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Want to know why we'll 'never have a viable city?'

Monday, July 21, 2014    

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PROMINENT architect and urban planner Clifton Yap said critical changes need to be made to the country's housing policy in order to encourage redevelopment of the capital city, Kingston, particularly downtown.

According to Yap, the national policy has been detrimental to the country's built environment and development of dormitory communities in rural areas has resulted in urban sprawl.

"It has resulted in numerous disastrous effects including the consumption of prime agricultural lands and watershed green areas," Yap said, as he addressed the Rotary Club of Trafalgar New Heights meeting at the CRU Bar and Kitchen, last Thursday.

Arguing that developers receive the greater benefit as their developments are usually subsidised by Government, Yap said the approach to housing has caused Government to spend heavily on infrastructure, such as highway construction and road widening to accommodate the large volumes of people commuting from the dormitory communities to the capital city.

"You've put all of this housing in the countryside and people are going to come to work in Kingston. That's why we are having all of this traffic congestion," he argued. "It's a losing game. It never ends."

Yap said to develop a successful city, the country must have a policy which promotes and enables housing for all classes of people in its urban centres.

"The downtown of your capital city cannot be just for the poor and the destitute, you will never have a viable city," he underscored. "You have to have housing of different income groups in there."

According to him, in most great cities, the closer you get to the downtown city centre, the more expensive housing gets as it provides the easy access to amenities and other facilities its residents will benefit from. However, he points out that the practice has been the contrary in Jamaica.

"Other than the failed and poorly conceived inner-city housing, very little attention and financial resources have gone into planning and facilitating mixed income housing in downtown Kingston and urban areas in general," he said.

He said the global practice is to build compact communities in and around a city or urban centre development so that people can have easier access to commercial facilities and other infrastructure and amenities.

Congruent with the development of housing, Yap maintained that a plan to reduce traffic speeding through the city centre is critical for its development.

He further noted that the trend among urban planners globally is to encourage more pedestrian-type experiences in cities by providing a range of transport choices to commuters; larger paved sidewalks and piazzas; roadside parking and narrower streets; as well as redeveloped waterfronts for recreation.

Having a city that was orderly and aesthetically satisfying, he said, could also play a part in reducing violence in the capital and encouraging safety and security.

Highlighting the case of Medellin in Colombia, which experienced a rapid reduction in violence in less than a decade after redeveloping its city's architecture and infrastructure as well as social order statutes, Yap argued that Jamaica could achieve similar results by redeveloping downtown Kingston, which is perceived to be the seat of most of the country's violent crimes.

"If you have something which is broken, if you have something which is rundown then you are breeding more criminality and lawlessness," he said.

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