Once upon a time, just a few decades ago, downtown Kingston was the jewel in Jamaica's crown, boasting all the amenities of a modern, prosperous city. The narrow streets boasted successful businesses, majestic theatres, awe-inspiring places of worship and stately administrative buildings. Today, much of the lustre is gone, even though vestiges of those glory days still remain, some amidst ruin and decay.
Although lady Kingston is but a shadow of her former self, the city still holds the key to much of what makes Jamaica the cultural powerhouse of the Caribbean, with a national identity so strong it is recognised all over the world. Let us take a look at some of the reasons downtown is still the place to be.
The Birthplace of Jamaican Music
When you say 'Jamaican music,' many people automatically think of reggae, which is certainly the most popular genre of music to come out of the island, However, reggae evolved from its predecessors, ska and rocksteady and later gave birth to dancehall. Most of the popular names in the canon of Jamaican music were either from downtown Kingston or recorded or produced music there. These names include Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, Ken Boothe, Higgs and Wilson, Alton Ellis, Clement 'Sir Coxsone' Dodd, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, Marcia Griffiths, Rita Marley, Judy Mowatt, The Heptones, Bob Andy, John Holt, Dennis Brown, Horace Andy, Don Drummond, Lee 'Scratch' Perry, King Tubby and many more. Downtown is the home of Trench Town, an expansive community that was a migrant area for rural folks looking for a better life in the city, which gave us groups such as The Heptones and Bob Marley and the Wailers; as well as Studio One and Treasure Isle, the equivalent of Motown and Stax in the United States. Check out the following links to read more about downtown and Jamaican music:
Considering the rich musical history of the city, it is no wonder that downtown Kingston was the venue of choice to host the the free Tessanne Chin homecoming concert, in celebration of her recent victory on the American talent show The Voice.
The Cultural Mecca
In addition to being the heartbeat of Jamaica's musical history, Kingston is also a our cultural Mecca. Concomitant with the development of our music, we also saw the flourishing of the dancehall culture, as Kingston was home to several large outdoor areas where dances and sound clashes were held, called lawns. These include the Inner-city Unity Lawn and the Chocomo Lawn in west Kingston, which was a nursery for young musical talents like Dennis Brown, Slim Smith and The Techniques in the 1960s. These lawns have been largely lost, but that doesn't mean the dance won't go on. We have seen the resurgence of the street dance culture with shows such as Passa Passa, held in Tivoli Gardens and Dutty Fridayz, held in Fletcher's Land.
Back in the day, Kingston was also home to a number of theatres, including the majestic Ward Theatre, which marked its centenary in 2012. Most of these theatres are no longer in operation and have closed there doors. Despite its current state of decay, the Ward is still in the nation's consciousness as a number of supporters are determined to restore it to its glory days.
Art is also another cultural staple, and Kingston is home to a number of museums and galleries celebrating the best of Jamaica in this regards. This includes the Institute of Jamaica, which houses the National Gallery. Check out the following links for more information:
The Centre of Business and Commerce
Although Kingston and St Andrew is dotted with many commercial centres, downtown is still the hub. It is the home of the famous Coronation Market, affectionately known as 'Corrie' or 'Currie' amongst Jamaicans. The largest market in Jamaica, it is sprawled across approximately two acres of land on Pechon Street and is always teeming with thousands of vendors and shoppers from across the country, who come to the market because of the reasonable prices. Other popular commerical areas include Parade, so named because it was used to house military barracks before these were moved to Up Park Camp in the middle of the 18th century, King Street, Duke Street, Barry Street and Princess Street. Downtown Kingston is also home to several major financial institutions, including the island's central bank, the Bank of Jamaica and the Jamaica Stock Exchange. A number of other major companies also call downtown Kingston home, including GraceKennedy, our very own Gleaner Company, and telecommunications giants Digicel, which relocated from New Kingston in a bold bid to aid in the city's revitalisation. Quite fittingly, the world-class Jamaica Conference Centre, which offers a range of services and facilities suitable for local, regional and international business events, is located on the Kingston Waterfront as well.
Check out these links for more information:
A Place of History
Downtown Kingston is a place of history. It was founded in 1692 after an earthquake devastated Port Royal, which was the virtual capital of Jamaica in the 17th century. The survivors moved to what is now Kingston and were able to plan a new city from scratch. It was laid out in a grid pattern, which remains today and makes it very easy to get around, especially in the downtown area. It became the capital in 1872, and considerable rebuilding was needed after an earthquake and fire on 14 January 1907 that killed almost 1,500 people.
The city is dotted with a number of buildings bearing witness to Jamaica's bygone eras, including churches that are still used, former homes now used as commercial property or government offices and the abandoned railway station. Across the Kingston Harbour – which just happens to be the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, there are a number of forts in Port Royal that harken back to the days when the British and Spanish fought over the island. Check out the following links to find out more about some of the history of Kingston:
Plans have been afoot for a number of years to restore downtown Kingston to its former glory. This charge is being led by the Urban Development Commission, currently headed by KD Knight. He announced plans to adopt a plan implemented in Costa Rica that improved the capital city one street at a time. Of course, infrastructural renovations must be accompanied by social development, and the UDC budgetted $200 million on social intervention programmes in downtown Kingston in 2012.
UDC's initial development plan for downtown Kingston include:
- A multimodal transportation hub
- A festival marketplace and waterfront promenade
- The Kingston business centre
- A 200-room five-star hotel and conference centre
- New Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade headquarters
- West Kingston market district
- Railway museum and trade centre
- City centre park
- Ward Theatre cultural square
- A new parliament building
- Justice Square
The programme is being implemented in four phases:
- Phase 1 – Multimodal transport centre, city centre park and market district
- Phase 2 – Festival marketplace, 200-room hotel and conference centre, foreign-affairs headquarters and diplomatic district and parliament building;
- Phase 3 – Justice Square and Ward Theatre Square
- Phase 4 – Railway museum and trade centre
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