O. Dave Allen | Is Canterbury the new Chinatown?
Member of parliament for St James North Western, Dr Horace Chang, announced recently the Government's intention to construct 76 housing units to relocate some residents of Canterbury, a $550-million project designed to transform the inner-city St James community.
I wrote earlier this year: "A well-positioned member of the Montego Bay ruling class posited that areas like Flanker and other coastal communities should be rezoned for town houses and apartment complexes to stratify the demands of the upscale housing market, while the working class should be relocated to Queen of Spain Valley. Hence, the announced new town in the Adelphi area and the peri-urban road from Hague to Westgate that would facilitate rapid transit of the working class to a sanitised, urban Montego Bay.
"Yes, Montego Bay is a global brand well-positioned for propulsive economic take-off had it not been for these menacing gunmen and shanty towns that need to be properly managed and mainstreamed."
So it seems like the process of gentrification has begun by Dr Chang, starting with Canterbury. Gentrification is the process of renovating and improving a deteriorated urban neighbourhood by means of the influx of more affluent residents so that it conforms to middle-class taste and often comes with displacing low-income families and small businesses. This is a common and controversial topic in politics and in urban planning.
Gentrification is about improving property value, best use of land, aesthetic appeal, and middle-class sensibilities. But to those of us who put people first, the question must be asked: What will become of the scores of displaced people who live on the gully banks and those who cannot afford the option offered by the State, as was the case of the residents of Albion Mews?
According to Minister Chang: "The first step is to try and get (off) everybody who live on the gully bank, so we can build a road and basically landscape the area and then begin to move into Canterbury and really transform it."
Dr Chang brags of his accomplishment at Albion the decampment centre established in the wake of Hurricane Charlie in 1951, causing more than 152 deaths and $50,000,000 in damages, where victims from low-lying areas of Montego Bay who were flooded out were relocated.
The former housing minister claimed: "The houses we build will be first choice for the people living there, and there are many people who can buy it. We did it in Albion and we will do it again,"
The following is the experience of one of the occupants at Albion Tenement, who claimed she could not afford Dr Chang's much-vaunted new housing units built for them.
"I don't know how we going to manage it. Lord, have mercy! My husband and I are now pensioners. I am 70 years old and he is 69; we have nowhere else to go," said Judin Williams. "I had to borrow a large sum of the $233,000 to make the down payment, and then we will have to make regular monthly payments of $11,000. I don't know how we going to manage it. We need help."
The Ministry of Water and Housing offered these displaced tenants $100,000 to assist with finding accommodation elsewhere. Many opted to capture land at the nearby New Market property near the infirmary and the office of the Ministry of Housing to resettle.
History has shown us that relocation exercises in Jamaica have failed to meet their expectations. The world-acclaimed innovative Sites and Service Catherine Hall Housing Project was designed to resettle residents who were living in the marginalised communities of Railway Lane, King Street, Canterbury, Hart Street and Barracks Road in the late 1970s. This initiative failed to fulfil the intended objective because of crass political interference that has transformed that well-planned model community into a political garrison.
Relocation 2000, conceptualised by the Patterson administration to put an end to intergenerational poverty, suffered the same fate because of the ineptitude of the implementing agency, the NHT. Now most of the intended beneficiaries who should have been relocated from the inner city of Montego Bay (Swine Lane) are worse off now than they were before.
Having been removed from their source of hustling and livelihood, some of these residents could not meet their financial obligations to the National Housing Trust and so their properties were foreclosed. The road to hell is, indeed, paved with good intentions.
The jury is still out on the success or failure of an earlier attempt at the gentrification of 'Back-o-Wall', where sections of the 'squatter settlement' of the inner city of Western Kingston, which was bulldozed to make way for Seaga's experimentation in community formation, Tivoli Gardens. The success of any project must be measured by its outcome. In 2010, nearly 70 civilians were massacred in what was billed as an incursion.
According to Dr Chang, Canterbury is the first step. "We will be able to convince other citizens to get up and say we have transformed Montego Bay." This is a position advanced by sociologist Ruth Glass, who said that once started, gentrification can "progress rapidly until all or most of the original working-class occupiers are displaced, and the whole social character of the district is changed."
Is Canterbury the beginning of the new Chinatown. Alas, poor Miss Mavis!