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Letter of the Day | Get cracking on downtown Kingston redevelopment

Published:Friday | May 13, 2016 | 12:00 AM


In every country, the downtown bloc of major cities is a very important growth driver. It is usually alluring, vibrant, clean, saturated with modern-looking buildings and architecture, and most important of all, never sleeps. We cannot confidently attribute any of those to Jamaica's downtown Kingston.

Downtown is filthy, unsightly, smells like the final settling place for effluent from the country's infamous Riverton City dump, and everywhere closes by 8 p.m. the latest. The fact that downtown Kingston sits on the seventh-largest harbour in the world, and neither Government nor the private sector has been able to leverage that geographical marvel for economic development, is disappointing

A city's role as an engine of economic growth has become more important as the world becomes increasingly urbanised. It is critical for cities to be strategic about their investments and growth in order to capitalise on opportunities. Successive administrations in Jamaica have seemingly failed to recognise this. The overall penalty is that Jamaica's economic growth rate is left stagnant.

One of the reasons for the Government's insistence on having a growth czar, an Economic Growth Council, and a Ministry of Economic Growth - and Job Creation must be commended and embraced - is that downtown Kingston can be given a fighting chance.

Downtown Kingston is choked by dilapidated buildings with ugly exterior, rowed windows and peeling paint. Sadly, among those buildings are the nation's Parliament, court buildings and other important government offices. For how much longer are we to linger? These buildings need to come down faster than the Twin Towers and make way for more modern and exquisite buildings.




For any meaningful development to take place, the country must first decide on what downtown should look like and the sort of services, entertainment and luxury it should afford. That discourse is yet to commence. In addition, there is need for direction. The Government, NGOs and the private sector must decide on what sort of economy downtown Kingston should be. Is it going to be a services economy, a manufacturing economy, or will it be a rationed mix? That discussion must be ad before any master plan be constructed.

Is it far-fetched to think that downtown Kingston can be transformed into a place where the lights of glitzy buildings twinkle on the waterfront, creating a perfect atmosphere for young couples to enjoy their idyll? Is it a figment of the imagine to think that downtown Kingston could be a 24-hour city centre where traffic flows freely and where there is a burgeoning business environment, and tourists come to dine and pose for selfies in front of freshly polished super yachts?

This administration, in its quest for growth, must ensure that Jamaican cities not only be attractive because of cheap labour, but they must gradually develop into high-tech economies that are robust enough to be able to generate innovative technology to support their competitiveness.