Community is still important, even in our confusing old city of Kingston. More important than ever. Kingston Creative is doing it in their own way, downtown, through the arts. Up here in Golden Triangle, we still believe in it, too. We also have many concerns (see this open letter to the Prime Minister, co-signed by four other citizens’ associations, earlier this year; and this article by Carol Narcisse on the need for citizens to become more vocal and active on plans for their city). As Carol observes:
Kingston and St Andrew are being built out with high-rise developments at an unsustainable pace and in a manner that, to some, spells ruin.
We need a visible, vocal citizens’ movement for a liveable city.
Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commits the signatory countries to making cities and human settlements green, safe, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable.
Unfortunately, although we are a signatory to the SDGs, our approach to development in our city (and the wider country) remains unsustainable.
So it was especially good to be sitting down with neighbors under a lignum vitae tree at 7 Seymour Avenue one evening last week, for an informal meeting to discuss possible uses for the property. We were there at the invitation of Andrew Issa, who heads Coldwell Banker Jamaica Realty. No, he wasn’t trying to sell it to us! Mr. Issa has been instrumental in the purchase and refurbishment of this stately property. It had been operated as a restaurant and informal gambling place for a while before gently decaying in the way that buildings do in tropical countries. The termites, the mold, the rot, letting in wind, rain, sun.
We feared the worst, witnessing this predictable decline and assuming that one fine day we would soon see bulldozers and a pile of rubble, where this noble house once sought to cling onto its erstwhile status and dignity. It has happened so many times before.
But no! To our surprise we realized that it was being beautifully fixed up. New roof, new windows and doors, nicely painted. The run-down building to the side was also revived and turned into a lovely, light space. Coldwell Banker has affixed a sign on the gate, noting that the house was built in 1927. It’s not far off 100 years old.
The meeting invitation was a really nice surprise. We did a quick tour of the house, before it got dark, then sat down under the tree, nibbled on sugar-free cookies and sipped bottled water. We threw out ideas for ways in which the buildings and the grounds might be used. The consensus was that a space for community members to meet and come together would be welcome. There was some discussion about ways in which it could bring in income (rent? a café? co-working space? art gallery?) We made a note of these options. We chatted for a while, and as it grew dark, we went our separate ways.
We are members of the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Association (GTNA). “Golden Triangle” is the name for an area of Kingston (actually, the parish of St. Andrew) which is changing rapidly. It is also called Seymour Lands. In the more than three decades that we have been living here, many of the older single-family houses, fifty years old or more, have been demolished, and their gardens destroyed. Most of the large trees are gone, and many of the smaller ones, too. It is less green and the population density has increased dramatically.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) published a Provisional Development Order for Kingston and St. Andrew in 2017. Among other things, the Order permits a radical increase in housing densities and building heights allowed, going from the previous maximum allowable density of 30 Habitable Rooms per Acre to now allowing for 100 Habitable Rooms per Acre. The previous restriction of building heights to 2 and 3 storeys has been increased to 4 and 6 stories. The GTNA is currently facilitating a development process for the area, thanks to a grant from the National Housing Trust (NHT).
It has also become much more busy and commercialized, with small businesses, restaurants and cafés opening. The nature of new housing developments has also changed, with more high-rise buildings and apartment blocks, besides gated townhouse complexes. Where once the quaint old Red Bones Blues Café stood (a popular restaurant and evening “lyme” spot, formerly a family house with a pleasant garden), one company now plans to build a ten-storey block of 81 apartments.
So that is what we call “Golden Triangle” nowadays. It has lost much of its old-fashioned character and charm.
Nevertheless, the GTNA is committed to its goal of sustainable development, seeking to create a “livable community” – which includes not only residents, but also all those who run businesses and work in the area.
We are very thankful to Mr. Issa and Coldwell Banker for seeking our feedback on this beautiful property. And we are grateful for their appreciation of this fine building and the careful and thoughtful renovation. We look forward to putting our heads together again soon.