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Negatives of Jamaica's residential construction shift highlighted in IDB study

Published:Friday | April 8, 2016 | 1:42 PMDebbie-Ann Wright, News Editor - Radio
The Inter-American Development Bank study says the current pattern of urban growth has not yielded the best results for people or natural systems.

A new study on the state of housing in Jamaica has highlighted a number of negative implications of the shift of residential construction out of the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), facilitated by the country’s new highways.

The study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) looked at the housing problem in Jamaica, The Bahamas, Barbados, Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago.

The IDB study notes that the tendency for residential construction to shift out of the KMA has been due in large measure to the increasing scarcity of large tracts of land for prefabricated housing schemes.

However, the IDB study says the current pattern of urban growth has not yielded the best results for people or natural systems.

Among the negatives it lists is the fact that agricultural land, which formed a green belt between Kingston and the St Catherine urban centers, is rapidly being converted to urban use.

It says other important resources, such as ground water, are under extreme pressure from the new developments and there is a danger of overuse and pollution.

It also says that while the highway has facilitated commuting between Kingston and Spanish Town, commuting to work has clear disadvantages in a country that imports all of its oil and also results in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

In addition, it says the transport corridor has become a prime location for the country’s newly developing squatter settlements.

The study is recommending that to reduce some of the negative impacts of the pattern of growth, a compact cities strategy should be promoted for the future development of the KMA.

It says efforts must be made to promote orderly densification by permitting development at higher densities and allowing mixed-use zoning in certain parts of the city, particularly underutilised infill sites that already have access to roads, utilities and other infrastructure.

It says this would shorten travel time and ease access between work and home rather than encouraging further conversion of agricultural land to housing and the unsustainable use of natural resources.

The study notes that the portion of residents living in urban areas doubled from 24 per cent in 1950 to its current rate of 54 per cent.

Approximately 43.2 per cent of the population lives in the southeastern parishes of Kingston, St Andrew, and St Catherine.