Sekondi-Takoradi is the third largest city in Ghana. Every settlement in Ghana has a very interesting history but that of the first twin-city in Ghana is very unique.
What of it being the first port to be built in the country and all the different nationalities (and their ideosyncracies) who visited and influenced life in Sekondi-Takoradi? What about its unique position of hosting the first local "sea men" and all their characteristics? What about Paa Logozo, some of the first and best discotheques in Ghana, and of course great musicians such as C. K. Mann and Carousel Seven and Paapa Yankson?
Did you know that Pat Thomas learned his trade at the Zenith Cinema Hall in Takoradi? Additionally, did you know that the "Simigwa" man Gyedu Blay Ambolley developed his skills at Asemansudo in Sekondi? Those were the days when Sekondi-Takoradi was where "the action" was in Ghana.
Today, the twin-city, which is referred to by many FM stations in town as the "Oil City" is a very anemic and pale shadow of itself. All is not well with the city.
At its peak, the Takoradi Harbour was busting at its seams. Most exports from Ghana went out from there.Takoradi was the national headquarters of the Ghana Railways. Residents in Takoradi were privileged to have access to the latest gadgets and tools.
Takoradi was a special place for special people. Takoradi town itself had been developed as a result of the construction of the port during the reign of Governor Guggisberg of the British colonial administration.
The former offices and factory for the Pioneer Tobacco Company (PTC) have now been taken over by one of the oil companies in the Oil City. The Market Circle had been developed as part of the new town together with the single storey staff accommodation for the Ghana Railways which literally sprawls and covers a huge chunk of the town from the Ghana Secondary Technical School (GSTS) to John Sarbah Road.
Apart from the administrative offices for the railways and shipping agencies and the post office which look solid and stately with high ceilings, most of the residential buildings in Takoradi look very ordinary and were built by draughtsmen.
What is the situation in Takoradi today? Takoradi, even today, has less than one per cent of its buildings designed by architects. The so-called modern or recent buildings in the so-called Oil City can be counted on one's finger tips.
Like many other settlements in Ghana, even marshy areas and watercourses have been filled up and built on. Takoradi is choked and not surprisingly, many companies are looking for land for development either towards Shama or Agona Nkwanta on the Axim road. Many offices in Takoradi are actually located in buildings originally intended for residential purposes. Takoradi needs urgent attention in terms of architectural development.
The older Sekondi was actually in two sections - Dutch Sekondi also known as "European Town" and British Sekondi. Several years ago, European Town was where the elite in Sekondi lived. European Town was Sekondi and Sekondi was European Town.
Famous lawyers such as Abbensetts, Christians, Williams and James Mercer, prominent businessmen such as Grant and Isaac Ogoe and Dr Claud Ennin the medical doctor and other highly prominent citizens lived there together with many Europeans. Of course, the railway station, the post office, the banks and the High Court buildings were all located there.
Buildings in European Town were properly designed and mostly in the Classical Architectural style and looked more stately with high ceilings. Not surprisingly, the Nkrumah regime decided to build the Modernist Regional Administrative offices and the Residency for the Western Region next door to European Town.
Unfortunately, the railway station was allowed to deteriorate. The rail tracks were even removed and sold as scrap; the railway station was initially occupied by vagrants and eventually became a slum. The coaches and wagons were dismantled.
Despite the presence of the Naval base for the Ghana Navy, European Town lost its glory as the offices of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA) and the High Court building which overlooked the Atlantic Ocean were relocated; the STMA offices next to the Regional Library and the High Court to Kweikuma. The railway station collapsed eventually.
British Sekondi, which also had several prominent citizens such as Sir Charles Tachie-Menson, Judge R. S. Blay and others has fared no better. Many buildings have literally collapsed and walking through the town can be depressing, particularly for those who had experienced or known about the glory days of old.
Of course, there are still excellent architectural pieces such as the Methodist and Roman Catholic Church buildings, the Modernist Regional Library and the offices of the Sekondi-Takoradi Metropolitan Assembly (STMA) offices but overall, British Sekondi also needs urgent attention.
How can Sekondi-Takoradi be revitalised?
Both European Town and British Sekondi need to be redeveloped. Fortunately, the railway station in Sekondi has just been rebuilt in 2016 by the Mahama Administration and the railway track has been re-laid from Sekondi to Takoradi and to the Kojokrom station.
The new Sekondi railway station can be a huge catalyst in the redevelopment process and its precincts need to be well designed and well maintained. The old buildings in Sekondi which appear to be in ruins need to be documented properly and discussions held with the families that own them about redevelopment plans.
A model similar to the one utilised for the redevelopment of the buildings along the road to the Elmina Castle at Elmina where with the support of European countries, the families that own the buildings in ruins contributed a certain amount of money towards the rehabilitation of the buildings.
Some of these buildings could be renovated with provision for both office (rental) space - mixed-use in other words - as well as residential. Financial issues may need to be carefully considered so that all the stakeholders are informed and agreeable to the future development.
Takoradi's redevelopment also needs to be closely examined. The ongoing expansion of the harbour will create new opportunities and challenges which will all need various spaces. Ownership of the former Railway bungalows need to be properly established.
Since they are all one storey buildings and located on prime land in the central business district, if they are still owned by the Ghana Railways Company, several proposals could be discussed as to how to proceed with the revitalisation process.
Certainly, the single-storey residential buildings need to be pulled down and the space utilised more meaningfully. The Market Circle has become a huge bottleneck. Traffic jam in Takoradi, especially around the centre of the city is abominable.
The roads have been taken over by traders with their wares on mobile trucks. The reinforced concrete structures of the market buildings and the huge reinforced concrete gutters along the periphery of the Market started falling apart years ago and a huge disaster is simply waiting to happen. Takoradi Market Circle needs to be seriously and urgently re-examined and redeveloped.
The city authorities must also collaborate with the Architects Registration Council (ARC) of Ghana to ensure that licensed architects are involved in the redevelopment of the twin city of Sekondi-Takoradi. The number of buildings in the twin-city designed by architects needs to be increased dramatically.