Actionable plan needed for the revitalisation of downtown Kingston
A unified vision or plan in an ecosystem of collaboration is essential to the revitalisation of downtown Kingston. This was the pivotal point of a presentation made by keynote speaker Eleanor Sharpe, director of the Department of Planning and Development in Philadelphia, at the recently held third staging of the Maurice Facey Lecture Series.
The event, which was hosted by the Pan Jamaica Group at the ROK Hotel in Kingston, brought together like-minded individuals to learn about the many facets of urban development in the context of Jamaica and its vast potential.
The theme, ‘Value of a Vision – The Transformative Power of an Actionable Plan’, served as the framework guiding the discussions throughout the lecture.
Sharpe, the event’s first-ever Jamaican-born keynote speaker, provided practical examples of how shared visions and meticulously crafted plans have led to significant urban transformations with real social and economic impact.
Motivated by her strong ties to Jamaica, her recollections of the work of the Kingston Restoration Company, and her belief in the potential of downtown Kingston, Sharpe sought to leverage her knowledge, experiences, and expertise in urban planning and architecture to contribute to the lecture series and by extension the rejuvenation of downtown Kingston.
“I’m here to tell you that one can craft and create a plan that is implementable and can move the needle towards the desired, often transformative, outcomes,” she explained. “However, it is crucial, if not imperative, that a plan starts with creating a vision. A unified one. One that allows all parties involved to be vested in the outcome who can then act to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved by participating in the implementation of that said plan.”
Sharpe detailed two projects in particular with the goal of sharing insights that could potentially be adopted and adapted for downtown Kingston. One of these projects included a breakdown of Philadelphia 2035 – a comprehensive plan for the city of Philadelphia – and how the vision was crafted, what strategies were deployed for implementation and how it now serves as a guiding document for many with approximately 70 per cent of its recommendations actualised.
She also praised the work of the sister agency, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, whose efforts have transformed the city’s waterfront with plans for further development being implemented.
“A plan does not exist of itself, it is part of an entire process that one has to consider in the toolbox,” Sharpe shared. “In my years of working in planning and development, learning from other successful projects and plans from other cities around the world, I have learnt that at the core, we all have similar problems. It’s just to find a way to fix them. Collaboration and conversations like this lay the groundwork for those solutions.”
The director closed by sharing a few key lessons for crafting a unified vision — intentionality is a driving force for planning and implementation; stakeholder engagement is paramount and collaboration is a must; flexibility is critical as circumstances change in an instant; preservation of community identity and heritage is essential; and lastly, an understanding of the regulatory and political landscape is absolutely necessary.
Stephen Facey, chairman of the Pan Jamaica Group, also underscored the importance of planning.
“A plan, at its core, is a vision translated into a structured framework that guides actions,” he explained. “It serves as a clear and deliberate outline of steps, strategies and objectives to achieve a specific goal, and functions as a roadmap to navigate from the present to our desired future.”
“In the realm of urban planning, a plan is much more than a mere document or a set of guidelines; it is a blueprint to guide the actions required to create a thriving urban environment, ensuring that our cities, towns and communities function effectively while considering the future needs of its people,” he added. “The importance of having a defined and actionable plan cannot be overstated. It is not only a tool for directing the formation of our physical environment, but also a means of ensuring that our nation is fully prepared to face both the challenges and opportunities of the future.”
Before the lecture, Sharpe expressed that the revitalisation of historic downtown Kingston requires a delicate equilibrium between conserving its heritage and meeting modern requirements. This includes utilising the allure of the city’s historical appeal to draw in tourists, protecting significant landmarks, and creating programmes and educational hubs focused on heritage tourism. She emphasised that historical preservation and modernisation can complement each other.
“Downtown Kingston is rich with untapped resources and features that can enhance its vibrance and appeal,” Sharpe insisted. “Nurturing the area as the thriving nucleus of Kingston’s creative and cultural district is key. This can be achieved through incentivisation programmes for creatives and businesses, supporting art and cultural projects and events, prioritising sustainability through green spaces and energy-efficient technologies, and fostering public-private partnerships.”
She stressed that enforcing zoning and land use regulations to safeguard historical areas while allowing room for growth is vital. Involving the local community in decision-making and ensuring a safe, inclusive environment through investments in public safety and community policing is also crucial.
“This approach upholds the city’s historical essence while guaranteeing its enduring vitality, economic stability, and quality of life for its inhabitants,” Sharpe said. “This is my dream for my cherished island home, Jamaica, whose past, present, and future I hold dear to my heart.”