Imani Duncan-Price | Kingston renaissance
Living in Jamaica and trying to make a difference in the lives of the people through politics can sometimes be a jarring experience on your psyche. Starkly different realities exist side by side in Jamaica, and the inequality seems to have got worse.
Restaurants at Market Place in Kingston are filled with Jamaicans and expats genuinely enjoying our natural vibe. Yet in communities like Rae Town, Denham Town and Olympic Gardens, the emptiness in the eyes of teenagers, the inability of too many men and women to dream about the future, the generations of economic stagnation are heart-wrenching.
In those communities, people tell me how hard it has got. They feel like there is so much less to stretch. They don’t know what growth the Government is talking about. Many of these persons don’t want a handout, they want a job. They want to be able to stand on their own two feet and chart a decent life for themselves and their children.
Recent data from the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions finally reflect what people have been living. A 30 per cent drop in real per-capita consumption in the Kingston Metropolitan Area has been devastating. As Senator Damion Crawford stated, the rise in poverty overall translates to “521,000 Jamaicans living on $250 a day. It means that for three meals a day, they have less than $100 for each meal”.
Trickle-down economics is not going to create a “bubbling up” – as Nigel Clarke suggested – in Jamaica’s economy. There are too many structural blocks. People and communities are literally cut off from the ‘system’ even though they live right beside the ‘system’. If Jamaica is going to grow and flourish in a sustained and equitable way, we have to make targeted and significant investments.
We have the right names and intentions for projects in Government, like the Community Renewal Programme, and we have some interventions by the private sector and the non-governmental organisation sector, but nothing seems to really change in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans. We need a different solution.
Connecting Heartbeat to Body
The heartbeat of Kingston gives us our pulsating and soul-stirring reggae and dancehall. The heartbeat is where directors of leading global fashion houses visit to see the next unique trends in style. In the heartbeat, people have an innate will to survive and a burning desire to succeed. Connecting the heartbeat to the body will make Jamaica thrive.
To do this, we have to mobilise the hearts, minds and resources to redefine and create a Jamaica of possibilities. This takes vision and concerted, strategic action of key stakeholders, including both political parties. We need economic dynamism that has a social transformation focus. This is why I am an advocate of the socialist democratic path defined by places like Finland, as well as the Singapore and Rwanda models.
Such hubs embedded within communities can drive the needed connection and dynamism. Imagine a redesigned Rae Town beach park on the Kingston Harbour as an entertainment and cultural hub, holding live music events nightly; fresh fish from the nearby fishing cooperative – fried, steamed or stewed; a Bobo Shanti house for the holy sacrament of ganja with a museum honouring its contributions to our natural medicinal and spiritual development as a people. This has been a vision in the works by MP Thwaites and a great team over the last two years. We will bring it to life.
Imagine a boardwalk with benches along the coastline with a playground by the beach for children and families to enjoy by day as yachts are docked and serviced at the new pier. Yes, there is a tank underground there, and it was used to gas the fishermen’s boats back in the day.
With a licence to be an entertainment zone to stay open late, the right partnerships to attract Kingston and north coast tourists, and with the right investments, this could be a catalyst for economic dynamism in Rae Town, Southside and nearby downtown communities.
To do this, there would have to be a focus on ensuring that every economic opportunity created within the hub utilised the skills and talents of the residents. This means local residents would manage parking and security, make and sell food, manage the dock, and run the souvenir shops. This means training young people in event management and sound engineering for quality stage show production for the nightly shows featuring emerging artistes and bands, as well as established music stars.
Imagine the Tower Street Adult Correctional Centre on the waterfront relocated to the plains in rural Jamaica and this prime area transformed to house an arm of one of our leading universities, focused on competitive programmes for Jamaica’s future. We can send a signal that we are for education, not incarceration. We all agree that we need to improve the educational capabilities of our people if we are to drive the new economy. This requires more than talk.
There is more to the vision for renewal of our city and communities like Rae Town. Will you join us in our renaissance? We need all the help we can get to make this a reality.
- Imani Duncan-Price is chief of staff for the leader of the Opposition, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, an Eisenhower fellow, and a former senator. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.