A Vision, and a Plan: Visitors from Medellin Partner with Residents to Help Build a “Liveable Community for All”


The recent tendency to redesign the city of Kingston (especially uptown areas) for automobiles rather than people is a deeply worrying trend. I have written and spoken on this topic many times in the past year or so, as have others.

Yes, Seymour Lands can be pretty upmarket, albeit in a sea of townhouse developments of greatly varying quality. (My photo)

The so-called “Golden Triangle” (actually, Seymour Lands) is my neck of the woods. It is an uptown Kingston residential area with a particular profile, as its nickname suggests. Jamaicans might call it “upscale.” However, the neighbourhood has changed – and continues to change – almost beyond recognition. It is busier, noisier, less green, dirtier, more densely populated and more commercialised (the last item is not necessarily a bad thing, however).

Rather than resigning themselves to the steady degeneration of their quality of life, however, residents are taking action. I therefore loudly applaud the Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association (GTNA) for taking the bull by the horns. The organization, led by noted Jamaican architect Ann Hodges among others, has arranged for two experts from the city of Medellín, Colombia to Jamaica, to visit this week to discuss a development plan for the area. They are architect Natalia Castaño Cárdenas and public administration and development specialist Juliana Quintero Marin, from the Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies at EAFIT University. This is the beginning of a highly promising and exciting partnership.

One of the older buildings in Seymour Lands. (My photo)

Why Medellín, you may ask? Yes, the name may conjure up images of Pablo Escobar and “Narcos.” But that was then – this is now. Once called “the most dangerous city on earth,” it has become a cool tourist destination – and, much more importantly, a place where Colombians can live and work happily and comfortably. How was this achieved? A key factor appears to have been public transportation, which has increased social mobility and productivity in the city. We will learn more this week, as the GTNA and Colombian colleagues engage with a range of audiences.

Let’s make something clear. This is definitely not a kneejerk “not in my backyard” reaction from residents who long for the “good old days” and resist change. On the contrary, positive change is badly needed.

This is taking concrete action, offering viable alternatives and a workable plan that may (who knows) become a blueprint for other urban areas in Jamaica. Most importantly, the GTNA initiative has the backing of the National Housing Trust (NHT), Clifton Yap Architects, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and other important local partners. A Project Technical Steering Committee is already in place, including state agencies. Special thanks are due to the NHT for its invaluable support for the project.

A half-built, abandoned, decaying housing development. (My photo)

So here’s what’s on for this week: Tomorrow (Monday, October 22) the partners will meet for a Community Visioning Workshop with Seymour Lands residents and stakeholders at the Spanish Court Hotel (Valencia Suite) in Kingston from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Stakeholders will be able to voice their concerns as well as their vision, while the Colombian visitors will present on the transformative Medellín model. We also hope to learn about the NHT’s programme to support community-driven planning and NEPA’s Provisional Development Order for Kingston and St. Andrew.

On Tuesday, October 23, Dr. Carol Archer, Associate Professor, Urban and Regional Planning in the Faculty of the Built Environment at the University of Technology (UTech) will host the team for a presentation on Social Urbanism: The Medellin Colombia Experience at 1:00 p.m. at UTech’s Calvin Mackain Audio Visual Room in the Main Library.

On Wednesday, October 24, at 5:30 p.m., Natalia Castaño Cárdenas, Architect and Urban Planner, will speak on Social Urbanism in Medellin: Processes and Actions Towards Equity at the University of the West Indies, Regional Headquarters, Eon Nigel Harris Council Room (more details to follow). Architect Clifton Yap will also present on the topic: Critical Changes Needed to Jamaica’s Urban Development Policies and Practices.

The destruction of lignum vitae trees on Old Hope Road, six months ago. (My photo)

While our Prime Minister (admirably) takes the lead at international meetings on climate change, our actions at home leave a lot to be desired in terms of our urban environment. Trees such as our precious lignum vitae (our national flower) are chopped down, leaving concrete and rubble (and higher temperatures) in their wake. Large trees have virtually disappeared from Seymour Lands (we are holding on to our guango tree!) We have lived here for thirty years and remember many wonderful poincianas, guangos, tamarinds, even a large guinep tree…all gone long ago, nothing planted in their place. And no, the GTNA does not want Lady Musgrave Road – a key corridor and historic route leading up to the Governor General’s residence, King’s House – to be turned into a four-lane concrete highway! Higher vehicle emissions, anyone?

