There is a strong move afoot to “revitalize” the downtown area of Kingston – spearheaded partly by Jamaica’s dominant cellular phone company, Digicel, which is building a high-rise headquarters down near the waterfront (a waterfront already bereft of all its character by so-called “development,” but that is another story). I am just hoping that downtown doesn’t turn into a place of high-rises, shopping malls and parking lots; and that its spirit – and the spirit of its people – is preserved.
Development is a word I am a little afraid of in the Jamaican context. Of course, development is not all about buildings – but buildings are also important, of course. They are the urban landscape in which we humans live and move and breathe. In downtown Kingston there are many absolute gems of all shapes and sizes: small homes, warehouses and businesses – and larger, grander edifices. Many of them are in disrepair, and I hope that they will be fixed and maintained as the living, breathing past of downtown. We have already lost many of them – they have been demolished or simply fallen down. Oh, and this has happened in the uptown area where I live, too; many lovely old homes have vanished in our neighborhood, to be replaced by poky townhouses with gates and guards.
One building which we discovered just recently (and we can’t believe we ever missed it) is the Wesley Church on Tower Street.
There are several wonderfully preserved churches downtown – and the beautiful synagogue, too. But for some reason – I wish I knew why – the Wesley Church stands on Tower Street, trying to maintain its dignity although it has been vandalized, damaged and simply neglected. How could anyone care so little for such a magnificent building? It was officially opened in 1823, although I saw “1908″ on the front of it. I understand this is because the church was damaged in the 1907 earthquake and some changes were made to its frontage then. It is now in a terrible state, and the photos I took speak for themselves…
I am no architect (I don’t even know the correct terms for the features pictured here) and I am no church-goer either. But it was painful to see this. Can anyone tell me why this building has been abandoned? Does anyone know if there are any plans to fix it? Can anybody help, before it’s too late?
Tonight, I will join hundreds of others in a special 5K “night walk/night run” sponsored by Digicel and other private sector entities, as well as the Ministry of Tourism. The aim is to “Take Back the Night“ downtown – to prove that downtown (a much-feared place for years) is in fact “safe.” Digicel and others mean well (and presumably aim to make money out of the downtown revival – and why not?) But please, please, don’t destroy the soul of downtown. Respect and embrace the past.
And please remember splendid buildings like the Wesley Church. I know it takes money, but it could be restored. The church sign says “Operation Peace,” rather sadly. Peace is not a word we have associated with downtown Kingston for a long, long while. But it could mean something, again, if we all try hard enough. And does Operation Peace still exist?
Please let me know your thoughts – and if you have any additional information or knowledge to contribute, I would welcome it. Meanwhile, I am donning my walking shoes tonight!
(Letter from Barry Rattray, architect, on the Wesley Church)
- IMF latest release on Jamaica and its negotiations. (commonsenseja.wordpress.com)
- Famous Londoners – John Wesley… (exploringlondon.wordpress.com)
- We Are Family: on Blog Action Day 2012 (petchary.wordpress.com)
- Yoga for a Peaceful Jamaica. (elephantjournal.com)
- Historic neighborhoods could be secret weapon as Jacksonville looks to revitalize its downtown (jacksonville.com)
- Digicel offers another US $700 million debt issue (caribbean360.com)
(Jamaica National Heritage Trust)