LIFE AND DEATH IN THE CITY- MAKING THE CASE FOR AN URBAN DEVELOPMENT POLICY IN JAMAICA (Part 1)

REPUBLISHED! (First published Nov. 12, 2014 for World Town Planning Day)

The year of 2014 is quickly coming to a close. It was (still is) a remarkable year and calls for a highlight of some of the events and achievements across our physical planning landscape. The United Nations declared it the International Year of Small Island Developing States. A series of events and activities were held to celebrate the contributions that this group of countries has made to the world. It is noted that, ‘small island developing states are home to vibrant and distinct cultures, diversity and heritage.’  Further a conference was convened in Samoa in September to focus global attention on challenges experienced by these places whilst lauding their resilience and accomplishments. Jamaica is included in the classification of a small island developing state. Hardships there are but the citizens at home and abroad have made significant strides.

Similarly, as we transitioned from the colonial past into the current modern day the rate of rural to urban migration over the past decades (see table below)heralded unprecedented urban development.

World Bank Indicators – Jamaica – Density & Urbanization

1990 2000 2010
Population density (people per sq. km) in Jamaica 220.7 239.1 249.5
Rural population in Jamaica 1209340.0 1248085.3 1251164.9
Rural population growth (annual %) in Jamaica 0.2 0.1 -0.2
Rural population (% of total population) in Jamaica 50.6 48.2 46.3
Urban population growth (annual %) in Jamaica 1.0 1.1 0.6
Urban population in Jamaica 1180660.0 1341303.3 1451135.1
Urban population (% of total) in Jamaica 49.4 51.8 53.7

World Cities Day 2014

Urbanization is a global phenomenon which illicit both institutional and cultural responses. This is due to the challenges often associated with it, such as environmental degradation, the growth and proliferation of informal settlements, transportation woes, high unemployment, etc. So the year of 2014 also sees the establishment of World Cities Day on 31 October. This was the very first commemoration of the day under the special theme, Leading Urban Transformations.This is supplemental to the declaration made at the World Urban Forum 7 inMedellín, Colombia held in April 2014  calling for ‘urban plans and policies that link current urban development with future needs, and that are solidly grounded in the fundamental principles of equity, justice and human rights’.

To lead the transformation of urban areas in Jamaica would involve finding creative and innovative solutions to the challenges highlighted as well as charting sustainable courses for the future of the urban spaces. The strategies to be employed requires also addressing rural development and creation more opportunities and incentives for food security through the strengthening of the agricultural sector in Jamaica.

World Town Planning Day

As the year progresses to a close the month of November is considered in Jamaica to be Local Government month within which the World Town Planning Day is also celebrated. It is most timely this year that the planning apparatus is geared towards promulgating an urban development policy in Jamaica that will address the way in which we continue to become urbanized. The discourse must begin to highlight smarter cities, more energy efficient cities and cities with greater social inclusion and equity.

According to Peterson (2009) in a presentation entitled, ‘Sustainable Development Planning Frameworks –The Jamaican Experience,’ development planning in Jamaica has evolved over a number of decades.  The first ten year plan was published in 1959. This was followed by a series of 5 year development plans, the last of which was for the period 1990-1995.  The Five year plans have proven to be useful as they emphasized the economic and social components of development. The macro approach to development planning has literally resulted in some things being left behind.

So the theme for this year’s observation of World Town Planning day is, ‘Equality in the city: Making cities socially cohesive.’ I posit that in the quest for national development we have missed the mark in seeing cities as regenerative places. The Kingston Harbour’s waterfront should not be a place where people go to die or where the city’s sewage meets its final resting place. Instead let us renew efforts torevitalize Downton Kingston and by extension to support efforts to transform Montego Bay. These cities should be thriving and bustling with promenades to entice citizens- young and old- to want to take walks and linger in the city. The life of a city is evidence by the way people live in the cities. The uses we make of our cities should then be facilitated with forward planning policies and guidelines. Our neighbours in Trinidad and Tobago have transformed the Port of Spain landscape to achieve some of those outcomes. Other cities across the world have been similarly transformed and all it took was the right kind of planning.

The Goat Islands …Once you go, you know

DSC01719DSC01695DSC01651Once you go, you know is the tagline for the Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica. The idea being that you need to come to the island and see what we are talking about…this beauty and splendor. In fact the idea is don’t just take our word for it, once you go, you know. So it was that some time ago a group of young persons and I went on a small vessel to the Goat Islands.

The most surprising thing was the sheer size of the island mass- both of them. As a developer I would be most interested in that space if for nothing else but for the opportunity it would afford me to design and construct a project to specifications of my heart’s desire. It is reported that at least 3,000 acres of land is needed to build the purported logistics hub/ transshipment port.

The almost three hours at sea was enlightening as we were able to evidence the varying aspects of this marine ecosystem. It is clear that the area has several opportunities. The potential exists for a myriad of development options. The value is both direct, for example, with the preliminary estimates of the mega investment for the port being between US$1.2 billion and US$1.5 billion and indirect as in its perceived benefits to the future generations. The latter may very well be more monetarily but will take a longer period to realize.

However, one thing is clear; the location is beautiful as all natural, uninhabited spaces are- oh the age old environment vs. development conundrum. However, it is interesting to see the innovative development in Dubai and Singapore to name a few places with similar environmental aesthetics. It can be noted that development is not the monster therefore rather it is those we entrust with the scared task of enabling development who need to weigh all the information and make the decision that is the best fit …once you go, you know.