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Kingston Waterfront Park aiming for social desegregation of capital city

The Urban Development Corporation will spearhead a project to transform nine acres of the Kingston waterfront into a park, and the search is on for architects and other professionals to design it, amid hope that it could serve to desegregate the capital city by bringing the residents of uptown and downtown together.

The project aims to spur social activity, which, in turn, is expected to feed back into economic activity along the waterfront.

“It is absolutely a good idea and good urban design, so it would be a project that would be supported by most professionals,” said Camille Douglas-Stephenson, president of the Jamaican Institute of Architects, who spoke in general terms, having not yet perused the project documents.

“It is just a matter of how it is executed and the types of sustainability aspects incorporated,” she said.

The Kingston Waterfront Park is to be located along Ocean Boulevard.

The project aims to introduce new public and open space “that offers opportunities for recreation, entertainment, and small-scale commercial activity; and to create the conditions to subsequently attract private-sector investment into underutilised plots adjacent to the project area for mixed-use development, thereby generating broader economic impact, including income opportunities for nearby low-income communities”, according to the tender document seeking proposals for an urban design concept for the creation of the public space.

The development of the park will be financed by the World Bank under the Foundation for Competitiveness and Growth Project, as a “catalytic investment” in infrastructure and planning to lay the groundwork for follow-on public-private development in the surrounding areas.

Importantly, the concept for the waterfront park must include design approaches for the broader redevelopment of adjacent areas between Ocean Boulevard and Port Royal Street, the tender document noted.

The Jamaican Government is currently seeking a team of consultants for the project, including a project manager, architect, civil engineer and urban planner, as well as sociologists, urban regeneration specialists, historic preservation specialists, geotechnical engineers and climate scientists.

The timeline for the development was not immediately available. None of the government agencies involved returned calls for comment.

The value of the activities along the Kingston Harbour is estimated at over US$510 million ($77 billion) annually, according to government data submitted in the tender document, but inadequacies in water management and pollution have reduced recreational activities over time.

About 60 per cent of the lands in the planning area are owned by government agencies. There are plans to pull together a list of the properties likely to be impacted by the project; gather information on affected residents and businesses and other groups; and assess the water quality in the harbour and nearby gullies, and the presence of floating garbage.

The park would sit minutes away from the thousands of residents in the surrounding communities, while also impacting persons in uptown Kingston. It’s seen prospectively as a means to bring both groups together.

“Today, whilst the city concentrates the country’s industry and economic opportunity, it also exhibits some of the country’s most profound problems of exclusion and deprivation: about 69,000 people, representing about 20 per cent of Jamaica’s poor, reside in the Kingston Metropolitan Area, constituting a poverty rate of about 9.2 per cent,” the tender document noted.

“The city is socially segregated and marked by the distinction between uptown, which is largely upper- or middle class, and downtown, which is lower class and houses the city’s poorer, inner-city communities,” it said.

The project also aims to revitalise Kingston as Jamaica’s economic and cultural capital. The downtown park would be about 50 per cent larger than the popular Emancipation Park, which was developed on about six acres in the New Kingston business district.

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