some of the parks and gardens in the city include Isaac Boro Park, Stadium Road Park and Elekahia Road Park, as well as Number One Field, Number Two Field, Number Three Field, Jubilee Parks, Number Five Field and Number Six Field, all located in the Old Port Harcourt.
In order to maintain these parks and gardens, the Rivers State government under the then leadership of police commissioner Fidelis Oyakilome, set up the Parks and Gardens Commission.
However, efforts of the administration to maintain the parks and gardens was not sustained by successive administrations as majority of these parks and gardens, especially those in the Old Port Harcourt were either sold out to individuals or now converted to host buildings.
For example, out of the six fields in the Old Port Harcourt, only the Number Six Field and the Jubilee Parks still maintain their original status. Number One has long become a haven for dealers and smokers of Indian hemp and other hard drugs. This development forced the previous government of Chibuike Amaechi- to convert it to a mini-stadium.
The Number Two Field was recently taken over by traders, who were dislodged from the popular Creek Market as a result of the on-going reconstruction and expansion of the Bonny Jetty by the Governor Ezebunwo Nyesom Wike-led administration.
The Number Three Field was converted to a building with multiple halls, housing the Rivers State Council for Arts and Culture. It was christened Agbani Darego Multi-Purpose Centre.
The Number Five Field was converted to Port Harcourt Information Centre with halls for hire but was later converted to a handball pitch by the Amaechi administration.
Other parks and gardens located across the Garden City have either been abandoned or taken over by miscreants, leaving Port Harcourt “the Garden City” to actually be a Garden City without gardens.
However, kudos should be given to the Wike-led administration for its efforts at restoring the Garden City status of Port Harcourt with the beautification of some major junctions in the city, including the popular GRA Junction and the UTC Junction with green grasses, as well as the construction of the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park.
The Pleasure Park is on a massive expanse of land well suited for such purpose. Its architectural design and structural outlay are deliberately crafted to connote a pleasure arena. To make it the best of its kind, it will afford patrons limitless space for walkout.
People can also engage in different social and recreational activities of their choice that would be available in the park. The approved architectural design has one thing in focus, which is to give the iconic project an elaborate pleasure appeal.
Sharing same perimeter wall with the Port Harcourt Barracks of the Sixth Division of the Nigeria Army, popularly known as Bori Camp, the Port Harcourt Pleasure Park is located along the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway. It is a novel model- an integrated facility -various features that will offer specific leisure treatment to patrons.
The aspects of life the Pleasure Park seeks to reintroduce in the Garden City painfully vanished since the eighties among residents of Rivers State. The few existing gardens are shambolic, existing only in names, devoid of any appeal to the residents of the city, and a painful reminder of what they used to be, and the more painful fact that they combined to earn Port Harcourt its Garden City nickname. To state the point bluntly, they do not exist anymore. That is why the current effort of government is commendable. It strives to restore such lifestyle with a functional facility.
This new park, which is rising to fame has a secured, serene and accessible  neighbourhood. Everybody can access it from all parts of the city because of the centrality of its location.
As the oil capital of Nigeria, Rivers State is a place where people are in daily in frenzy. The fast pace of growth of the city, driven by the all-inclusive developments as witnessed in both the previous administrations in the state and the present Wike government have triggered a deluge of activities among the residents, who seem to be in a hurry to catch up with ever emerging opportunities in the state.
In today’s Port Harcourt only the eateries and fast food joints present the best places to relax and have fun in a touted “Garden City.” Without doubt, Port Harcourt restaurants and fast food joints that now function in place of the gardens the city once abundantly boasted of do not offer the residents of the Garden City, anything close to recreation.
What the Wike-led administration is doing, particularly with the Pleasure Park is to change the trajectory of settling for cosmetics decorations of junctions and roundabouts in the city, and the planting of trees and grasses in some public spaces to create an illusion of gardens.
The very fact that no deliberate plan or policy is mapped out for the sustainability of the trees and grasses, planted leaves those efforts unable to stand the test of time.

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