No surrender! - Stakeholders adamant that crime won't stop Kingston from thriving
Downtown Kingston's redevelopment will not be thwarted by crime, so say key stakeholders who are adamant that violent flare-ups in recent times are focused within specific surrounding communities. In fact, they stressed that crime prevails in all major cities across the world, making the capital parish no more dangerous than anywhere else.
Head of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Metry Seaga, a guest at a Gleaner's Growth & Jobs Editors' Forum at the media house's North Street office last Wednesday, said the ongoing safety issues being raised regarding downtown Kingston are more perception than reality.
"I have been walking downtown from I was a boy - Barry Street, Queen Street, Harbour Street. We have murders everywhere in Jamaica and in the world. A lot of problems that we think we have are perception problems rather than reality problems," he said.
Data provided by superintendent of police and head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Corporate Communications Unit, Stephanie Lindsay, showed three more murders so far this year in the Kingston Central Police Division, bringing the number to 34, compared to 31 in 2015.
Lindsay did not have the murder figures for each parish so far for 2016, but was confident that Kingston Central was not in the top five of the 19 police divisions where murders were concerned.
"Kingston Central was not among the top five divisions (for murders). Downtown as a business centre isn't ranked in the top six. The six divisions where you have a lot of murders are places like St James (the leading parish), Clarendon, St Catherine North, St Catherine South, and St Andrew South. It's bad because you don't want so many people to die, but in the overall picture, it's not one of those divisions that we consider to be one of the higher violent areas," she said.
RECENT MURDERS CONCENTRATED
Superintendent in charge of the Kingston Central Division, Warren Campbell, agreed that downtown Kingston was a safe area, pointing out that the recent incidents of murders have been concentrated within certain communities and affect specific people.
"Of course, we have concerns, but it's not to the extent that we think that people who are conducting business, who have nothing to do with what is actually happening (gang activity), will be seriously impacted by it. It is concentrated in the residential pockets of downtown. It's not like it's playing out in the business district," Campbell told The Sunday Gleaner.
"People are moving around quite freely. Kingston is one of the safer places to move around in. People continue to move around, conducting activities and businesses around the place. The gang warfare that is going on is people targeting people. It is not concentrated in the business district, so to speak."
PROVIDE MORE HOUSING
Dr Carol Archer, urban planner and associate professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Technology, put forward the idea that proper housing solutions for a wide cross section of people must be erected to encourage people to want to live and bring life back to downtown Kingston. She believes that young professionals will only continue to live uptown if that is not addressed, leaving criminals to operate with impunity.
"Some young professionals are leaving for places like Atlanta and New York (United States), and that is what they are doing (living downtown). You are further creating the demise of the city because by 6 o'clock when those businesses close, people are going to leave in droves," Archer shared at the forum.
"These companies that are there, it is in their interest to encourage housing for particularly the young professionals. And housing not just for the middle class, but ensure that you have the presence of a wide cross section of people in the city. We can also provide in sections of downtown with shatter-resistant bulbs so that you don't have areas of darkness where people can be raped, murdered or robbed."
She continued, "The private sector must be actively encouraged to be in the city, using whatever incentive that can be provided. What they did with Digicel, I think that was a good example. We can replicate that. We need to encourage developers to look in this direction. Young professionals can walk from Hanover Street seaside, enjoying the ambience of that setting, to work."
Large, medium and small companies continue to express confidence in doing business in downtown Kingston, several a staple of the capital parish for decades, while others have, over the years, bought into the redevelopment vision.
For close to a century, Harbour Street in downtown Kingston has been home to the head offices of GraceKennedy, and over the years the group of companies continues to expand, ever since first establishing operations in 1922.
"Downtown has always been safe, and it is safe now," declared Chief Executive Officer Don Wehby.
To demonstrate that GraceKennedy maintains business confidence in the area, Wehby shared that ground will be broken by year end for a new head office.
He emphasised that GraceKennedy is well integrated within surrounding communities and that there were no threats.
"We celebrated our 94th birthday in February. We have a close relationship with the community. I have never felt unsafe downtown. One of the things we are doing is, we're building a new head office down there. We're going to be breaking ground before the end of the year," the CEO told The Sunday Gleaner.
New kid on the block, Digicel, has been very active in its downtown restoration efforts, opening its multimillion-dollar, 11-storey headquarters and Corporate Centre on Ocean Boulevard in 2013.
David Butler, CEO for the telecommunications company, said security is usually beefed up wherever increased business activity takes place, and is encouraging businesses of all sizes to explore the potential opportunities that exist doing business downtown.
"We do encourage businesses of all sizes to explore great business opportunities here. We look forward to welcoming more neighbours, as their investments will deliver tremendous employment opportunities for the community," Butler said.
"Our presence has helped to make it safer for persons to explore our immediate surroundings, especially the waterfront. In any metropolis, frequent and vibrant business activity tends to feature increased security. One major contributor to the revival of downtown is the annual Digicel 5K Night Run for special needs. We cannot help but think about how incident-free the event has been."
Murders by police division in 2015 (January 1-December 29)
Kingston Central - 31
- St Andrew South - 75
- St Catherine North - 121
- St Catherine South - 86
- St James - 211
- Westmoreland - 106