Don’t yield to the disorder, Mayor Williams

Friday, March 10, 2017

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In his assessment of the chaos that exists in downtown Kingston, Mayor Delroy Williams certainly has got one thing right — simply that what obtains is not sustainable.


"We can’t continue like this," Senator Williams told this newspaper last week. "Vendors are all over the streets. There is the municipal police, but when they take any action, as soon as they leave the vicinity the vendors just go right back and take up the spaces again. That is not conducive to order."


The mayor, though, appears set to yield to the disorder, saying that he plans to prevent vehicular traffic from traversing some streets downtown.


"We want to pedestrianise Beckford Street, as well as some sections of other streets in the area, including Temple Lane [and] Peters Lane," he said, adding that such a measure would bring some amount of order to the city.


The plan, though, is not being supported by store owners and, surprisingly, some vendors. The main concern aired by them is the effect the measure would have on the delivery of goods.


That, in itself, is a serious matter, as businesses will not stay open for long if they are unable to receive merchandise to sell.


But even more serious is the matter of public safety raised by businessman Mr Gassan Azan.


Noting that what Mayor Williams is creating are vending zones, Mr Azan asked some very pertinent questions: "When you create a vending zone in the middle of the road, how do your emergency services function, how do the police get in and out of there? Has all of that been determined before you make that announcement?" asked Mr Azan, who owns the successful Bashco and MegaMart chains and is a director of this newspaper.


Those are indeed questions that Mayor Williams and his team at the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Council need to answer.


Street vending has been a sore issue for decades, and successive governments have been unable to change what is really a culture of disorder that mushroomed with the downward spiral of the economy over the past 20 years.


Changing that culture will be difficult, especially for the fact that one of the contributory factors, as identified by the mayor, is that there is not enough market space to accommodate all vendors.


However, if Mayor Williams intends to transform Kingston into "the capital city of the Caribbean" — a tourist destination alive with cultural, historical and gastronomical offerings, as well as shopping — he and his city managers will need to ensure that there is order in public spaces.


Simply pedestrianising some streets to accommodate vending will not solve the problem. Probably the mayor and the municipal council could examine the feasibility of transforming some of the many abandoned buildings downtown into shopping arcades, where vendors could rent space at affordable rates. That would protect the vendors and their goods from the elements and set the tone for the type of order that, if breached, would attract sanctions.


Take a look at the broken windows theory, Mayor Williams, and determine what from it could be successfully adapted to suit local conditions.

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