As I noted in my last post, there is quite a lot of discussion going on about the plans to build a new Parliament Building in the middle of National Heroes Park (so named officially in 1973). A design competition was launched in May for registered Jamaican architects at home and abroad, and that is as far as it has reached. However, many Jamaicans are unhappy with the idea of building in this location, and there is much speculation, debate, and heightened emotions. According to Section 8 of the King George VI Memorial Park Act 1956, the park was intended to be a “public garden, pleasure park, and recreation area.” For the past thirty years, however, to my certain knowledge, it has been none of those things, apart from the area where our National Heroes are buried. The remainder of National Heroes Park is a treeless dustbowl (partly taken over as a parking lot for the nearby Ministry of Finance).
Beyond the 52 acres of land, there are plans for a “redevelopment” of some 300 acres surrounding the Park (hence, the anxiety of residents of surrounding areas is understandable). At the May competition launch, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the development would include “5,000 homes when this project is done around this area, and not homes exclusive for the rich,” besides several ministries. In other words, it’s an ambitious urban renewal project, such as we have seen in declining areas of cities worldwide – for a part of town that has certainly seen better days. It’s a very long-term vision and the planning stages will take us well into 2020. But anyone who has visited the dowdy, cramped building on Duke Street (completely inaccessible for people with disabilities) must surely agree that we do need a new Parliament Building. I wrote about this need back in 2015.
Be that as it may, I am sharing here some photos I took of the “Shrine,” as it is known, where our National Heroes are buried and honored. We wandered around the Heroes’ resting place with my brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Australia. It was Boxing Day 2017, a National Holiday, and the city’s noises were muted. A mockingbird sang incessantly in the trees. Apart from several lovely large trees, there was a scattering of large “poor man’s orchids,” whose purple flowers attract hummingbirds and bees. My brother spent some time capturing a Doctor Bird on camera. The grass had been cut and bags of cuttings were propped against palm trees.
The Most Excellent Marcus Mosiah Garvey gazed with what seemed to be a glimmer of a smile from his perch of creamy-colored cut stone. A soldier stood at his guard post. It was warm, humid and a few clouds floated in the pale blue sky. Clipped hedges of red ixoria surrounded the architecture of the 70s and 80s (some of the concrete has not worn well). The ixoria spilled out around the grave of famed artist Mallica “Kapo” Reynolds, who lies with other “outstanding patriots” (to quote the Jamaica National Heritage Trust) and several Prime Ministers, just outside the Heroes’ memorials.
These photos are quick shots I took on my phone of some of the memorials. As you can see, some do need a little “tender loving care” – please note, JNHT – especially the graves outside of the Heroes’ section.