Jaevion Nelson | We're not just bitching over beaches
The recent debate about the Puerto Seco Beach has revealed, once again, that we need to have a conversation about leisure.
We need to begin talk about how accessible and affordable recreational spaces are for the majority of our citizens, the absence of these facilities in communities, including new developments, and what opportunities exist for everyone to enjoy the country like tourists, expats and wealthier Jamaicans.
A few weeks ago, some friends and I were having this same discussion that some of the most beautiful parts of the country are inaccessible to the majority of Jamaicans. While driving up to Newcastle, we kept wondering why more of us aren't visiting spaces like these. Most of the people we saw were from the moneyed class - expats, tourists and rich people.
Many people do not realise that leisure is a luxury for many people. They don't realise that many of the spaces that exist are carefully designed to keep people out. Many of us don't realise how unhappy this causes many of our brothers and sisters across the country to be.
Recreation/leisure cannot, in anyway, be only for a few of us. It has to be more accessible. We cannot continue to be so cavalier about this matter. The have-nots, too, are deserving of spaces to have fun and relax outside of street dances and empty lots they transform to play football and other sports.
I think the discussion about access to public beaches illuminates the concerns my friends and I and others like Dr Maziki Thame, Professor Carolyn Cooper and those who advocated for Winnifred Beach to remain public have raised over the years.
It is an absolute tragedy that some of the best beaches in our country are privatised. It is quite shameful that so many years after Independence, our leaders have barely done anything to address this grave issue.
In 2000, there were about 544 beaches in Jamaica. Only 87 of them were categorised as public recreational beaches (18 of them had a charge for entry), while 275 and 61 of them were associated with guest houses and villas, and hotels, respectively. The remaining 121 beaches were fishing beaches.
In 1954, while Jamaica was under British rule and Alexander Bustamante was chief minister, a commission of enquiry was established because there was "a general perception that there are fewer and fewer opportunities for enjoying the beach as more coastal development takes place and because most public bathing beaches are in a state of disrepair".
Sadly, the conversation is just about the same. In fact, a survey from 1997-1998 found that only 17 of the 87 public bathing beaches met the minimum acceptable safety and other standards (i.e., toilets, changing rooms, garbage disposal, security, parking, etc.).
About 20 years later, the state of affairs with our public beaches seem largely unchanged. So untenable is the situation that a space like Puerto Seco had to be leased to a private entity to repair and operate it.
Government cannot continue to abdicate its responsibilities and then decide to outsource proper management of the beaches and foreshores under its purview when they become a sore to the eye. Beaches do not need to be privatised to be properly taken care of and the private sector isn't there to clean up the Government's mess.
The management of Emancipation Park shows clearly that the Government and its agencies can, in fact, take care of public spaces, if they want to.
Let's entertain a conversation about the accessibility of our recreational and leisure spaces. It's hugely important that we do.