A dear Greek friend of mine once explained that unfinished buildings are a common sight in Greece, because the Greeks build what they need today and leave the rest of the building unfinished for the future. It may seem that the Greeks are constantly building houses–and they are.
Our road ‘furniture‘ is often one of the things that is glaring because of its incompleteness. It strikes me every time I am driving around Jamaica that someone is always waiting to finish a job. I know, in some cases, both public and private, that funds have run out. I also know that there’s a tendency for jobs to fall through cracks. Currently, a large amount of road construction is going on in and around the Kingston Corporate Area, and that explains some piles of debris or the state of unfinished work, such as pylons without lights, or bollards awaiting movement to a permanent position. But, going west towards Spanish Town, at the junction with the road from Portmore, why does the newly constructed island that funnels traffic still have old concrete poles crumbled in the centre? Could it be that it will be the base of a future concrete base?
In general, the country doesn’t seem taken aback by the lack of aesthetic appeal this kind of situation gives. I often comment that, when one passes anywhere that has had some landscaping say on a median it looks like no one contracted people to maintain the areas. This seems more apparent when the country goes through its periodic sprucing up ahead of some major holiday or when certain foreign dignitaries are due to visit. There are few places in Jamaica where you get the feel of nicely ‘manicured’ and maintained for any significant stretch; instead, we have what Jamaicans call a Chaka-Chaka (very bad quality, disorganized, a big mess, poor quality) appearance. We rarely get the impression that thought has been given to the overall appeal of a structure that has a nice look all around. Climate plays its part, but not as much as lack of planning for that final look. Why should we have roadways that look like the image below taken in Savanna-la-Mar (photo credits Jamaica Gleaner)?
Not everywhere needs to be perfectly contoured as in the picture below of Charlotte, NC, but you can appreciate, I hope the difference in the impression you get.
Here’s an example that struck me yesterday as I drove to Mandeville from Kingston and back. Look at road edgings. It seems as if everyone had been given a blog of concrete and told to make some border along the side of the road, because I’ve rarely seen so much irregularity in a piece of road work. By contrast, you may find a few areas that are both uniform and smoothly finished.
Given that these are the results of public works, whether or not done by public agencies or private contractors, they suggest to us how much or little government appears to care.
Contrast that to the many houses that have been started then stopped unfinished.
Many of these reflect over-ambition, to give a generous interpretation, or like the Greeks, building what one can today, hoping to finish someday. Some reflect the results of crooked contractors who ‘ate’ the funds and left the property owner licking his/her wounds. Whether these homes get taken over by squatters, are repossessed by financiers, remain as unfinished eyesores (and there are many in so-called upscale communities), leaves a sour taste as regards national image. Few such unfinished structures can be obliterated by the sight of spanking new homes of any style or size. If we cast our eyes on many of our hills, or along many gullies, we also see the ‘shanty’ buildings that have become the norm for many communities. Yes, they have ‘solved’ the housing problems for some and left the rest of the society to deal with it, in terms of sanity, service provisions, inadequateness in terms of building codes, and the probable weaknesses if affected by hurricanes or earthquakes or flooding.
But, how much do we care?
We can’t take pride and ‘sell’ the beauty of our natural landscape and have it offset for most eyes to see by the poor condition of man-made landscapes.
Jamaica, land we love, has to really start to take on true meaning.