Editorial | Smart cities of the future
With Kingston as the backdrop, the region's municipal leadership met this week for the inaugural Caribbean Conference of Mayors under the theme 'Caribbean Cities Honouring the Past, Embracing a Smart Future'. Mayor Delroy Williams played host to his regional colleagues as they pondered the theme and considered what it takes to run a city efficiently and effectively.
A topic that we believe could have kept the mayors engaged for a long time is the acute impact of natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, floods and drought, on populations. The region was battered by hurricanes last year, and there is every indication that more active storm seasons will render the Caribbean vulnerable way into the future. The preparedness and the response to these disasters is what will determine how quickly a country can get back on its feet.
We hope that the mayors came away from their parley with some prescriptions for building cleaner and safer cities. Many years ago, Mandeville was regarded as the cleanest parish capital in all of Jamaica. The iconic Cecil Charlton, as mayor, was able to dedicate the requisite resources for waste management and traffic flow to make this town the envy of all others. What was Charlton's magical formula and how can it be replicated throughout Jamaica? One thing is obvious: Vibrant cities and towns have great leadership whose job it is to develop cohesion among all stakeholders who share the dream of creating great urban centres.
One of the biggest challenges for our municipal leaders is to use technology to solve some of the problems that now confront cities and townships. Citizens are virtually living their lives on their smartphones these days. In times of disaster, for example, alerts and other critical messages now have to be made available via mobile apps in order to reach the widest cross section of populations.
In the emerging reality of the 21st century, we live in a state of heightened security. If cities like Kingston and Montego Bay are to be set on a strong course for the future, technology such as CCTV and other surveillance methods will become necessary. While some will argue about invasion of privacy, those rights have to be balanced against the demands of national security.
Kingston, at 145 years, has many historic landmarks and is rich in culture. Sadly, many of those edifices are slowly rotting away. Elegant buildings like the one that housed the Attorney General's Chambers have simply been abandoned and become havens for vagrants. King Street, once the heartbeat of the capital, has lost considerable lustre. The empty storefronts that mar once thriving areas such as Mountain View Avenue, Slipe Pen Road and Red Hills Road tell an eloquent story of urban blight.
How can we stop the rot that is taking place in Kingston? Is there a way to use technology to channel capital resources into the development of our cities?
In the global marketplace of ideas and commerce, Kingston and Montego Bay must compete for attention like all other cities in the region. It means they must clean up their act if they are to attract investments and tourists.
The redevelopment of Kingston has been on the cards for a while. Even though there is ongoing construction on the Kingston waterfront, the urban poor watch these edifices reaching for the sky from their garbage-infested perches, many of which are on the verge of collapse.
The passion for Kingston needs to be reignited. Mayor Williams has the urgent task of getting stakeholder commitment to the economic development of the nation's capital. He appears to have the passion for the Kingston's revival and, like every well- thinking patriot, wants to see the city shine.