Zoning in the poor
I read about the proposal to make Olympic Way an entertainment hip strip with a mixture of resignation and irritation - resignation because it may be the beginning of a pattern that I expected, but despite those expectations, I am still not pleased that it might happen.
I fear that the creation of entertainment zones will be skewed towards communities which are already low income and, despite the apparent infusion of cash by being a place where parties are many and long, will, in the long run, stunt development of an economic base for residents outside of being a party spot. Additionally, there is no telling what the distribution of income from the events will be, as I believe it is very likely that longstanding power structures will be replicated.
In other words, it is highly likely that the long-time strongmen in low-income communities will be the ones who will control and benefit from the creation of entertainment zones there.
When I saw the announcement of the plans for Olympic Way, I was reminded about why I stopped going to Dutty Fridaze, which used to be held in Fletcher's Land, Kingston. I went a couple times and enjoyed it immensely. The street party developed a reputation for not just going into the early daylight hours of Saturday, but actually getting going at about 4 a.m. Not that music was not being played, and very loudly at that, but there would be very few people there and then they would appear as if from nowhere and the party would be on.
It was a great place to get a couple minutes of dancehall and then go to the market. But one morning, I was there and I saw something which troubled me immensely. While we the visitors were having a jolly time, some of the people who actually lived there came out to watch the cavorting. Many were in their nightclothes and I saw this elderly lady who appeared to be at least 75 years old. And it did not look like a strong 75 either.
She looked weary, standing outside her home watching the crowd. And I thought, what right do I have to be part of keeping this woman from her bed? And I also thought, how much choice did she have in the party being close to her door in the first place?
As much as I liked the event and had regard for the main organiser publicly associated with it, I stopped going to Dutty Fridaze after that. The hours became a problem with the law and, eventually, the party was moved to a rooftop venue on West Street and lost much of its atmosphere with the relocation.
So, I wonder, how many people will be denied their right of a good night's rest if Olympic Way, or any other community where there is a combination of commercial and residential activity, is made into an entertainment zone? How many residents of those areas will actually have a choice in their communities being transformed into go-to places for all-night partying? How many persons will actually benefit from the injection of cash from the spend of people who come into their areas to party?
Will it be a micro version of the large-scale tourism model on the north coast, where the real money goes to the very few when the host environment is critical to creating the attractiveness and hence the income?
And, how many students will have a very hard time studying for their examinations as they seek for themselves an alternative to playing hosts to party hearty people? How can we claim that education is paramount when we deem an area where hitting the books should be a way towards social mobility to be party central?
There is also a matter of the content of some dancehall events in the wee hours of the morning in the 'dash out' segment when anything goes. Between the selector screaming instructions on the microphone and the content of many of the recordings, the dances which go that route are for adults only. However, in an area with a mixed residential and commercial population, the children will be literally going to the dances. Whether or not they already access that content, why should we have a different official standard for children in one area than for those outside the zones?
While the entertainment zones are an excellent idea, it would be sad if the result was the creation of communities where everybody else goes to party and then returns to the silence of their homes to have a good rest. While I like a good dance, I would feel like a intruder to be a 'dry-land tourist' who takes his fill on fun with no regard for the residents.
Of course, it may be a case that all of the residents in a particular area want it to be an entertainment zone, but I know that anywhere I live will not have a hundred per cent yes vote on being a party hub. When the notion of creating entertainment zones came up, I thought of places like the New Kingston and Montego Bay hip strips, Port Henderson Road (aka Back Road), Hellshire Beach, and other places where there was already a high concentration of entertainment with a minimal residential population.
I did not think of the Palisadoes Strip, for which Damion Crawford has made the excellent suggestion of using temporary structures to make the party areas boundaries. I did think of downtown Kingston, on the waterfront, a standard entertainment area for cities which are lucky enough to have a harbour. However, the persons who live in Ocean Towers must have a say in the current suggestions to increase the number of events there beyond the occasional launch and street jam, such as the on-and-off Dennis Brown tribute and CB Pan Chicken Championships.
As we move towards creating these entertainment zones, which are long overdue, let us be careful about where they are implemented and not rush into possibly institutionalising inequality and underdevelopment, in the attempt to create income flows for people who desperately need them.