Spring is almost here, but patch and mend is not transformation

I spent a week in London with my eldest daughter, who was born there, and we both like to renew contacts especially during the football season. So, a trip in February or early March works well for both of us. It’s not the time that naturally attracts Caribbean people to Europe; in fact, the traffic is normally flowing more in the opposition direction. Enter ECON101: fares to Europe are lower than usual. Deal!

I love seeing London change and the city I knew as a boy is barely recognizable, but much of the core can never go away in the matter of a few years. One of the best views I had, from atop 20 Fenchurch Street and its Sky Garden, showed me the London I knew was being overtaken by a London I do not know. St. Paul’s Cathedral dates from the 17th century, part of the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire in 1666. But, the city retains as much beauty as a massive urban space can. So, London is being transformed, and that’s because BIG things are always happening to top off the many little things that are always going on.

Big things are not all about physical changes. One of the bigger things is a means of travelling on most modes of transport using a single electronic ticket. Gone are the days when one needs to pay a fare on a bus, then on The Tube, then on a train; one Oyster card can be used to travel on all three and maybe for a fare that acknowledges (because of the time stamps) that you are making a single journey, so are not gouged for a series of single trips. London was always a better-than-average city to navigate by public transport, but now it’s much easier both in terms of fares and connections. Another big thing is that the city and its many administrative parts work together well to minimize the inconvenience that all the new building involves. For example, it’s great to see an electronic sign that warns people of upcoming roadworks and offers alternative routes. So, these things are important because they impact on how people behave.

I came back to Jamaica at the weekend and found that it had changed a little over the few days I had been away. Changes in Jamaica can be subtle, and the ones I noticed were typically so. It was a tad warmer at night, and even when I landed at 9pm on my delayed flight temperatures were still in the high 20sC. Within a day I saw the other change: it looked like rain had been much less and the lush green was already beginning to take on a brownish tinge, not necessarily signaling drought but reminding us that a long dry spell may be on the cards. But, the other change I noted was on the roads. We were into the period of patching and mending.

Many people in Jamaica live in areas where potholes in roads are the norm. They also know that each year these get filled with marl and then a thin layer of asphalt, leaving them ripe for the rains that are expected during hurricane season to wash away these ‘repairs’ and reopen holes and start again the process of pothole-creation. As my wife would say “Who does that?!” Though she often does not wait for an answer, I’ll chime in “Jamaicans do…All the time.”

So, for a few weeks the general level of disappointment and dissatisfaction will fall and the sense of well-being that comes from a series of bump-free rides on our regular routes will leave many of us thankful that our prayers have been answered, or our MPs and councillors had managed to find favour and funds to ease our burdens a little. Now, that sort of repair does nothing for people like my aunt in St. Mary who lives in an area where water washed away the road from before I was born and the replacement is still on lay-away. For people like her, patch and mend can’t happen as there’s nothing to patch or mend.

So, we come back to to that age-old Jamaican problem. We inflict little changes that are like a handful of sweeties that make the mouth feel good for a few moments, but really do nothing to fill the belly and ensure that we are strong enough to do more that hanker for another paradise plum the next day. In a few words, we struggle with transformation.

Now, I can understand that. We are a conservative people, so change is something that holds more than a little fear for many. But, our politicians–renowned for talking big and loud–have been muttering and uttering the T word for a while. Yet…

London has potholes. But has decided to address the problem in … ways. For instance, there is a government portal for reporting them by post code, https://www.gov.uk/report-pothole; but there is also a private website for reporting them, claiming for damage and sharing stories, https://www.potholes.co.uk. Those are empowering developments, and speak to the notion that part of being a citizen is to ensure that elected representatives do not just keep spouting BS and doing little, but if they do to mobilize other means of getting action underway. Put differently, the UK has decided to treat potholes for what they are: not a local inconvenience but part of a national problem and to which national solutions need to be applied. That’s how to make progress on transformation.

Jamaica’s patch and mend strategy and mentality are part of what I see as typical in a divide and rule approach to many things–play each side off against the middle. But, as should be obvious, all that does is kick the problems down the road. Roads need to be rebuilt literally from bottom to top and until that’s done, then…

The approach to road repairs is but a mere metaphor, though, and all one need do is to look at the problems we have aplenty in Jamaica and try to see if and when the approach to them has been any different. Progress can only be made if steps forward take you to a new place further away from where you start; it is not possible, if you keep going backwards beyond the place where you started. Look around and tell me where you see forward ever, backward never. I rest.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)

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