Wed | Jun 19, 2024

Patricia Green | Resurrection of development sector

Published:Sunday | April 14, 2024 | 12:05 AM

People walk past a building, seen partially collapsed, two days after a powerful earthquake struck the city, in Hualien City, eastern Taiwan, Friday, April 5.
People walk past a building, seen partially collapsed, two days after a powerful earthquake struck the city, in Hualien City, eastern Taiwan, Friday, April 5.

“There was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it … Do not be afraid … He is not here; for He is risen,” wrote Matthew in Chapter 28. So, what should be expected in this season?

Hualien city on the island of Taiwan woke up on April 3 to being the epicentre of a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. BBC headline, April 4, ‘Taiwan earthquake: The mountain “rained rocks like bullets” – survivor,’ stating, thankfully, nine fatalities with more than 1,000 persons injured. High-rise buildings toppled, subways were damaged, and monorail tracks dislocated. There have been over 200 aftershocks, dozens of which were at least 6.5 magnitude or more. The island of Jamaica sits likewise on earthquake fault lines.

I presented at an international webinar in November 2023 alongside a Colombian conservation architect who shared about the historic fort and its environs in Cartagena, Colombia, that is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Now, this fort is very important to me because I claim it as part of Jamaican heritage after unearthing its genesis while researching at the Archivo de Indias in Seville, Spain.

Between 1655 and 1657, Dutch engineer Roberto Caer was engaged by the English to design fortifications at Port Royal in Jamaica. Caer was seized by the Spaniards as a part of espionage tactics to give them information on Jamaican fortification systems to advance their efforts to regain Jamaica after its English capture in 1655. As a Spanish prisoner, Caer duplicated his sketches, which were sent to Spain by the Governor of Cartagena, don Pedro Zapata. Subsequently, Zapata commissioned Caer as engineer to execute in 1657 the fort at Cartagena, Castillo San Felipe de Barajas. Port Royal had six forts, five of which sank into the Harbour along with two-thirds of the town during the June 7, 1692, earthquake.

At that webinar, we were told about a ‘Miami-styled’ development project that encroached and negatively impacted this Cartagena heritage site. In amazement, I read in the February 29 Latin American Post, ‘Colombia’s Aquarela Building to be Demolished to Protect San Felipe de Barajas Castle,’ “… the Aquarela project envisioned as five sleek 32-storey towers was met with excitement and controversy from the very beginning …”. Ito was launched in 2017, promising luxurious beachfront apartments with breath-taking views of the Caribbean Sea. The Aquarela building served as a cautionary tale for future developments in Cartagena and other historically rich cities, announced the Latin American Post, “… it underscores the importance of balancing economic growth and cultural preservation …”, and that this action hopes the city of Cartagena may learn to implement stricter regulations, prioritise sustainable development, and protect its historical and cultural treasures.

On April 2 El Universal wrote: ‘Attention: District takes possession of the Aquarela construction company’s office,’ where the “… Urban Control of the Mayor’s Office of Cartagena seized the assets … to safeguard the rights of buyers …”. Cartagena’s mayoral office designated a special agent to manage the construction company to ensure they return the money invested by “… the people they scammed with the project sales in 2017 …”. This news is even more astonishing than the building demolition.

On July 24, 1991, late South African leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Nelson Mandela visited Jamaica with his then wife Winnie Mandela, and I was in the park at Half Way Tree to greet him along with hordes of Jamaicans. We were celebrating his release after spending 27 years in prison since around the time of Jamaica gaining Independence in 1962. After release, Mandela became the first black president, heralding the dismantling of the apartheid system. Sadly, the headlines in Africa News on April 1 read ‘South Africa: Former president Jacob Zuma is barred from running in elections.’ Zuma, formerly of the ANC party and the third in a line of black presidents succeeding Mandela, is challenging investigations “… about wide-ranging allegations of corruption during his rule …”. Resonating in tandem is another senior ANC leader, South African Speaker of Parliament Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakul and former defence minister, who made the headlines in Bloomberg April 2 ‘South African Speaker of Parliament Loses Bid to Stop Arrest.’ She lost a court appeal to prevent the authorities detaining her over allegations of corruption, hence she now faces arrest.

After what Christians call ‘Resurrection Sunday,’ this 2024 Easter has been filled with global earth-shattering happenings, including corruption by government officials to bring about of justice in the face of urban development offences and political misconduct. Some earthquake devastation in Taiwan according to CNN headlines April 5, ‘Taiwan shaken but unbowed as biggest quake in 25 years spotlights preparedness – and lessons learned,’ appear to have stemmed from “… corruption in the construction industry, the lack of building regulations …”.

At the same time of the Cartagena high-rise building demolition, came the results in Jamaica of the February 26 local government elections. The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) won seven local authorities, and the People’s National Party (PNP) gained six, including Portmore Municipality. The fourteenth, Kingston and St Andrew, resulted in a tie, with the office of mayor shifting to control by the PNP, with the JLP assuming the position of deputy mayor. What does this augur for the Kingston and St Andrew Municipal Corporation (KSAMC) amid pending investigations and judicial rulings across the Kingston and St Andrew area? I have noticed that since these elections, certain notices for proposed developments have been removed from some properties.

Are we about to see a new KSAMC that honours the 2018 Building Act, including Section 44 “Stop Orders” and Section 45 “Enforcements” including demolitions, even over breaches that like Cartagena, date back to 2017? What sort of compensation measures will this new KSAMC be enabling, especially towards impacted citizens in widespread neighbourhoods affected by development misconducts?

April 1 Gleaner editorial ‘Tackling urban renewal’ stated “… It is not that the Government has no programme for urban renewal … community owners can contribute existing properties and sweat equity. Areas for renewal can be rolled out on a phased basis but must be sufficiently large for it to be clear that something has changed …”.

Jamaica has just experienced its own shaking. We recognise new leadership changes at the National Environment and Planning Agency with the appointment of Leonard Francis as chief executive officer, a man of impeccable credentials, to work alongside the new municipal authorities. This should produce the kind of results that development has been crying out for. Let the Easter proclamation told in Matthew become evident to all regardless of any affiliation or faith belief.

n Patricia Green, PhD, a registered architect and conservationist, is an independent scholar and advocate for the built and natural environment. Send feedback to patgreen2008@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com