Montego Bay needs an iconic gateway!

Friday, December 07, 2018

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Leaders disrespect Montego Bay by this risible offer of a two-faced sign. It's like a typewriter to a child. This is the 21st century, people!

The underwhelming experience of Heroes' Oval should have taught us lessons. Jamaica is the largest, black-ruled, 92.1 per cent black, Anglophone nation in the West and should be the artistic beacon of the African Diaspora. We are a unique product of Africa's transatlantic slavery; a feat not achieved by Africa's trans-Sahara or trans-Indian Ocean slave trades. We lead in areas good and bad, so let's use this opportunity to create tourism iconography not seen in a black nation.

This pricey sign fills us with dismay as it is a paradox that a nation with private achievers as Usain Bolt and Bob Marley has such a deficit of public vision. Prime Minister Andrew Holness must change the conversation: “My Cabinet, let's look at what Montego Bay really needs, then how do we afford it (five hotels give US$200,000 each, corporates, the Diaspora)?”

We believe an iconic gateway from a design meet is best; not a sign painter's coven. “Hey, Goosie, a wah kinda blue dem buy fi dis yah sign? Mi a go mix it wid some a dis nedda colour.”

But what is MoBay in the national ecosystem that we should care? It's just a small city. Not so!

Financially, MoBay our cash cow; FX producer extraordinaire, brand-wise it is our face greeting millions, spiritually it is our capital of cool and courtesy. Tourists come in good times and bad, whether with good ministers or bad, as only problems at home stop them. But our MoBay is also about people who own, serve, entertain, do nameless jobs, or are jobless, but they add to the sum of joy and fun. In my vision, visitors should enter the city, eyes uplifted in wonder at our icon, then amazed by what's in the rear-view mirror, and later take selfies for back home. No tawdry big arches!

We are fed up of living “under circumstances”, gorging our artistic souls on “wat lef!” After decades of conditioning we eat what Americans discard and now love the chicken back we once hated. Leaders debase our diet, aesthetics “give them offal and they will learn to love it”! Can the 'Bay' start a trend where we pamper ourselves a bit? Why always the cheapest for our masses? It is our Monaco, Riviera; no Big Ben, Eiffel Tower; yes, it may need a sign and $17 million may be overpriced, but once, the Airports Authority of Jamaica's board had US$250,000 to spend on a gateway for the Bay.

Leaders now are so stingy when it is a public item that generations to come may curse their parsimony. They spare no expense on their houses, cars, travel, but penny-pinch on the public good. Holness's air miles alone could build it. God bless Kingsley Thomas for Emancipation Park — the best National Housing Trust spend ever. What else is there for the masses? Every town needs one.

Tainos left us little; the Spanish were not here long, but in Cuba, Dominican Republic we see their modus operandi — wives, kids, pets; opera houses, sport arenas, galleries, sidewalk cafés, gaming — they came to stay! The British were passing through; ran mines, colonies, estates, then took home leave! Jamaican aesthetic is the lees of niggardly British, Taino residues, imaginings of Africa, American and British TV. Our artistes were immersed in American, British pop for decades before one global icon — Bob Marley. So there is hope for our design community and a Montego Bay icon is the fodder they need, then voilá!

A gateway for Montego Bay or Kingston is no new idea, as in the 90s designs were done. The Airports Authority of Jamaica from its US-dollar profit on foreign airlines had an air show which delighted more than one million in Kingston and MoBay — largest audience ever; traffic jam from Mountain View to old runway. Some two million Jamaicans had never been in airports their taxes built — payback! The Airports Authority of Jamaica also set a process to design these gateways; reserve land on verges consistent with airspace and traffic edicts were in the brief, and one architect submitted a concept of monolithic, anodised aluminium columns from Canada (Jamaican bauxite) and a path into nearby sand dunes to a seaside oasis. Sadly, there is no protocol for an outgoing to brief an incoming Administration, so the work died — as did the US-dollar balances. Jamaicans look back in anger as they have nothing to look forward to; so do right by the Bay today!

Montego Bay must not suffer by our deficits of vision or controversy. It is the best we have. The Bay is a proven producer, not a risky investment, and more selfies will be taken of a gateway than a two-faced sign. So, engage design gurus for a masterwork to open at the start of the next tourist season, and Ed Bartlett can invite the world! Like Bolt, let our designers vie with the global best so we have a gateway to welcome 10 million tourists by 2030. Even Donald Trump cannot move the Statue of Liberty. A gateway is forever. Stay conscious!


Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager; Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK); and lectures in logistics and supply chain management at Mona School of Business and Management, The University of the West Indies. Send comments to the Observer or

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