Lesser comfort in Greater Portmore
The Sunday Gleaner continues its series on 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.
For hundreds of Jamaicans, getting a house in the Greater Portmore housing scheme in St Catherine more than 20 years ago was a dream come true.
But now that dream is becoming a nightmare as heavy commercialisation and crime spoil what seemed the ideal dormitory community metres from Kingston.
"For one, unemployment among the youths in Greater Portmore is very high right now. Almost every community that you go into, you will see young guys on the corners not working. They don't have anything to do," explained Heather Wallen-Bryan, former chairperson of the Greater Portmore Joint Citizens Association, which represents some 20 communities in the area.
Wallen-Bryan, a resident of Gortuca in Greater Portmore and president of the Braeton Phases Four and Five Citizens Association, says this high unemployment level can be blamed for almost all the major problems in Greater Portmore.
She said this is compounded by the migration of criminal elements into Greater Portmore from nearby Spanish Town, the main stomping ground for the infamous klansman and one order gangs.
"We have a lot of car break-ins, house break-ins, and recently we have been experiencing car theft. The thieves come to people's homes and take away the cars right from their yard gates. In the past month, about three to four cars we have lost like that," added Wallen-Bryan as she linked the high number of unemployed persons in the community to heavy commercialisation of the residential area.
"A lot of people have lost their jobs, and because of this, what they do is turn a room into a shop. I wouldn't say it (commercialisation) is a major problem in all communities, but it is becoming increasingly a concern to us," said Wallen-Bryan.
"We know all the ills that come with commercialisation in a residential area; it attracts outsiders and usually criminal elements. And you would want to know the people who come into your area, but with commercialisation, you can't."
Frank Graham, president of the Aintree Citizens Association, which encompasses the community of 7 East in Greater Portmore, said that while the there is not much commercial activity in that area, the problem of crime persists.
"Speaking for my area, we are not seeing a lot of commercialisation. And crime, this is not peculiar to any area. When persons go to work, you sometimes have break-ins. This happens occasionally," confessed Graham.
"You have a lot of unemployed youths that hang around, who may contribute to that (crime), but it's not until you catch a person that you will know exactly who is doing it." Graham also highlighted a community park, which he said has deteriorated into a dust nuisance, as men from the area continuously play football on its lawns.
During a trek through Greater Portmore last week, our news team saw numerous wholesales, grocery stores, barber shops, health-care facilities, and even open lots used to rear livestock.
Many of these establishments violate the building codes, with some having concrete erections that block gullies and other waterways made to prevent flooding in the community.
According to some residents, efforts are constantly being made to close down some commercial properties from the area. But the process is quite lengthy and involves much "back and forth" with representatives of the Portmore Municipal Council, among others.
But Kerry Chambers, chief administrative manager at the Portmore Municipal Council, told The Sunday Gleaner that the body has been moving to prevent the commercialisation of the area.
"We have out enforcement officers who go out regularly, and whether through complaints that come into the office or through our own monitoring, we serve the necessary notices. And persons who don't comply, we take them to court," said Chambers, as she added that the enforcement extends to individuals operating a bar, a shop or day-care centre from their homes.
"We have many of those issues dealing with now; we have persons who appeal, and we have to go to the Ministry of Land and Environment to deal with those appeals. So that is something that is a day-to-day matter that we have to deal with," added Chambers.
He charged that some of the commercial activities, such as shops, are convenient to some residents who welcome these establishments, as they may live away from central locations.
However, Chambers agreed that the commercial activities, such as bars, are bringing criminal elements to the area.
"Then you also have the traffic issue, especially with the day-care centres and persons who operating like a bag juice factory, where they definitely have the trucks coming in."
Spanish Town criminals
In addition to the commercialisation, Wallen-Bryan is most concerned about the criminals from Spanish Town.
"Every time that the police are targeting Spanish Town, they (the criminals) come into Greater Portmore," said Wallen-Bryan, as she added that the deadly 2009 schoolyard shootout between police and two wanted Spanish Town gangsters at Ascot High in Greater Portmore is still fresh in her mind.
"We once had a lot of bicycle (police) patrols because some of the roads in Greater Portmore are too small for vehicular traffic, but we don't have many again," she said.
"To top it off," complained Wallen-Bryan, "residents are being exposed to health risks from the nearby Greater Portmore Sewage Plant.
"Because, when the plant was first developed, it was considered state-of-the-art, a 20th century facility, and it was being maintained by WIHCON," she said, explaining that since that time, the Greater Portmore population has grown significantly since.
"Since WIHCON handed it over to the National Water Commission, the State agency has not been maintaining it, or they do it periodically. So at any time you can go down there and see just raw sewage floating back into the communities. There is the risk that very soon we can have a break out of disease."
Selvin Hemmings, president of the Sabina Citizens Association, which accounts for 2 East and 2 West Greater Portmore, also complained about the sewage plant.
He said drains have been over flown with sewage from the treatment plant. He said that this has been at least a decade-long concern that has made life hellish for many residents, especially children and the elderly.
"This needs immediate attention from the National Water Commission. They have somehow allowed the sewage water to flow into the main drain," he explained, adding that an overgrowth of water lilies in the presence of garbage heightens the residents' discomfort.
Hemmings said that crime has remained an issue in Sabina for many years, listing house break-ins, car theft and hold-ups among the major occurrences. Commercialisation is rampant in his neck of the woods, he added, noting that "everywhere you go, you see a little shop and bar".
Efforts to get a full response from the NWC regarding the sewage plant concerns were unsuccessful, as its corporate public-relations manager, Charles Buchanan, said he was not fully informed and could not speak on the issue.
However, Buchanan argued that it would be unfair to expect that the sewage plant would require the same level of maintenance as when it was initially built and was serving only a fraction of the population in Greater Portmore today.