Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Rebuilding a city

Published:Tuesday | December 16, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A woman exercises her Christian faith outside of Gordon House, the seat of Jamaica's Parliament, in downtown Kingston.
The Supreme Court building on King Street in downtown Kingston.
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Downtown Kingston becoming a pleasant, clean and secure place once again

Downtown Kingston is a place where two realms coexist in splendid isolation of each other.

Professional and managerial workers zip in early and run out at nights. Then the residents come out and you can always find a party, a game of dominoes, bingo or cards.

This confrontation with unlikeness is the wellspring of creativity. It is hard to form new ideas when we only talk with people who agree with us. More than a century ago, John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher and economist, wrote: "It is hardy possible to overrate the value in the present low state of human development, of placing human beings in contact with persons dissimilar to themselves; with modes of thought and action unlike those with which they are familiar. Such communication has always been one of the primary sources of progress."

What this suggests is the dangers of the socially divided community.

Downtown Kingston can be an incubator of new businesses as well as new ideas, especially on its somewhat jumbled and messy edges. The market district can provide new enterprises with affordable space that is convenient to necessary services. It can provide the best locations for any type of business. We spend substantial time and money to develop formally designated support centres for small businesses that are severely restricted within the malls that try to internalise main street under one roof. What is really being done is trying to recreate natural downtown fringes and the neighbourhood business strips.

Downtown also has our primary civic spaces: the traditional main street, King Street, the commercial district, courts, and Parliament.

Downtown Kingston is also where we enact the rituals that remind us we are members of a larger society.

ALL THAT AND MORE

Downtown fills all these roles and more. The public spaces of downtown Kingston - King Street, Orange Street and the park - are the venues for parades and celebrations; for festivals of food, folk-life art and thought; for efforts to gather political support and to influence public opinion through rallies and petition drives. These are functions that are vital for our sense of civic membership and for our survival as a country.

Downtown Kingston contributes to the well-being of our country by helping to express its common identity. Downtown and its commercial district is the front door of our country. Lest one should forget, downtown Kingston is where The Queen arrived and departed when she first visited Jamaica.

Currently, specific issues are being merged into a planning process that draws in public officials, retailers, property owners, neighbourhood groups, and professional and civic organisations.

The resulting plan must offer integrated solutions to a list of problems that has been approached piecemeal. It must be technically sound, with proposals based on specific improvements. The plan must also be politically viable by prescribing trade-offs among different interests, as part of a coherent strategy.

The emerging plan can seek as the vision to bind the fragments of our society. We must preserve access to our social environment. We must redevelop downtown Kingston. With this effort, we can make a contribution to solving one of the great dilemmas of society - the problem of combining a commitment to self with openness to difference.

As a centre of society, downtown Kingston is a strong symbol of community individualism. As the centre of business and government activity, it is open to everyone. It has the potential to combine the best of society as community for everybody.

To conclude, the joint efforts and objectives of all the projects previously and currently being implemented in downtown Kingston have begun and will undoubtedly culminate in the revitalisation of the city by physical, social and economic improvements. Downtown Kingston is becoming a pleasant, clean and secure place once again.

- Contributed by Victor Cummings, former member of parliament for Central Kingston