News and Views by Dionne Jackson Miller

pointed commentary on current affairs in Jamaica and the Caribbean


November 2012

P.J. Patterson’s Legacy

Former Prime Minister of Jamaica PJ Patterson ...

Parliament has now devoted two sessions to eulogising and lionising former Prime Ministers Edward Seaga and P.J. Patterson.

The glowing one-dimensional tributes intentionally ignore the negative sides of both men’s political balance sheets. For honest assessments of their leadership, we will clearly have to look further than their desk-thumping friends in Gordon House.

In this post, however, I want to focus on one small thing that P.J. Patterson did, which is likely to be ignored in the academic treatises that will be produced about his tenure.

He created Emancipation Park  which has now been open for ten years. It sounds like such a small thing to single out, but it’s one which I think has had tremendous impact. And lest we forget, there was no overwhelming outpouring of support for him at the time.

One reasonable criticism is that it was part of the diversion of National Housing Trust funds away from housing for contributors. It could not have happened if contributors’ funds were sequestered away in a real trust, which is a discussion we really need to have, although it is a step the politicians are unlikely to want to take. That’s because if NHT money were locked away, for use for contributors’ housing only, it would deprive them of their Santa Claus goodie bag.

Would I turn back the clock and leave the NHT funds untouched, and the park the dusty bowl it was? No, I wouldn’t. But I certainly would favour locking away NHT funds going forward.

Having said that, we do now have a beautiful green space in the middle of the city.  Joggers and walkers frequent the park in the early morning or afternoon and evening, and friends gather to catch up, and chat. For those who think that only the New Kingston elite use the park, you need to go by and visit.

Walking in Emancipation Park
Photo by DJ Miller

The park hosts a range of free activities and concerts that draw in Jamaicans from all walks of life, especially on week-ends. (That’s the problem with projects like these, by the way – they are necessary and useful, so you can always rationalise funding them, until you drain the well dry.)

The entrance to Emancipation Park, New Kingston
Photo by DJ Miller

As I mentioned, The National Housing Trust maintains Emancipation Park which is why it has been so successful. At this stage of our (lack of) development), we probably can’t afford an Emancipation Park in every town centre, although we need one. I’m not forgetting Hope Gardens, another beautiful location, more beautiful  in its way than the manicured prettiness of Emancipation Park.  The point is, we need more such spaces. Is there a model we can look at to create more safe, green spaces with  jogging tracks, some benches, a bandstand, and some grass? Because we’re paying for not having them – paying in hospital bills and medication. Perhaps we’re paying the cost in anti-social behaviour as well.

Friends chat after exercising
Photo by DJ Miller

The research is well-known. Access to green spaces promotes mental, physical and social health. One report suggested that the “health gap” between rich and poor can be reduced by creating more green spaces.

The Tropical Medicine Research Institute at the University of the West Indies has reported that nearly half of Jamaicans have been reported as having low levels of physical activity, and are obese or overweight Many neighbourhoods are either unsafe or unpleasant to walk in. The diseases associated with these risk factors, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension are also well-known. Green spaces could be used to encourage more physical activity, but would, of course, have to be managed to ensure that they don”t become havens for drug dealers and living quarters for the homeless.

So while I will leave a detailed assessment of former Prime Minister Patterson’s legacy as a whole for another occasion, his decision to create Emancipation Park is one which I think, on the whole, was a good one.

PS  – incidentally, I also applaud and thank him for resisting the temptation to name it after himself or some other politician!

NB More photos below!!!

Catching a nap
Photo by DJ Miller
Those statues!!
Photo by DJ Miller
Photo by DJ Miller
Photo by DJ Miller
Photo by DJ Miller

No More Impossible Dreams – Obama Wins Again

Barack Obama
Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

As US President Barack Obama prepares to face everything that comes with a second term in the White House, and even as the “Why Obama Won” and “Why Romney Lost” analyses are in high gear, I think I’ll just pause and savour my own take-away from all this.

I have a memory years ago of Jesse Jackson saying that the day a black man became President of the United States there would be no more impossible dreams.

The political career of Barack Hussein Obama is the embodiment of the impossible dream.  Ten years ago, no one had heard of Barack Obama. His 2004 keynote address at the Democratic National Convention marked him as one to watch, but even then, he was only a state senator and a candidate for the US Senate.

He became one of only a handful of black people ever elected to the US Senate in 2004, and went from a barely noticed entrant

With his family by his side, Barack Obama is s...
With his family by his side, Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States by Chief Justice of the United States John G. Roberts, Jr. in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2009. More than 5,000 men and women in uniform are providing military ceremonial support to the presidential inauguration, a tradition dating back to George Washington’s 1789 inauguration. VIRIN: 090120-F-3961R-919 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

into the 2008 Presidential race to being sworn in as the first black president of the United States, in a ceremony that we all watched, in awe, around the  world.

And he has survived! Survived rank racism,  the forces of the conservative and extreme right, withstood the millions of dollars mustered to defeat him, a terrible economy which he and his administration have struggled  to mend, and endured vicious attacks on the health care reform that will forever bear his name. He fought back after a disastrous first debate which I wrote about here, which had supporters and donors worried. And after all that, he has come out on top. Again!

At this moment I am not debating his policies, successes and failures, political strategies,  or the uphill task that faces all second term Presidents ready to think about their legacies.

I’m just taking a minute to look at him and say “Wow! Really?” Maybe what we’re all trying to accomplish on much smaller stages can be done as well. It’s certainly worth a try. After all, it’s not like we’re trying to do anything hard like, you know, become elected or re-elected as the first black US President!

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