“In the planning and designing of new communities, urban projects and urban renewal, the planners both private and public, need to give explicit consideration to the kind of world that is being created for the children who will be growing up in these settings. Particular attention should be given to the opportunities which the environment presents or precludes for involvement of children both older and younger than themselves. “-Urie Bronfenbrenner
As rural urban migration increases the vacuum which exit between urban planning, governance and sustainable development continues to widen. Jamaica, over the last decade has experienced crucial economic and social transformation. However, many in the society view development through the lenses of construction of new infrastructure, including highways, hotels and housing schemes. Accompanying this process of transformation has been rapid urbanization in which more than half of the population now lives in urban centres. Jamaica’s population has increased over the decades, so too have been the myriad of developmental issues, namely, unavailability of affordable housing, squatting, the political garrisonization of communities, poor urban planning and management as well as inequality and poverty. Another consequence of the weak planning system plaguing the society is the poor management of urban growth and development. This has resulted in spatially unbalanced development, which can be seen all across urban and rural areas. It is estimated that twenty five (25%) of Jamaica’s population live in Kingston and St. Andrew and most development is concentrated in and around the Kingston Metropolitan Region (KMR), which includes parts of St. Thomas and parts of St. Catherine.
Sustainable Development Goal #11
Half of humanity, 3.5 billion people live in cities and this number will continue to grow according to the United Nations (UN). Since the future will be urban for the majority of people there is a sense of urgency to ensure that cities are safe, resilient and sustainable. Cities are incubators for thoughts, commerce, culture, science, social development among others. Unfortunately, many cities are also more vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters due to their high concentration of people and location therefore building urban resilience is critical to avoid human, social and economic losses. According to the UN, the cost of poorly planned urbanization can be seen in some of the huge slums, tangled traffic, climate change, green-house gas emission and sprawling suburbs all over the world. Inequality is a big concern, so says the UN. Disturbingly, some 828 million people live in slums and this number keeps rising. The UN adds that the levels of urban energy consumption and pollution are also worrying. By choosing to act sustainably, there is a need to build cities where all citizens live a decent quality of life and form a part of the city’s dynamic, creating shared success and social stability without harming the environment as stated by the United Nations. Our children require green spaces to play, and to learn about their environment in an uncontaminated atmosphere. We need to have sidewalk accessibility, not only for the able bodied, but also for members of the disabled community. This is why Sustainable Development Goal (SDG’s) #11 is so important in urban planning and management as the focus is on making cities safe, resilient and sustainable for all.
It is rather disturbing and unacceptable that in many communities the failure by the State to act decisively has resulted in the slow death of neighborhoods. The life of such communities has been sucked out; these once vibrantly rich communities are a thing of the past. The State has abandoned its role. Big and medium sized businesses have invaded residential space; many residents with limited options are forced to live among the bustle and hustle of these businesses. The rapid continuation of commercialization of residential areas needs urgent attention from both central governments. Perhaps, local government should not have been included in the framework of accountability. Is local government dead or on life support? Maybe it’s a matter that local government is impotent to act; and as a result residents are left to the mercy of big businesses. The inconvenience of having your gate way blocked almost daily is a common recurrence. The attraction of crime to such areas has been documented and is a cause for concern especially given the country’s high crime rate. These business places are allowed to do anything, for example, they use the roadway as the parking area for their customers. Interestingly, among their customers are members of the security forces. Distressingly, due to the nature of some of these businesses rodents and other insects find these junkyards as a safe haven, to live, work and raise their families. The social decay caused by commercialization of residential areas is real. Additionally, such business entities sow discord among communities. Sadly, once the cancer of commercialization of residential areas enters a community, that community along with the people will never be the same again. In some older residential communities every other premises has been overtaken by commercialization. Unfortunately, Neighbourhood Watch in these communities has succumbed to a slow and painful death, given that not enough residents reside there anymore. There is a sense of abandonment and paralysis in many of these communities, both from local and central government. It bears thought are we going to continue along this path? Is this the only way to define development? Should development be at the expense of one set of people who are disadvantaged along economic grounds? What is the role and function of the Kingston and St. Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC)? What is the role of the State in urban planning and renewal? Is there the political will to enforce our laws which will restore law and order in these communities?
Those with wealth and influence have been able to circumvent zoning laws in a selfish and destructive way while sacrificing the overall well-being of communities in which such businesses operate. It bears consideration that nothing is given back to those communities as it appears that the government is unable to bring to account those individuals who operate with a sense of impunity. It seems as well that there is some form of classism at play since these businesses dare not breach the building codes where they live, however, they go into less affluent communities to begin their businesses, creating mayhem and havoc in the process of changing the dynamics of these communities.
According to the United Nations (UN) more than half of the world’s population live in urban areas. The UN states that by 2050, that figure will be 6.5 billion people, two-thirds of all humanity. This clearly tells us that we cannot allow for ad hoc development to take place in our urban spaces. There is a need for an Urban Planning and Management Policy; this must be accomplished by engaging in a consultative approach with members of civil society and Non Government Organizations (NGO’s). It is senseless having any policy or law which is not enforceable. What exists now is a disenfranchised sub-group of the population, which based on income levels, is unable to enjoy an atmosphere defined as safe, inclusive and clean for their children to grow. The practice is not only unfair; it is also immoral to those Jamaicans many of whom are retired to have to live in such conditions. The fact that real estate is more affordable in such areas should not be used as an excuse to give carte blanche permission to those who are self-centered and go about breaking laws and creating disorder. Many who remain behind in such communities have no choice, but this does not mean that they should be discriminated against. This discrimination arises due to the nature of some of these businesses. For example, noise and air pollution are common features that the citizenry in these areas experience daily. Sadly, there is no recourse; there is no one entity to complain to. The implications for those who live in such areas are far-reaching and disquieting, and affect not only the present generation but also the next generation. One might ask what about political representation in those areas. It seems from all indication that Members of Parliament and Municipal Councils do not see the deterioration and destruction of the communities they represent as a priority; this conclusion has been arrived at since successive governments have done very little to address this social issue and social injustice.
The Way Forward
The State needs to urgently embark on a process of gentrification in order to prevent the further erosion of the housing stock and restore communities which have been depleted of safe and affordable housing. Too many of our people have lived in substandard living conditions for far too long, especially in our urban centres. Undoubtedly, the process of gentrification has positive spin off effects not only for communities but also for the government. Along with the restoration of communities comes an improved market value of these homes, which will mean more taxes for the government by means of property taxes. We have not paid much attention to our environment and now we are reaping the bitter fruits of this inattentiveness regarding environmental matters.
Each community needs to develop a vision for their street and community; this should be shared with all stakeholders including the political representative to ensure that all citizens benefit from having a safe and crime free community.
If the government is truly serious about Jamaica achieving developed status by 2030, as well as realizing Vision 2030, “Jamaica: the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business”, then the State must act now to ensure that we have an accountability framework regarding urban planning and management in order to achieve sustainable development. The State needs to employ a multi-sectoral approach to urban planning which will enable government, business and civil society to provide the citizenry with basic needs to jump start a process or urban renewal.
We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to this problem which over the years have ballooned into a national crisis and is now worthy of attention from the Office of the Prime Minister.
In the words of Ban Ki –moon, sustainable development is the pathway to the future we want for all. It offers a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strength governance.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
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