Editorial | Kingston at 145: To celebrate or not
Kingston was once the cultural and commercial heartbeat of Jamaica. Today, it is no longer the vibrant commercial centre that once drew visitors to its core like a magnet.
Over time, underinvestment in infrastructure, the inability to keep the city clean and manage waste disposal, and challenges to public safety and escalating crime have contributed to the decline in Kingston's appeal as an entrepreneurial centre.
Rather than contend with urban blight, some businesses have taken flight, and it is not unusual to hear residents of the capital declare that they have not been to the downtown Kingston business district in many years. They cite public safety as their main concern.
Kingston Mayor Delroy Williams feels that despite these challenges, there are many reasons to rejoice, and he has announced a year of celebration to mark the city's 145th year of existence. He said at the launch: "We have the vision to make our city become the capital of the Caribbean; indeed, the pearl of the Antilles, a major player in the Latin American landscape and internationally."
Social-media responses have mainly been negative, with many questioning whether it is necessary and where the resources are to come from for such a celebration. Many will no doubt be attempting to measure that cost against the potential benefit to be gained.
Like others before him, Mayor Williams harbours ambitions of restoring Kingston to its former glory, making it the cultural centre of the Caribbean. Various ambitious projects to bring about a renaissance of Kingston over the years have faltered. Many good men have died trying to get revitalisation efforts going.
One of the mayor's priorities should be to get the streets cleaned - and for them to remain clean. Streets littered with the motor vehicle wreckage must be cleared, and where the owners disobey removal notices, it is time that the city step in, flex its muscles, and take remedial action.
So, while Mayor Williams goes about crafting his celebration plan, this newspaper would also urge him to make it a priority to develop prescriptions to confront challenges such as crime, youth unemployment, homelessness, as well as abandoned housing and decaying infrastructure that are sucking the vitality and viability out of the city.
The change will likely come about with inspirational leadership that can command public goodwill and garner participation from the private sector and other stakeholders, even as new investment opportunities are being created to develop strong economic units.
There should be moves to offer greater incentives for new investments that make urban renewal a key objective, whether they are in traditional or non-traditional areas.
So celebrate if you must, Mayor, but don't forget that unless you find a way to unleash the creative potential in the arts, music and such industries to create medium and long-term solutions to unemployment, prosperity will continue to elude downtown Kingston and the crowds will stay away.
There is already a lot to build on: the resilience of well-established businesses that continue to show confidence in the economy, Kingston's natural harbour that has historically benefited domestic and international trade, and the creativity and imagination of the people which led to Kingston being declared one of UNESCO's creative cities. To achieve any kind of urban renaissance, these resources have to be managed well.