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The Regentrification of Downtown Kingston

- Thursday 19, May 2016 -

From The Jamaica Gleaner:

I went to a real estate meeting and listened to a representative of the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) demonstrating via slide show, the grand plans for the upgrading or renewal of Downtown Kingston and all the bells and whistles which are slated to go with it. He asked us realtors to use them in our sales pitch to encourage investors to purchase properties there. Since then, one very outstanding investor asked me to search for real estate on certain streets for him.

From my studies and experience in different countries of the world, I likened him to the sighted blind man who has not seen the danger in his plan – The men, women and children, the crippled dispossessed by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination that are about to be displaced. Already, they live on the lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast oceanfront of material prosperity yet they are poor and destitute.

Without a strategic plan to include and dialogue with the people living in these communities, to give them hope, to educate them and make them feel like humans, we will no doubt experience “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens which depicts the plight of the French peasantry demoralized by the French aristocracy.

I will use Botswana as reference because of similarities to us. It gained independence in 1966 and it’s a multiparty constitutional democracy. Since its independence, it has enjoyed the fastest rates of growth in per capita income in the world. Here are highlights of humane strategies employed by their government:

- Inclusive into the Botswana constitution, each person born in that country automatically is granted a small plot of land and which he cannot sell.
- 80% of its workforce is government employed
- Education and healthcare are free
- Women are given more privileges so that they can better care for their children. There is usually a higher percentage of women hired in government
- They engage each citizen in decision-making
- Each citizen of Botswana can recite the shared vision of their country with pride and hence the reason they are accepting of any changes in economic policy as they are aware that the government is working in their best interest. Important to note is that this is a long-term vision shared by the entire country and not just the political parties.
- Police officers live and bond with citizens in their communities and even look forward to their cooked meals from them
- Each citizen speaks with pride and a sense of belonging because she owns her own home. Mind you, some of their homes are wattle and daub and chattel, the still cook on stone fire in cauldrons, nevertheless, they are happy and proud and they know that their government care of them.

Today, that country is the most stable country in Africa and their crime rate is listed as moderate. I noticed a few police officers one afternoon without a firearm and engaged them in a conversation and their response was that a firearm was not necessary. I also recall hearing a “Newsflash” on the radio that a man had escaped from prison and on the run; they gave numbers to call suspecting he might be fleeing to South Africa. Being a Jamaican, I am running for quick cover, cancelling all activities for that week. To my surprise when I enquired of the crime committed, I was told it was for child support. The man went court, changed his mind and ran out. Another surprising encounter within my first 30 days of settling down in that country. I advertised for a helper and 3 showed up for interview with babies. I asked “So, do you have someone to care for your baby”, she said, “No, the baby comes to work with me.“ Now we both have one expression in common – Shock. Its customary for them to take their young ones to work while in Jamaica, we allow them to leave their babies behind. I decided to make a last try and found one with grown kids, again, to my surprise, I looked outside on my clothes line and saw strange clothes and enquired only to be told that families usually pool together to do laundry so she took hers as well as her children to my home. I am her aunt and my children are her cousins.

Right here in Jamaica, another black country like Botswana, the inequity and blatant disregard for the poorer class is clear to see. Take a cabinet minister or a correct name Public Servant, for example. He gets a fixed salary coupled with housing allowance, tax breaks, motor vehicle among other perks while the dispossessed has no work, no food for his family nor shelter yet no one is as true to his master or member of parliament as a resident of the inner city.

Inasmuch as the government continues to enjoy political servitude, the dispossessed will soon resolve to serve no more when they see the increase in elites closing in and around them in what they know and call their home. The UDC must therefore seek to embark upon the following:

In order to make the regentrification of downtown Kinston a reality, free from hostility, divisiveness and hopelessness, government must ensure that they have consultation with all stakeholders, the residents being the first group, political directorate, NGO’s, private sector and public sector. From these issues a policy framework is drafted, strategies implemented and measured over a long-term period. This process must be seen as wholesome and tied into our vision 2030 (only 14 years left) being (1) a safe, cohesive & just society, (2) empowered to achieve fullest potential, (3) a healthy and natural environment and (4) a prosperous economy.

This vision could be promoted by way of assigning ambassadors of each community who will seek to promote these goals, measure the achievement of this vision and report to their members of parliament on an annual basis preferably during budget presentation periods for all to see.

When the political directorate graduate to mature leadership and a commitment to democracy, embrace and create opportunities for its people, reduce the high levels of corruption we will no doubt enjoy economic success, stability, low crime rate, a happy and caring society.

Doreen Buchanan, JP, MRICS, MSc, in Real Estate,
CEO of Azanell Properties Int’l.
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