A garden no more - Eastwood Park Gardens residents suffer in silence
The Sunday Gleaner today begins a series of once-thriving residential communities which have started to decay because of crime and other factors, such as the illegal operation of commercial activities. If your community is dying a painful death, email firstname.lastname@example.org and a team will visit the area to highlight your concerns.
Eighty-nine year-old Clara Cole has lived most of her life on Westminster Road in Eastwood Park Gardens, Kingston, and is determined to see out the rest of her days in the community, even though the signs are clear that things are fast falling apart.
Her former neighbour, Basil Wright, has seen enough of the decay of the once-solid middle- class community and has relocated to Mandeville, Manchester.
"There is nothing that can be done at this stage," says Wright, who has put his Eastwood Park Gardens house on the market with a $16-million price tag.
Cole, who uses a metal walker to move about the house she has occupied since age 15, agrees that the once-peaceful neighbourhood is going down, and she has the scars to show.
Three years ago, hoodlums cut open a window to her house and slashed her throat as she slept. They burglarised the property, making off with jewellery, money and other valuables.
The incident sent shock waves throughout the community, with Cole and her neighbours blaming the crime on the hoodlums attracted to the area by business operators who have moved more and more commercial activities into Eastwood Park Gardens in the past two decades.
"They came in, turn on all the lights and they searched up the place. Whether they doped me or not, I don't know," said Cole.
"But they cut me on my hand and they cut my throat. I was sleeping and somehow I didn't feel it. But the whole place was in blood when I got up," said the senior citizen who was 86 years old at the time.
Cole noted that Eastwood Park Gardens has changed much since she was a teenager.
"Before, the place was clean, quiet, and residents respected each other. Today, however, mostly because of an influx of commercial activity, the community has deteriorated into a ghost town," said Cole.
"Something needs to be done. The Eastwood Park Citizens' Association has tried. They collected money to try to deal with it, but the commercial properties got worse," argued Cole, as she pointed out that the increase in commercial activities has driven initial homeowners from their properties.
"They (business operators) go away in the evenings and there are few of us left here at nights. We don't have anybody to call on if anything because the people gone home and the places are locked up," said Cole.
"When I came here you had the nice homes, nicely kept with all the gardens and so on, and all the little children. You could find the nurses, those with babies, all meet up at the corner in the evenings and everyone was cordial," continued the woman. That scenery has changed, however, replaced by noisy machinery, expletives, and the constant smell of ganja smoke.
The noise, ganja smoke, and rampant criminality were enough to drive Wright from the West-minster Road property he called home for more than 35 years.
Wright, who served as president of the Eastwood Park Gardens Citizens' Association for 17 years, is bitter that nobody did anything to stop the degradation of the area in the early stage.
"I have met with every leader on this issue and nothing has been done. When we bought this place in 1981, in the whole of Eastwood Park Gardens you could count five or six non-residential properties. Then everything started to change," said Wright.
"We started to fight against it from Prime Minister Michael Manley days, then we had Edward Seaga, and then we had P.J. Patterson, and it has been going on like that. Peter Phillips is the member of parliament and we have had many representations and nothing," said Wright.
Like Cole, Barbara Thompson, who lives near the intersection of Lancaster Road and Sandringham Avenue, will have to suffer the commercialisation a bit longer.
Having lived in the community for 35 years, she is angry that trailers which deliver goods to a nearby property has destroyed her once-thriving lawn as the drivers try to manoeuvre the huge vehicles into a commercial premises.
Another resident, who asked that her name be withheld, likened today's Eastwood Park Gardens to the Riverton City dump.
"Everything is here in Eastwood Park Gardens: you have obeah man, you have whorehouse, all kinds of businesses, and it is so bad," fumed the woman.
"I know that businesses are here but they can't be putting up the big old signs and disturbing people. When them leave they gone to Cherry Gardens and them place there. We don't have anywhere to go but here," charged the woman.
Town clerk Robert Hill and members of the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) are well aware of the concerns of the residents, but Hill said not all the commercial properties are operating in breach of the law.
"There are some commercial entities that exist there under permit from KSAC, but it is largely for mixed usage. In that respect, the community is still 80-odd per cent residential," claimed Hill.
"What has happened is that you have a series of illegal operators opening businesses where homes used to be, or converting residential structures into commercial structures," said Hill.
"We have been monitoring them, and we have actually won a court case recently regarding a studio that was put there, and the court has ruled against the operators of the studio that they cease and vacate.
"I know that the system is not moving as fast as we would like it but this is the court system that we have to work with. We are working on several (commercial properties) in that and other areas," added Hill.
But even as the KSAC moves slowly through the legal system to deal with the illegal commercial activities in Eastwood Park Gardens, the police have confirmed that a number of robberies have taken place in the community in recent years despite increased patrols from time to time, and the residents watch as their community slowly dies.