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Big plans for Kingston - New mayor wants city to be 'capital' of Caribbean

Published:Friday | December 16, 2016 | 12:00 AMJovan Johnson
The new Mayor of Kingston, Delroy Williams (left), is robed by former Mayor Angela Brown Burke at the swearing-in ceremony at the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation yesterday.
This man seems to be taking evasive action as women slug it out after Jamaica Labour Party and People's National Party supporters clashed outside the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation yesterday.
Jamaica Labour Party supporters staged a burial.
People's National Party supporters ready to do battle, even with the presence of the police yesterday.

Delroy Williams, the new mayor of Kingston, has laid out a vision to lead Jamaica's capital since 1872 to 'mega-city' status in four years.

But no sooner had he declared his intentions at yesterday's swearing-in than he had to put his gavel to use to get order - something he said would be central to the vision - following nasty bickering between councillors from both sides of the political divide.

The chaos that threatened inside may have been influenced by what took place outside the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation building on Church Street when police had to call for reinforcements to quickly break up a clash between supporters of Williams' Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People's National Party (PNP).

As the police used their bodies to separate the supporters, Williams, a government senator, inside the council chambers, read into the records his vision for the city and how the other 39 councillors could play their part.

"Our vision is clear and certain: to make Kingston the capital city of the Caribbean, the pearl of the Antilles, and a major player on the Latin American landscape. We humbly invite corporate Jamaica and the people of Kingston and St Andrew to share this vision with us. This is our moment in history. This is the legacy we need to leave."

He accepted that the council would have to do more to facilitate economic growth. "We will act within the statutory powers to be a facilitator of growth. We must create a mega-city. Kingston must become a spectacle.

"To get that status, the councillor for the Seiveright Gardens Division pointed to expansion of the shipping pier, the redevelopment of downtown Kingston, and general improvement of infrastructure. This is a gravitation towards the pier that may have had some influence from the docking, last week Tuesday, of the cruise ship Monarch of the Seas in Kingston - first cruise vessel to dock in the capital for three years."

Typically, mega-cities are ones with populations of at least 10 million, and Jamaica is not expected to be among the 41 such cities predicted by the United Nations to gain that status by 2030. Nearly half of the world's 3.9 billion urban dwellers reside in relatively small settlements with fewer than 500,000 inhabitants.

The population of Kingston and St Andrew is 662,426, according to the Statistical Institute of Jamaica's 2011 census.

The mayor argued that key to the 'vision' he has is getting order in the city, which continues to struggle with gang violence and unruly vendors, general infrastructural decay, traffic congestion, and homelessness.

"We cannot be the pearl without order," said Williams, who took over from Dr Angela Brown Burke. "Central to our vision is order. To our vendors, store owners, and shoppers, you are the economic stay of the city. We will exist together in a mutually respectful manner."

On that, he had a word for vendors who, he insisted, would be treated to a "gentle and kind" approach. "You must also understand that order is important if we are to create the environment for you and your business to flourish. Work with us in creating this order, and we promise you that you will quickly see the economic benefits of order."

At a Gleaner Editors' Forum on growth and jobs this year, university lecturer and city planner Dr Carol Archer, noting the urban sprawl, blight, and crime across the city, said there was need for a mayor who could lead a vision to transform the place. "Places like New York, Detroit, and New Orleans, they were in a very similar position to Kingston. But what they had, they had a visionary - usually it's the mayor or some leading public or private-sector [person] who drove the vision - and they sold it."

Speaking before Williams, Desmond McKenzie, the local government minister, told the 40 newly sworn councillors that they should work in partnership to ensure that the KSAC could be used as an example of why local government is not a waste of time.

"We have an opportunity here at the KSAC to send a strong signal to the wider country that local government deserves the respect; local government deserves the opportunity to shine. Let this council be the vehicle of transformation, the vehicle of change, and the vehicle of hope that local government will depend on," he said.

The JLP controls 21 of the divisions in the KSAC; the PNP has the remaining 19. Of the 40, eight are first-timers and 14 are females.