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.
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.)
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.
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!!!