Phyllis Thomas, Enterprise Editor
Rose Town has its share of zinc fences too. - Ian Allen/Staff Photographer
Stories out of Grants Pen, St. Andrew, are further confirmation of the progress taking place in communities of similar characteristics, the result of the private sector teaming up with the residents of these areas and the resilience of the residents themselves. The fragility of often hastily-arranged truces and moves towards development in Grants Pen is well-documented. But this community, with the help of the private sector, seems to have found a formula for stability and sustainable development and it is currently basking in that success so far.
This is the vision of persons in communities like Rose Town, Hannah Town, Rae Town, Windsor Heights, Riverton City - largely volatile, zinc-fenced communities.
Sociologist Dr. Orville Taylor believes that it would be inaccurate to say residents choose to live as they do, and argues that many of these zinc-fenced communities are a consequence of urbanisation and unequal capitalist development. The capitalists, he said, created the illusion of hope which is represented by access to the metropolis.
"In the 1950s and '60s, there was an unprecedented industrialisation and a lot of rural, urban migration. But there were more people than jobs and with nowhere to go, people set up settlements wherever
they could. Zinc is a matter of
convenience. It is material left over from construction projects related to the construction boom in the 1950s."
They are not a bunch of shameless people waiting for handouts either.
"Ironically, I would say that a large part of the groups that made up squatter settlements were ambitious. They wanted to start life but found that jobs were not available to significantly improve their standard of living."
But former Prime Minister P. J. Patterson gave them reason to hope in 2000 when he declared that he was going to dismantle all the zinc fences in inner-city communities across the country. In May of that year, he launched a zinc replacement programme saying it was one of the many projects aimed at inner-city renewal, and that
it would be done through an
integrated agency approach.
Nothing happened after two years, but on a political platform just before the 2002 General Election, Mr. Patterson again renewed his promise. This time he said that all zinc fences would have been removed "in the next PNP administration."
The country is on the threshold of another election which may or may not end the PNP administration of which Mr. Patterson spoke.
In 2005, Mr. Patterson, who was on his way out of office, outlined details of Phase II of the Lift Up Jamaica Programme which would see some 20,000 persons being employed for three years, on
projects that the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) was given the responsibility to identify. The removal of zinc fences in the towns was to be part of the projects under Phase II of this programme, funded through the Caracas Energy Agreement Fund, at a cost of $2 billion.
The UDC, through its Corporate Relations Department, said that it was not involved in the zinc-replacement initiative announced in 2000. However, under the Lift Up Jamaica Programme, the removal of zinc fences was among the projects to be implemented
"Since the launch of Phase II of the Lift Up Jamaica Programme in 2005, 189 projects have been selected and work is in progress on approximately 56 of these," the UDC said. "To date, six zinc fence replacements have been submitted to Lift Up."
The UDC said that one of the six has been completed in White Lane, west St. Andrew, and another is in progress in Falmouth. About
$5 million has been spent on both projects to date, and work is expected to begin on three more zinc-replacement projects in south-west and central St. Andrew and in the environs of Sabina Park.
As for Mr. Patterson's ambitious announcement of total replacement of these fences in the lifetime of this administration, should the people in these communities hold their breath?
They might want to consider this: Information Minister Colin Campbell referred The Sunday Gleaner to the National
Housing Development Corporation (NHDC) and the Ministry of Housing. Not us, said the NHDC. And as for the Ministry of Housing, well, we are still trying to track down Minister Robert Pickersgill.