Great value in green spaces

Monday, April 21, 2014    

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HEALTH Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson often reminds Jamaicans of the challenge posed by non-communicable diseases.

Indeed, he tells us that ailments such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and cancers result in 70 per cent of deaths in Jamaica and are leading causes of disability.

The economic cost is huge, with Jamaica spending an estimated US$170 million annually to treat such illnesses.

We are told that a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical exercise, balanced diet, moderate alcohol intake and an avoidance of cigarette smoking, would help immeasurably.

That knowledge explains the admirable zeal with which the minister has taken on the powerful tobacco sector and led the campaign for an end to smoking in public places.

We are left to wonder why there hasn't been a similar campaign to promote physical activity and recreation.

We refer not just to words but to a meaningful campaign to encourage the maintenance of green areas thereby facilitating physical activity, recreation and mental relaxation - which all agree are cornerstones of the much-desired good health.

We are reminded of that need for green spaces in today's edition of the Observer Central by head of the Brooks Park Sports and Recreational Complex in Mandeville, Dr Clifton Reid, and Regional Technical Director of the Southern Regional Health Authority Dr Michael Coombs.

All across Jamaica, despite the depressed economy, construction in concrete and steel is taking place with very little thought to allocations for green space. And very few Jamaicans care - the authorities least of all, it would seem.

Nowhere has such short-sightedness over many decades been more evident than in Kingston, which has evolved into a sprawling concrete jungle. It wasn't always so.

Old timers remember Knutsford Park, now replaced by the New Kingston business district. From all accounts Knutsford Park was a magnificent place, large enough to accommodate horse racing and other recreational activities. Many Jamaicans remember that the mindless developers came perilously close to consuming the one little corner of Knutsford Park that was left. We refer to what is now the very popular Emancipation Park. We give thanks for small mercies.

This newspaper is not suggesting that the business district shouldn't have been built. We are saying that with visionary leadership it would have happened elsewhere, without sacrificing Knutsford Park.

In downtown Kingston there has been plenty of talk about rehabilitation. But not a lot has been said about securing the land at the National Heroes' Circle as a green space for the residents there. Instead, we have witnessed steady encroachment such as the car park on the north- eastern side. There were even plans, at one time, to relocate the Parliament complex there.

Similar lack of vision prevails in myriad rural towns which are being rapidly urbanised with no thought to allocations for open

recreational areas.

It seems to this newspaper that as the Government sets about reducing the impact of non-communicable diseases it should proactively secure and protect green spaces to promote health and wellness.

What better man to lead the way than the health minister?

Hopefully, too, the environment minister and his staff will show some interest, as well as the environmental groups which have made such a hue and cry about Goat Islands.





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