Let Heroes' Park breathe life into downtown


Thursday, January 10, 2019

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In recent times, both the prime minister and the Urban Development Corporation have referred to the King George VI Memorial Park Act of 1956, as well as documents from the 1950s, to provide rationales for locating the new parliament building within National Heroes Circle. The Act clearly states that 11.4 acres of the park area may be used for the construction of parliament buildings, and papers from the 1950s apparently indicate Norman Manley had a plan for the parliament building to be constructed there.

But it needs to be stated that the Act of 1956 merely allows it to happen, and that allowability would still be there even without the Act. Further, Norman Manley's observations in documents from the 1950s would be over 60 years old, and although his considerations have always been for the country's benefit, much has changed since then, and the population density of Kingston has tremendously increased.

Areas to the east of the park (Allman Town, Woodford Park and Campbell Town) and to the west (Torrington Park, Jones Town, Admiral Town) are densely inhabited, and the formal parish of Kingston (including Fletcher's Land, Hannah Town, Kingston Gardens and central Kingston) lies to its immediate south. In spite of any credible upgrading plan, there can hardly be a significant difference to this density for decades.

Given the acknowledged and confirmed relationship between congestion/fatigue reduction, and the provision of open green space, why would we want to diminish one piece of Jamaica's most effective potential for the provision of this green space? Given its size of about 50 acres, and its location in Jamaica's most densely populated area, this open space can become one of the most beautiful and effective parks in the island, and the epitome of stress reduction and congestion alleviation.

Hope Gardens and Emancipation Park serve similar purposes, but the National Heroes' Park can perform an even more effective function given its location. To avoid developing it to its greatest potential as a park would be rejecting a gift that we cannot afford to refuse, and it would be a disservice to ourselves and future generations of Jamaicans if we did not accept it for the gift it was.

The possibilities for its development are endless, and the profuse number of talented architects, planners, landscape architects, engineers, horticulturalists, developers, and other technical folk would do a great job at this. Heroes' Park could be economically transformed, both in implementation and maintenance, into a jewel of transcendent beauty and tranquillity, and given the range of recreational activities that could be facilitated there, we could obtain a park of calm and serenity in some areas, while other areas pulsate with energy and vigour.

Needless to say, this piece follows many others with regard to the same concern, which have come from a wide range of Jamaicans, including architects, landscape architects, sociologists, civil society leaders, entertainers, and just 'ordinary' citizens. While the nuances have varied slightly, the focus of all these have had one conclusion, namely, that National Heroes' Park should be kept strictly as a park and not as a venue for the parliament building. To do otherwise would be to ignore the collective wisdom of the Jamaican society. And in passing it may be worth noting that much of the support for the selection of the venue does appear to have some political motivation.

There are other options for the building's location. Up Park Camp and the King's House lands are two, and there are more. However, the best option appears to be in the vicinity of the existing Gordon House lands itself. If the section of Duke Street between Beeston and Charles streets is removed and the square bound by Mark and John's lanes, and Charles and Beeston streets, is made into a unified block of approximately three acres, this would be quite suitable for a new parliament building. In fact, the eastern half of this combined area is hardly occupied at the moment.

The parliament building could possibly occupy the western one and a half acres, while the entire eastern half could be reserved for parking. But other arrangements are possible, and there would also be scope for road widening to facilitate increased traffic volumes.

Whatever venue is chosen, however, regardless of the stage reached in the planning, and for the benefit of current and future generations of Jamaicans, the proposed location of the parliament building needs to be reviewed and the National Heroes' Park allowed to become a fully developed, beautiful, and inspiring park.

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