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EDITORIAL - Public cleanliness - a lost focus

Published:Saturday | May 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM

For many, it may be difficult to imagine, but there was a time when great emphasis was placed on promoting a clean environment in our nation's capital. It may even be harder to believe that the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce once spearheaded an anti-litter initiative dubbed 'Clean as a Whistle', which was hugely successful. Scores of people bought into the concept of a clean city and took responsibility for cleaning up after themselves. As a result, littering was greatly diminished.

And during the 1980s, Edward Seaga, as prime minister, created Metropolitan Parks and Markets to oversee the care and protection of parks and markets. The agency was charged with establishing and maintaining high standards of public cleanliness. The emphasis on cleanliness was credited with building a strong sense of pride among Jamaicans.

Since then, no government has given public cleanliness the attention it deserves. Today, as Kingston turns 140, neglect has manifested itself in many ugly ways, leaving the city's government to battle a number of environmental problems. Among the challenges confronting the city is the management of garbage collection, pollution from the dump, indiscriminate disposal of litter and other waste, as well as rat infestation.

By designating The Ward Theatre and the St William Grant Park among its Labour Day projects this year, the men and women who lead the Kingston and St Andrew Corporation (KSAC) are demonstrating that they recognise that national monuments give the city a sense of history, and they ought to be preserved for their cultural value to the community.

Crumbling mass of concrete

The once-elegant Ward Theatre, which played host to many international visitors in its heyday, is now a crumbling mass of concrete with filth and debris accumulated at its core. Its restoration should not be left to a group of civic-minded conservationists.

There ought to be a concrete action plan to save The Ward. It is a repository of the nation's culture, history and architecture. The nearby park, which was designed to be an area of respite in the bustling city, is now shunned by residents because of its rundown state and the crime and other antisocial activities swirling around the area.

Let's be clear about one thing: This cannot be a one-day photo opportunity. It requires ongoing commitment of energy and resources. For example, the homeless in and around Kingston contribute to the accumulation of rubbish, and housing has to be found for them to discourage them from living on the streets. Tackling the homeless problem requires input from multiple agencies, as well as the private sector, because it is no secret that the KSAC's budget is stretched.

Now is the time to act as the country prepares to celebrate 50 years of Independence. This brand new government has an opportunity to take decisive action to get people interested in their environment once again. People need to understand the linkage between environmental degradation and health. If we protect our environment, we ultimately improve the quality of life.

Let Jamaicans show just how they care for and love their country by disposing of their garbage and cleaning up their personal space. Every little effort will help the country shine a bit brighter.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.