Portmore redevelopment plan won’t disenfranchise poor, says NEPA

THE National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has hastened to quiet fears that its proposals for the redevelopment of squatter communities in the Gregory Park, Newlands, Naggo Head and Old Braeton areas of Portmore, St Catherine, will result in the poor being “priced out” of home ownership, worsening the cycle of poverty.

The concern was one of several raised by Dr Carol Archer, professor of urban planning and public policy, University of Technology, Jamaica, following NEPA’s presentation to members of the joint select committee of Parliament deliberating the feasibility of Portmore becoming Jamaica’s 15th parish, two weeks ago.

At the time, NEPA’s Frances Blair had said the unplanned settlements in these areas should “be redeveloped at a higher density in order to provide housing and business opportunities for residents in the area”. These communities, she said, “could be redeveloped as three- and four-storey walk ups, with commercial space to encourage businesses”.

According to the NEPA official, “the use of three- and four-storey buildings would allow for more ground space to be available for the provision of amenities such as open spaces, roads, sidewalks, water and sewage lines, and fire hydrants among others”. Furthermore, she said the renewal and upgrading programme should be done on a phased basis and in conjunction with private, Government, educational and other stakeholders.

According to the Portmore Provisional Development Order, based on the limited land space available in the area, residential densities and heights should be increased to between 125 and 250 habitable rooms per hectare, and heights of between four and six floors.

Professor Archer, commenting on the proposal at the invitation of the Jamaica Observer, had said she was taken aback and concerned at the route proposed by NEPA.

“Coming out of that, my research has shown that for low-income communities it is best the lands be owned in trusts and through the concept of social enterprise where the community takes their time and redevelops. What extensive planning research has shown is that when you have what is proposed by NEPA you have what is called gentrification and the poor people are poorer — because when you have a developer coming in they are not going to put up the type of units that the average person there can afford and they are going to be priced out of the market, and you will have a continuation of the poverty scenario,” she told the Observer.

She said her surprise was compounded by the fact that NEPA was party to a study done on Naggo Head by the university through Habitat International’s Building Resilience and Capabilities for Emergency Disasters (BRACED) a few years ago, which saw several recommendations being made in this respect.

“In our instance you don’t want urban renewal to equate to poor people removal; you have to ensure that the housing solutions capture all ends of the market,” Professor Archer said.

“I am a little bit concerned with what is being proposed by NEPA and it is unfortunate that they had not referred to the work which USAID had paid us to do, which we handed over to the [National] Land Agency, and NEPA was involved in the process and we worked with them to come up with these recommendations,” she said.

But NEPA, responding to the urban planner, said to the contrary, it does not hold the view that the proposal through the Provisional Development Order for the Municipality of Portmore would result in gentrification and disenfranchise current and future residents of the municipality or any Jamaican.

“In fact, the assertions by Dr Archer are notably puzzling, given the fact that as a past deputy chairperson of the Town and Country Planning Authority and chair of its Forward Planning Committee…she was instrumental in the preparation of several parish development orders that promote increased densities and building heights at appropriate locations. The development orders also sought to address urban renewal and the revitalisation of blighted areas,” NEPA said in a prepared statement.

“Several of the approaches and guidelines for which Dr Archer had advocated were adapted to make them applicable to the Portmore municipality’s situation. These are reflected in the preparation of the provisional development order,” the agency said further.

“Residents will not be disenfranchised,” NEPA stated, adding that like Dr Archer, it is interested and invested in the community.

“It is not the intention to propose and/or promote gentrification. We reiterate the need for urban renewal to address the issues associated with unplanned settlements. Accordingly, the proposal is to redevelop the area in a manner that will not result in the displacement of residents. This is predicated on the participation and involvement of community groups and public-private partnerships in the creation of a community that is well planned, with the requisite amenities, green areas, housing mix and types, business opportunities and supporting infrastructure,” NEPA stated further.

In addition, NEPA said its plans do not in any way “preclude the process of land or home ownership for existing residents”.

“We must restate that this process is not expected to lead to gentrification. Moreover, the development model proposed will solidify home-ownership for the existing residents, making the communities more resilient, holistic and able to accommodate the existing and projected populations, thereby reducing displacement of residents, building a sense of community, leading to an improved quality of life. This will make the communities in the municipality of Portmore a flagship for Vision 2030 — the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business for its residents,” it emphasised.

Added NEPA, “Dr Archer points to a community redevelopment plan done at a smaller scale and not a municipality development order or plan which was done for the entire Portmore area.”

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