It’s all about proper planning – careful and thorough, taking the needs of residents and all stakeholders into consideration. Why are pedestrians – including the young, seniors and those with disabilities – treated with such disdain, with barely any provision for sidewalks? Why are there so few green spaces for adults and children to de-stress? Now in the recently redesigned Barbican area of Kingston, where roads have been widened, local people have to scramble over high concrete barriers to cross the road and there is no place for taxis and other vehicles to drop off passengers. This thoughtless, careless planning – aiming merely at “improving traffic flow” for the ever-increasing numbers of motorists – do not take the culture, lifestyles and habits of the people into account. Instead of enhancing people’s lives, they destroy them.

Garbage dumped in the once elegant “Golden Triangle.” This is a persistent problem. (My photo)

The Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association and its wonderful partners in Colombia and Jamaica are working towards a community model that works for everyone. If you are a resident or stakeholder, become a member of GTNA. And most of all, get involved – in this community, or your own, wherever you are!

For further information, please contact Project Coordinator Carol Narcisse at 876 430-4705, or email goldentriangleneighbourhood@gmail.com  TODAY!

Background information on the Visiting EAFIT University Team:

Natalia Castaño Cárdenas has been involved in the design of a number of strategic urban projects with social impact. She graduated as an architect from Universidad Nacional (Colombia) and has a Master’s degree in Landscape, Environment and the City from Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina). Her work has focused on the search for equity, integrality and transdisciplinarity through understanding design as a tool that mediates between institutions and communities, giving high value to local environmental processes, and seeing art as a social-change mobilizer.

Ms. Castaño Cárdenas was involved with the Social Urbanism project of Medellín and connects her experience working with cities and academia through leadership of research and educational projects, such as the creation and coordination of the Master’s Program in Urban and Environmental Processes taught at EAFIT University, Centre for Urban and Environmental Studies, and Social Urbanism courses for different national and international audiences. She has been involved in projects in cities such as Quito, Lima, Porto Viejo, Pisco, Buenos Aires, and Sao Paulo.

Some neighbours work at creating a more pleasant and green environment. (My photo)

Juliana Quintero Marin is an international business professional and a specialist in Political Studies with a Masters in Government and Public Policy from EAFIT University. She has worked in the Institute for the Development of Antioquia-IDEA (2012-2016) where she was part of the founding committee of the Bank of Opportunities for Antioquia, leading a strategy to strengthen capacities to manage International cooperation resources within the 125 municipalities of Antioquia. Ms. Quintero Marin also supported Investment and Cooperation Agency of Medellín (ACI) in its management of international cooperation resources for Economic and rural development projects in Medellín.

Ms Quintero Marin is passionate about different cultures, International Development, and languages. She is currently the Coordinator of Knowledge Management in the Center for Urban and Environmental Studies, URBAM at EAFIT University.

The team from GTNA and Medellin visited us at our home yesterday. They have been conducting tours of the area. (My photo)

 

 


5 thoughts on “A Vision, and a Plan: Visitors from Medellin Partner with Residents to Help Build a “Liveable Community for All”

  1. This is an ongoing fight in our city – design for cars not people. It frustrates me to no end, that streets exactly the same as mine are considered neighbourhoods and since they are in the lower half of the city they receive bike lanes. On the mountain though, the streets are only designed for cars. We are not neighbourhoods.

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    1. It’s very sad, and it’s certainly not a problem only for Jamaica, or Canada. It seems to happen everywhere. I saw it in Vermont, where a highway had cut a thriving community completely in two. We do have to fight for our neighbourhoods!

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      1. With respect to roads, they simply needed resurfacing, with proper bike lanes, pedestrian sidewalks/crosswalks, and most importantly, enforcement of the road rules. I’ve visited Columbia and it’s an absolutely beautiful country. Thanks to proper urban planning, the cities of Bogota, Cartagena, and Medellín are thriving, because there’s thought for the well being of the residents. Best of luck, before they cut down another magnificent tree, in what used to be such a green and pretty city.

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      2. Thanks so much for your comments, Vivene! However, the focus is not just on roads – although many are still in poor condition. The lack of sidewalks is certainly an issue. Yes, as noted Medellin, in particular, has undergone an amazing transformation. We are hoping Kingston will be not only green and pretty – but also a liveable one for all those living and working there.

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