A Home for the Creative Class
Back in the early 1990's I was living in New Jersey, and happened to take a trip down to Asbury Park.
I remember being amazed. The city had all the infrastructure I had seen in other East Coast coastal cities -- wide roads with lots of parking, movie theaters, shops, a beautiful boardwalk, recreation areas, a convention center, amusement rides.
Only one thing was missing -- people.
Back then, Asbury Park was a ghost town, courtesy of the white flight that took placee after race riots that lasted several days back in 1970. As a newcomer, I could not understand what could have happened to turn what was obviously a thriving community ubto a shell. I remember saying to myself -- imagine if Ocho Rios had half of this infrastructure...
Well, the good news is that Asbury Park is on the rise again -- which is a scene that has replayed itself in many major cities across the US, including Hoboken, Brooklyn Heights and New Brunswick. Cities that looked like a bomb hit them are being renovated and re-gentrified into upscale neighborhoods with closed off streets to facilitate pedestrian traffic, cute storefronts, outdoor cafes, etc.
These are prime locations for the creative class in the U.S., for whom concentration of talent turns out to be very important. The reasons are simple: members of the Creative Class like to live near lots of other members of the Creative Class. They tend to congregate in cities away from the traffic, sprawl and malls of suburbia.
I can imagine a new home for the Creative Class of Kingston -- Downtown.
Our downtown must be one of the few cities in which no-one will pay a premium to live on the water-front (although I hear that there are a hardy few.) The view of Kingston Harbour from the waterfront is exceptional, and the cool breeze that comes off the harbour is wonderful.
If the creative class were ever to move into our downtown in numbers, the place would be transformed from a place that looks like a bomb hit it, to a creative epicenter, the likes of which does not exist in the island (although I did read about an artist's colony in St. Mary.) It has all the right elements -- walking access to art, theater and other cultural atractions. It has the best meeting space in Kingston, in the form of the Jamaica Conference Centre. Also, it is a mere 20 minutes away from the airport via a major, new road.
And, of course, it has crime. (I should say CRIME.)
And that trumps everything else.
For the creative class to flourish, one of the requirements is that life be relatively stress-free,and that people have the freedom to move about without fear. Also, the environment must be a tolerant one, as the creative class tends to include a higher percentage of "bohemians" (like a Mutabaruka) and gays.
We are a long way from all that.
Yet, if there is a way to spur to growth of our economy, this would be it -- through the encouragement of creatives who spur the innvations that generate new business.
In either case, I predict that there is some developer somewhere who is eyeing downtown with the idea of somehow creativing a safe enough enclave that would be commercially viable. Will it take five years, or ten years?
Who knows? But when it happens, I am sure that our fledgling creative class will view this development with some hope.