EDITORIAL - Action to reclaim our cities
Over the next few days, talking heads will be using buzzwords like 'social cohesion', 'inclusiveness' and 'wealth creation' as the relevant agencies mark the observance of World Town Planning Day (WTPD).
Jamaica is among 30 countries that will mark (WTDP) today under the theme, 'Equality in the City'.
Are there good reasons for Jamaica to celebrate WTPD? If the objective is to reflect on urban planning and draw attention to the progress of planning efforts in our cities and urban centres, or to highlight sound planning decisions, one would be forgiven in declaring that this was a grand waste of time and money.
There are enormous benefits to be enjoyed from living in a well-planned urban environment, one of the most important being a barrier to natural disasters like flooding and hurricane. Equally, there are negative, often disastrous impacts heaped on populations where there is insufficient effort to create and plan healthy communities.
Take the current outbreak of the debilitating chikungunya virus that has taken root in the Corporate Area. It has become an acute public-health problem affecting productivity, as well as economic and social activities. It is acknowledged that the disease is spread by mosquitoes. Choked with garbage in many places, Kingston has become a magnet for mosquitoes. Indiscriminate disposal of garbage by citizens and poor collection practices of various solid waste agencies have combined to make our cities rather filthy places. Where there is filth, disease inevitably follows.
How then can we celebrate Kingston or Montego Bay or Ocho Rios or Negril as urban centres designed to positively influence Jamaica's development? Can members of the public who want to know about Kingston's official plan have easy access to this information? When will there be action on the renewal plans for downtown Kingston that have been talked about for so many years?
Rich architectural heritage
Kingston has a rich architectural heritage. The fading beauty which was once the regal Ward Theatre is one of the sad examples. What is to be done about the abandoned, uncared for and decaying buildings in downtown Kingston? What is the long-term vision for the many depressed communities that ring the nation's capital? The late businessman, Francis 'Paco' Kennedy, was one of the voices clamouring for the city's rejuvenation. Alas, he died without seeing any of his ideas to breathe new life into the downtown business district come to fruition.
In many of these areas, commerce is dead, driven to its grave by extortionists and other criminals. Will there ever come a time when Slipe Pen Road and Mountain View Avenue will become active commercial centres again?
Frequent demonstrations by citizens throughout the country usually have a common theme - "We want justice" - because significant groups of citizens consider that injustice is being meted out to them when the crumbling, decaying facilities in their communities are ignored for years or development occurs without their input. For an urban plan to benefit all its citizens, it must incorporate justice, equity and human rights.
Planning is a critical link in the development process, and we see an urgent imperative to address the needs of our ailing cities, not merely with fancy buzzwords, but through concrete action shaped by a long-term vision of a sustainable society where families can enjoy a good life.
The public and private sectors, the financiers, development and construction sectors all have a role to play in deciding the shape of their cities. There is much work to be done to achieve urban renewal. It may begin with talk, but must end with action.
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