Quick Reflections- Seminar Beijing, China (May-July, 2017)

Below is an excerpt of my reflections on a training seminar in Beijing, China.

Represented sector- Land Development; Urban Planning and Research &Development (Informal Settlements and Indigenous knowledge)
1. Overview, general comment and impression of this SEMINAR
The above named seminar was structured to fulfil the main purpose of assisting Jamaica in developing a sector around bamboo. The weekly schedules all consecutively flowed into each building a knowledge base and enhancing the capacity of the country representatives. All culminating into the practical application and demonstration afforded us by the three (3) well thought out weeks in YongAn, Fujian Province.
2. Professional knowledge you have learnt from this SEMINAR, including lectures and field trips. You can talk about this combined with your working experiences.
Having spent almost twenty (20) years in various capacities spanning Central and Local Government as well as in academia, I have learnt that LEARNING DOES NOT STOP. As a professionally trained Urban Development and Environmental Planning practitioner currently involved in projects and programme implementation, I understand the challenges involved in transferring knowledge into tangible actions that directly help the poor and vulnerable in the Jamaican society. Bamboo (and specifically the specie indigenous to Jamaica) can be used as a medium to alleviate some critical issues in Jamaica among which- reducing youth unemployment; providing low cost housing for the 30+% of the population who live in sub-standard housing and fuel the entrepreneurial efforts taking shape in the private domain.
3. What suggestions and comments for this SEMINAR? Are you satisfied with this SEMINAR?
Professionally, I satisfied with the organization of the lectures, cultural experiences and the opportunity to live in Fujian Province- one of the bamboo ‘capitals’ of China. My expectations for a seminar, as named above, were mostly met and many were EXCEEDINGLY met. I would suggest the following:
(a) Condensing of the first four weeks to three and perhaps a lengthening TO four (4) weeks in Fujian and,
(b) Reducing the final two weeks to one- this is all that is needed to wrap up the seminar.
With these two suggestions the duration would be two full months representing one week of savings.
4. Difference and shared things on Forestry and Bamboo in academics and industry. Specific examples are welcomed.
As a graduate of a College of Environmental Science and Forestry in the US, I have always noted the deliberate efforts to have comprehensive Forestry Management Plans (FMPs) in the US and paucity in Jamaica. Observing a similar approach in China especially as it pertains to bamboo plantations has made this deficiency very clear. Further the fact that project driven activities drive afforestation efforts in Jamaica is also a concern. Working on some – namely the CIDA- Ridge to Reef and the USAID- PARC projects highlights the vulnerability and unsustainability of the Jamaican forestry sector. Bamboo itself had been viewed as an invasive species so, much work is needed to remove this stigma and to begin to coalesce all the ground work thus far into a formal, national industry. Much work to be done.
5. Overall impression of Beijing and China
Personally, I know I have not begun to see even the ‘tip of the iceberg’ into the full essence of China-the country. However, what I have been able to see surpassed my dreams and ‘bucket listing’ of this country. Despite some inter-group issues- there was nothing that was allowed to diminish the beauty and appreciation of the experience. Being a city dweller and a professional Urban Planner I recognised the common issues of large urban areas and have even documented some of them. Overall, the best part of this first visit to China was the three weeks spent in YongAn, Fujian Province. The encapsulation of the rural-urban juxtaposition and the precision of the organization of the tours to offer demonstration and application of bamboo uses were absolutely impressive.
6. Possible cooperation idea between China and Jamaica in Forestry and other disciplines.
Many opportunities exist, a multi-sectoral, inter-agency approach is needed (LOCALLY) along with a multi-national partnership(INTERNATIONALLY) at certain stages of concrete milestones along the development cycle. Notwithstanding, Jamaica would need to either produce the resource in large volumes or directly manufacture value-added bamboo products (under viable financial conditions). Jamaica has a high national debt including huge import bills and the latter options would have to be done with several subsidies. Subjected to a tight fiscal space such subsidies may be hard fought. For the opportunities to be realized many activities have to occur concurrently and /or simultaneously. For example, a fast tracking of a policy (Central Government) inclusive of the full range of applicable standards (BSJ’s role).
*Questions provided by Facilitators – July 13, 2017


Habitat III …Refining and Redefining of agendas and goals.

Hellloooo my friends. It is a momentous time! So much is evolving nationally and internationally. There is a series of undertakings  including national governments reorganizing, regional and meetings and global development goals being detailed into actionable plans. One such is the Habitat III Regional Meeting on Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) currently underway in Toluca, Mexico. I was schedule to attend  but was however detained here by a pressing work matter. Notwithstanding I have engaged in an online platform for urban dialogue. Habitat III is the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development to take place in Quito, Ecuador, from 17 – 20 October 2016. According to Dr, Joan Clos the Secretary General -UN Habitat, ‘the Conference is a unique opportunity for rethinking the Urban Agenda in which governments can respond by promoting a new model of urban development able to integrate all facets of sustainable development to promote equity, welfare and shared prosperity.’

Great opportunities for practical action and ‘realistic ‘ dialogue abound! However forged partnerships is a crucial and decisive factor for successful implementation.

Question 1: What are the most pressing challenges and opportunities in achieving sustainable urban development in Latin America and the Caribbean? What are some good practices?

The views I succinctly outline is an extension of a previous blog post I wrote about the Caribbean and Latin America being an odd couple. Https://hilaryfsmithblog.wordpress.com/?p=19&preview=true.

Subsequently my urban dialogue input read.

The Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region is an odd couple, if ever there was one. This non-contiguous region (in particular the Caribbean small island developing states) consist of 33 countries. Languages differences across the region is a notable distinction. The official language of the citizens of most of the countries in the Caribbean is British English whilst Spanish is the primary language in the Latin American countries of the region. Within the education systems second languages are offrerd in the curriculum however for many English speaking Caribbean nationals proficiency in a second language is limited. However, it is significant that there is free movement across the countries in the region with the removal of visa restrictions which minimize other impediments. As urbanization is fuelled by migration the impediment and / or access across the region and within cities in individual countires is a critical factor. This is critical to the sustainable urban development in the LAC. Subsequently, I posit that in the LAC the most pressing opportunities in achieving sustainable urban development would be in the forging of partnerships, the involvement of the youth and the utilization of technology. Conversely, some of the most pressing challenges in achieving sustainable urban development would include gender equity, informality of human settlements, environmental vulnerability and continued efforts for poverty alleviation.

The Citiscope magazine utilized words and thoughts forthcoming from the overall urban dialogue to prepare and present a great extension to the threads in the Urban Dialogue entitled- ‘Habitat III host region takes stock of its urbanization process — warts and all.’




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.