Overview Dominica’s Capital
Roseau is tightly packed with small and large houses and even larger modern concrete structures.
There is little green or open space situated within the city, and this is even more so today, as many of the courtyards which was once commonplace within the city are giving way to office space. The district is, however, framed in every direction by natural elements.
The sea and the river provide water element while the Botanical Gardens and the Government House gardens frame the city with green space. Both these elements are rare in the Caribbean. No other centre in the region has such extensive botanical gardens with such central location, and the Roseau River is amongst the largest rivers that flow through any Caribbean capital.
The urban structure of Central Roseau is based on an irregular grid system of miniature proportions, making it a highly illegible city. Even though the grid area is not very extensive, it is relatively easy for a visitor to get lost there. The grid area has some 80 blocks in the area of 30 hectares (74 acres).
In comparison, the grid areas of Kingstown and Castries — capitals of Saint Vincent and Saint Lucia — have some 50 and 60 blocks in the areas of over 40 ha (99 acre). The average block size in Central Roseau is thus some ⅓ hectare (1 acre), i.e. about half of the figure of Central Kingstown.
The city of Roseau sits on an alluvial fan formed hundreds of years ago as the river after which it was named meandered across the area from what is now known as Newtown to its current location. Over the last two thousand years Amerindians migrating through the islands settled the area attracted by the nearby river.
With the arrival of the Europeans on the island in the 16th and 17th centuries, a small settlement was established by the French who in their tradition of naming places after what they found there named the settlement with their name for the river reeds which grew along the river banks. A plan was created for the settlement which mirrored examples in France where streets extended from a central point at what is today the Old Market and extended out to the rest of the settlement.
Conflict raged between the French and the British over the area on several occasions. Finally the British gained a stronghold and by the late 18th and early 19th centuries set out plans for the city which included fortifications and government structures, the grid road street system and blocks and new urban areas to the north and south known today as Potter’s Ville and Newtown.
Goodwill was established in the 1950s and Bath Estate in the early 1980s. Since that several new semi-urban settlements — such as Stock Farm, Castle Comfort and Wall House — have been constructed around the existing ones. Some older settlements like Fond Cole and Canefield nowadays belong also to the semi-urban area that lies around Roseau.
The French influence can still be seen today, however, in its architecture, and crooked streets which extend from the Old Market Plaza. Examples of the English influence is also evident in architecture and street names.