Save Heroes Park as a public green space

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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Dear Editor,

On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) hosted a meeting with local architects to present the revised concept plan for National Heroes' Park prior to finalizing the documents for a competition to design a new Parliament building within the park. The UDC seemed to have been somewhat unprepared for the meeting as the explanations that were given for the decisions made about the redesign of the project were poorly justified.

We, being landscape architects, attended the meeting and have summarised some of our concerns below, which have already been shared with the UDC:

• The placement of a Parliament building in the centre and a National Museum in the north of the park is intended to make the park a destination. The UDC thereby wishes to utilise the park space more effectively by constructing the buildings in it.

• This goes against Section 8 of the King George VI Memorial Park Act 1956, which clearly states that the park is intended to be a 'public garden, pleasure park and recreation area' and “nothing is to prevent the reservation of land for the burial of the remains of distinguished persons”.

• The park could be redeveloped as an open-air museum of national importance with features relating to Jamaican life and culture in terms of plants and food from all parishes, which would be attractive and educational to all Jamaicans and visitors as well which would make it a noteworthy destination in the capital. It is a true diamond in the rough that to date has never been properly developed or funded resulting in its dilapidated condition today.

• The creation of a successful park space could fulfil four of the five objectives of the Ministry of Tourism namely, gastronomy, sports & entertainment, health & well-being, and knowledge. Surely the park offers the perfect venue to showcase Jamaica and our culture. Parliament buildings are not considered an attraction to visit by most tourists and locals alike. They prefer parks, museums, churches, amusement parks, cultural and heritage, sites and other designated landmarks.

• The UDC intends to create smaller parks in surrounding communities.

• As the city becomes denser, and the population grows, the need for green space becomes even more important to provide relief to the inhabitants of the surrounding areas. As there is a desperate need to resuscitate existing smaller green spaces and parks in the city, especially as over the years so many have been lost through lack of maintenance and pressure of developers, it is commendable that the UDC wishes to promote this. However, this should not be seen to be done to replace green space lost at Heroes' Park, but should be done in addition to developing the park as the primary green space in Kingston. Research indicates that larger green spaces are more beneficial due to the wide range of activities that can be supported in them as well as the environmental and other benefits that they provide. In simple terms, one 50-acre park provides better recreational and environmental benefits than fifty one-acre parks.

• The location of two very large and significant public buildings in the park.

• The wording of the Act suggests that the Parliament does not have to be located in the park at all and we believe that it is easier to find another location for that building than to create another park space somewhere else.

• Sections 7 (1) and (2) of the Act states that the total area that may be allocated for the construction of a Parliament and any other supporting buildings is 11.4 acres, but what was presented seemed to exceed that. Our suggestion is that if the buildings have to be within the park, then they should be combined to reduce the area that is lost to buildings.

• We also suggest that the buildings be located in the north to provide a separation from, and balance to, the shrine area in the south. In addition to the above, what was not mentioned in the meeting are the following points:

There is the obvious need for public green space in the city. When compared to some US cities of comparative size and population, Jamaica has only a fraction of the green space. Emancipation Park is under pressure to include numerous and varied requests for all types of new features, many of which are inappropriate for the space. It is in danger of becoming cluttered and straying from the original design intent.

There is also no large gathering area in the city for public meetings, concerts, public ceremonies, etc, similar to Revolution Square in Havana or the National Mall in Washington, DC. At present Mandela Park in Half-Way-Tree is used for this purpose and is totally inadequate.

Another issue that wasn't addressed is how much of the area around the Parliament building will remain truly public due to the obvious security requirements of that type of building.

We know only too well that the park is in its current state due to lack of funding and will to develop it as a green space. It is not maintained and totally neglected. The route of placing a significant structure in the space appears at first glance to be an attractive way of achieving the goal that the park is better cared for. In this instance, however, the value of the park as the largest green space in Kingston is far more important for the social good it can provide. In our view, it also maintains the spirit of the King George VI Memorial Park Act far better than a large iconic Parliament building with a surrounding Parliament Square ever could.

Jenna Blackwood

viridis.consultants@gmail.com

Mary-Anne Twyman

mainspace2000@yahoo.com

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