Editorial | Preparing the city for skyscrapers
If the Holness administration needed evidence of why it should proceed with caution in issuing permits for high-rise residences in the Kingston Metropolitan Region, it was flooded with it on Tuesday - literally. After a few hours of rain across the city, roads were flooded, with water, in some cases, rising several feet. Traffic gridlocked and commuters were stranded for several hours.
Nowhere was the problem worse than on the westbound lane of Marcus Garvey Drive in St Andrew, where even high, heavy-duty vehicles and big buses stalled in water. Traffic backed up for miles. The fire brigade could do little to help.
The problem on this stretch of road was surprising. Last year, the Government completed a US$20.5-million upgrade of a 2.4-kilometre stretch of the 4.93-kilometre thoroughfare that handles more than 40,000 vehicles daily. That project involved not only widening the road, but lifting it several metres. In the circumstances, we expected no recurrence of the episode of September 2016 when, similar to Tuesday, the road, still under construction, was deluged. Several businesses along it, as well as adjacent communities, were flooded.
A large part of the blame then was placed on the overflowing of nearby gullies that empty into the adjacent Kingston Harbour. They, it was reported, had become clogged with garbage, including PET bottles and other plastics. That represented a failure in the management of the country's solid waste, which the Government hopes will be substantially addressed with a partial ban on single-use plastic bags and styrofoam containers from next January.
The proposed ban, however, won't be a clear fix to the crisis in solid-waste management, the agency for which has not proved itself capable of handling its mandate. Recycling is limited. Plastic bottles are still discarded with impunity in drains and gullies, many of which host islands of silt that support heavy vegetation. Verges, though occasionally trimmed, are mostly overgrown and unkempt. The roadways are generally strewn with garbage.
Frankly, there is a sense of ramshackle in large swathes of the island, which officialdom seems not to notice. If they do, they seem to believe that it can be hidden behind the facade of high-rises, or pockets of pristine development. Or new cities.
To be clear, this newspaper isn't against 20-storey apartment complexes or statement buildings aimed at capturing the spirit of a forward-moving Jamaica. But such developments must be sustainable.
In that regard, we believe that doing some small, relatively inexpensive things will go a long way towards building the sense of worth and confidence of Jamaicans and, at the same time, help to prepare a sustainable environment for these projects. Not least of these is the regular collection of garbage, cleaning drains, and trimming the verges. In other words, there is need for a workable solid-waste management system, capable of meeting not only current demands but what else will be imposed on it by higher population densities in the city.
We appreciate, as Prime Minister Andrew Holness pointed out, that expanded roads in the city will go some way in improving infrastructure. But these roads assume more private vehicles, rather than enhanced public transportation and pedestrian routes normally expected in cities of skyscrapers and high population densities.
The adequacy of the city's water supply is another matter to be addressed, given the need to ration the commodity at certain times of the year, in part because of the contamination of the capital's groundwater reserves. Sewerage management is another matter to be addressed.
High densities in an urban environment also suggest the need for communal recreational spaces, such as parks and gardens. That is why we believe that the plan to build the new parliament building in National Heroes Park ought to be reconsidered and abandoned, thus leaving the park as a recreational space for surrounding communities.
Yes to high-rise apartments, but let's seriously plan for them before issuing the permits.