Columns

Shame on you, Prime Minister!

Frankiln
Johnston

Friday, April 13, 2018

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Bernard Lodge is the site of the long-awaited new town. It is bordered by Spanish Town, Portmore, Hellshire to the south and trails west towards McCook's Pen — an easy choice, but a bad one. The headline 'Bernard Lodge lands to boost Red Stripe's cassava production' (Jamaica Observer, May 7, 2017) and Minister Karl Samuda's footnote that “the Government of Jamaica has reaffirmed its commitment to sustainable economic growth” were good. But 'Bernard Lodge sugar lands to be converted to new town' (The Gleaner, March 29, 2018) will asphyxiate agriculture and rural development. To cover thousands of acres of farmland in concrete should be a crime against humanity.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness's new town is underwhelming. His 17,000 houses is the size of our annual house needs, so he may want to be “biggest house builder” and boost toll road income. To do as the British did to the Liguanea Plains in 2018 is stupid.

We look from Stony Hill and lament the ground water running to the sea. His plan will buffet the transport corridor via Old Harbour as we have no modern mass transit and cramp our kids' food security. We were enthusiastic at his call for a new town and waited to see several sites, concept, logistics, water supply, etc. What is this on us, Lord?

We dangled the idea of a new town for years to disrupt the ennui which marred local life. Weary of Cabinets that work “under the circumstances”, we thought Holness would rise “above circumstances”. Not so!

What were the criteria used? What of other sites? Did they look at UK new towns as Harlow, Hemel Hempstead, or Milton Keynes, where many Jamaicans live; all statements of British skill? A new town may allow us to display our science, STEM, design, project management — our own voice!

A new town is a generational project, engaging the nation's finest “to de worl' “. Any idiot can build on flat land, but we want an innovative, green town in our major land mass (the hills); an hour from Kingston; say, 50,000 houses; iconic public structures; jaw dropping vistas; bold infrastructure; modern transport logistics; energy from 100 acres of solar; human in scale, friendly and inspiring. UNESCO may name it “the cutting-edge town black people built in the West”. The world will visit. Yes, we can!

The imperialists build on the flood plains at St Ann's Bay and Kingston. They built for access to their ships to extract fast. We have no ships, don't like the sea, can't swim, “follow fashion”, why? We own Tainoland by dint of 'adverse possession', so develop the hills in our own idiom. We have professionals who qualified in capitalist and communist countries, but we have no take-your-breath-away built environment, and a new town is our shot at glory! Let's embrace one mantra: “Build on the slopes and produce in the valleys.” Let's build an inland new town. Selah.

Recall Columbus crumpled paper to describe Xaymaca to his liege? Observe Scandinavian countries; mountainous like ours, breathtaking views. They build with the land; idyllic clusters of chalets; well- paved, cross-drained roads with lay-bys for fast traffic to pass. Our country is mostly hill, eg, Blue Mountain foothills accessed via St Thomas, Portland or St Andrew; use them well!

A new town is not just houses. It must make a statement; who we are and our different drummer. We like German cars, American fridges, French couture, New Zealand cheese, and we can build on our hilly land in our idiom.

We need a town of 50,000 houses with jobs attuned to our endowments to showcase our cutting-edge ingenuity. Houses in clusters of, say, 20 to 70 chalets; social services cluster — police, clinic, school; big scalable solar systems; rainwater harvesting; all-weather roads; sub-surface conduits for electricity, gas, water; cable cars and tunnels in sync with the terrain.

Jamaica has scope for four new towns with a base of 50,000 houses each in the next century and industry attuned to their assets. Our population is not growing as fast as before, but we have housing deficits. A spa town with Bath, St Thomas, at its epicentre is one option. Bath New Town with 50,000 houses; hub of our naturopathic industries (Give The University of the West Indies the 1779 gardens to curate Captain Bligh and breadfruit history and do cutting-edge botany.) such as personal care and therapy spas; jobs in wellness, recuperation from stress, illness, addiction, sports injuries. These could serve a local clientele, export and boost tourism. Many villages would be drawn into its footprint and Airbnb could flourish. Not to be left out would be cafes with ganja, coffee, potions, and refreshing drinks.

The second is the Blue Mountain New Town with many small villages. Its climate is ideal for gourmet, micro farming of exotics; boutique craft, art; wining, dining and sleeping under the stars. This is “Swiss Chalet” type country and the new house owner has room for hiker and biker via Airbnb. This concept may be daunting for a politician wanting a quick fix, or for experts trained abroad on flat land who want to bulldoze everywhere to sea level; but, friends, this hilly country is ours, so work with it! Cabinet must pay for infrastructure, public buildings, fountains, town hall, markets, etc, and incentivise the private sector to build houses and commercial spaces. Training and education bodies must ramp up logistics, design, and STEM to graduate thousands of competent workers to learn new skills.

Sir, chuss me, Bernard Lodge is a dormitory for Kingston. Your legacy is innovation in the hills. Wheel and come again, Prime Minister. Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at the Mona School of Business and Management at The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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