I wrote recently about the “uglification” of Kingston. While downtown Kingston is (thankfully) getting some of the attention it deserves, further uptown it’s a developer’s paradise, a free for all.
This article from the Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association – which represents everyone who lives, works, or does business in the area – points out that letters and representations of various kinds to the relevant Government authorities, including the Prime Minister himself, regarding a range of concerns have been met with…stony silence.
The multiple concerns of the GTNA are complex and serious. The GTNA’s vision, which it is doggedly pursuing, is to create a liveable community for everyone to live, work, and play in. Green space! Public parks! Trees! Wider sidewalks! Space for other road users, besides motor vehicles! Meanwhile, the powers that be are silent and unresponsive.
By the way, the GTNA is also waiting for a positive response and some real indication of interest from the Office of the Prime Minister (which is responsible for the building) on the parlous state of Vale Royal, an historic building that now has boarded-up windows. Former Prime Minister, the late Edward Seaga, who once lived there with his family, would be turning in his grave. This, and other large spaces in the area, could also be transformed into a public park/art gallery/museum for Kingston people to enjoy. We have so few.
I personally am especially concerned at the ongoing removal of mature trees, including the lignum vitae, which flourishes on the Liguanea Plain, and which is listed as an endangered species – but is not protected by law here. You are not allowed to export it, but it’s fine for a developer to come with his chain saw and cut down this beautiful slow-growing hardwood tree which also bears Jamaica’s National Flower.
The main point is: Why are the numerous concerns of residents falling on deaf ears? Is everyone just too busy? Or do they just not care enough?
PM Holness, NEPA, KSAMC, NWA – Is Anyone Listening?
Communities’ calls for Green, People-Friendly Urban Planning Go Unanswered
In her recent article entitled “Control the Developers”, Professor Honor Ford-Smith asked: “Why is nobody listening? What is the role of the Prime Minister in this? Is he listening to the voices that are speaking out? Where is the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) in this and the National Works Agency (NWA)? Where is the minister who is supposed to see to the enforcement of regulations to protect our children from environmental collapse?”
Maybe you heard the chorus of “Ah we fi tell yu!” as these are exactly the questions that citizens, who have been writing to the above named government leaders and institutions, have been asking themselves.
Cases in point. A letter written to Prime Minister Holness in August 2019, signed by four citizens’ associations in the corporate area, highlighted the following concerns:
A policy of arbitrarily and radically increasing housing densities and building heights and…indiscriminate construction of high rise buildings will not by itself serve to improve the city, and instead will cause and already has resulted in severe negative consequences for affected neighbourhoods.
The affected neighbourhoods are now facing vastly increased car traffic, with air and noise pollution, and a radical negative change in the scale and character in the areas. There is a direct, negative impact for residents whose property adjoins these high rise buildings as they suffer from a loss of privacy in their homes, and blockage of natural air flow as well as sunlight, loss of mature trees among other concerns. The experience is one that leaves many feeling under siege.
While construction of high density apartment developments is proceeding at a rapid rate Prime Minister, the public services to provide for potable water, storm water drainage and sewage disposal are presently totally inadequate to serve the city, and plans to improve these services are only now being looked at.
The letter implored:
Prime Minister, we call for your attention to the fact that, at this time, there are many, many residents in areas throughout the city, who are very worried about projects being proposed or already approved for construction in their street, and who feel helpless against the ill- conceived and unilateral decisions coming from the main planning agency (NEPA), and the permit granting authority the Kingston & St. Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC).
We are calling, Prime Minister for:
1. a moratorium on the approval of high-rise, high-density projects located in the heart of established low-density residential neighbourhoods
2. urgent consultations with the concerned citizens’ groups that are being adversely affected. We believe it is possible for the Government and stakeholders to agree an approach that will result in liveable communities for all.
There has been no response to or acknowledgement of that letter. Just silence.
The Golden Triangle Neighbourhood Association again wrote to PM Holness in August 2019 to bring to his attention the “Urgent Need for Public, Recreational, Green Space in Seymour Lands,” especially given the increases in housing density.
Neither the Prime Minister nor any of the agencies that received copies of the letter has responded to or acknowledged that communication either.
The Town and Country Planning (Kingston and Saint Andrew and the Pedro Cays) Provisional Development
Order, 2017 (the “PDO”), explicitly says that provisions should be made for open green spaces:
“The desire to maximise the use of housing land has sometimes been at the expense of the provision of open space. The provision of such open space is, however, important to maintain the quality of the living environment and to provide activity areas for residents.”
It also says that:
“In conjunction with increasing residential densities within already built up areas, the planning strategy involves the development of an open space system plan containing a linked hierarchy of open spaces and places of recreation,… “
“It is the intention of the planning authority that open spaces and recreational facilities are provided within a convenient distance of all places of residence….The provision for facilities for a wide range of sports, arts and other recreational activities will be encouraged in appropriate locations throughout the Order Area to meet the needs of all residents.”
The Order doesn’t stop there. It sets a standard for open green space in new residential development of one hectare for every 100 dwellings, recommending that this be in larger parks rather than “land left over as unsuitable for housing development,” and stating:
“It is important that the land is …properly located within the neighbourhood so that it can be conveniently used for the required public purpose. Consideration should also be given to the provision of large open spaces rather than several small ones.”
Other letters, including a formal objection to the PDO, have been sent to the PM and various agencies such as NEPA, KSAMC, NWA, and the Ministry of Housing, Urban Renewal, Environment and Climate Change expressing various concerns; to date, no acknowledgement or response has been received.
Is anyone listening? The continued march of developers towards higher buildings, paving over green space,
decreased air quality, increased noise pollution, streets that become rivers at the slightest rainfall, and no provision for adequate sidewalks and community recreational spaces suggests not.
Successful Court actions have been brought by some communities, with favourable decisions against specific developers and in a recent case, taking agencies with responsibility for granting and enforcing permits to task. But,
unless and until our leaders listen, acknowledge and respond to the concerns of communities, who are directly affected by the lack of thoughtful urban planning in Kingston and St. Andrew, the threat that our beautiful and vibrant city will become unlivable seems inevitable.