Ice, ice, baby. The bucket list lengthens.

The phenomenal financial success that has come for research work to treat ALS as a result of the ice bucket challenge has been tempered in Jamaica and other countries with stretched resources by the fact that we have little water to waste. But, though we are in drought, the fact that US$41 million has been raised so far this year for the cause, compared to a mere US$2 million during the same period in 2013, is amazing.

The concern about wasting water in Jamaica is right and proper, but it is like many things where you have to think whether a greater good can be served by doing what seems to be against the right behaviour. Sure, it made little sense for a government minister to do the challenge in her office and with her computer at risk. It just looked careless: acknowledge that a bit more thought was needed there and move on.

Clearly, some people are just interested in publicity for themselves and the ALS researchers benefit from that. Of course, so-called celebrities get enormous publicity and that serves them well. But, being dunked in ice and water has led to much wider awareness of a serious problem, and raised money to fight against it.

In many senses, the challenge has gained from being first. Ironically, the challenge did not start as something in support of the ALS Foundation. Other good causes may be able to copy but the ice bucket idea is now likely to stay associated with ALS. Perhaps, the next challenge would be a cream pie in the face idea. The fact is people are being asked to do something that is personally uncomfrotable and raise money in the process. There’s no shame in not doing the challenge, because you are supposed to donate anyway. Many have taken the challenge and donated. Position and protocol have come into play. The US state department has banned diplomatic service staff from doing the challenge.

I think Jamaica can find a happy medium of supporting and being mindful of our drought. The water involved is a drop in the ocean. It’s also not a constant misuse of water. If we are going to rail against waste, then let’s show that we care about water conservation ALL the time. IMG_1441.JPG

Yes, it seems incongruous that children can be asked to take water to school to flush toilets, while we have people using water and ice to douse themselves. But, they’re not necessarily competing uses of water. Stopping the challenges won’t get water where it’s needed, because our problem is as much about distribution as it is about volume. If we could truck the water used around the island to other places, we could make a dent. But, how much water are we talking about in total? A truckful? Five? We can’t fix that by stopping the ice bucket challenge activities, in the same way it won’t be fixed by stopping people from making tea or mixing cold drinks. Yet, the benefit that comes from the icy dousing is immense.

Yes, there’s a symbolic aspect to ‘wasting’ water, and we could have salved our conscience if we heard that desalinated water were being used, or brackish or undrinkable water. Then, we could raise other issues, such as hygiene.

If we really care about waste and the environment, let it not just show up as a reaction and then revert to our wasteful and careless ways. That’s hypocritical. That’s also very Jamaican. A country famed for not planning for its inevitable and regular problems is always looking for scapegoats. It’s found a few new ones.

Downtown revival: make the rewards outstrip the risks

Digicel organized its second annual nighttime 5k run/walk in downtown Kingston this past weekend. My daughter and I were among the 7200 participants who walked or ran, after paying our J$1000 entry fee. The number of entrants was some 2000 than the year before. The money goes towards funding 11 charities through The Digicel Foundation. People love supporting good causes.

I wrote a few weeks ago about how a major challenge for Jamaica would be to get organic change happening in downtown Kingston. Digicel is a clear leader in trying to help revitalize this part of Jamaica, and it’s part of a clear corporate strategy to help its brand be associated with positive developments, which includes athletes, musicians, sports events, and more. It’s good business and it’s good for business. It’s also a good cause that needs much support.

For many people, being in the 5k gave them a chance to see what downtown Kingston is like, without having to deal with any of the usual day-to-day issues that may seem or be unpleasant. Parade was full of people at 8pm, and many of the daytime scenes were still evident, including a busload of people from country, packed like sardines, with bags in the back of the bus, on the top of the bus, with just enough space for a few passengers on the roof too.

The run through downtown should also have given some people an idea of what this part of the capital could be like. I had a discussion with a fellow participant yesterday, and we talked about how easy it was to see that rehabilitation was a better and seemingly easier option than to tear down, with so much of the basic architecture still in place and the grid structure of the area giving a certain integrity to the space.Downtown_Kingston “Gentrification” may not yet be part of the Jamaican vocabulary in terms of what is happening in its economic and social development, and it may not be a word that inspires positive reactions. However, I believe that it has to be something that is put clearly on the agenda of things to push. My partner in conversation quickly went to the fact that tax incentives may be the answer, to help defray the heavy costs that will be involved in rehabilitating such a large area.

Companies like Digicel have clearly put their money where their mouths are. So, too, have a small number of newer enterprises which are presently closely associated with middle class life styles, leisure and pleasure, such as Cannonball Cafe.

Let’s not pretend that changing the perception and face of downtown will be easy. As I wrote before, there are many tensions at work, and one of the major obstacles will be to get those who do not have much and want to obtain some of what they see those who have enjoying to accept the changes that may start working. Jobs wont come out of thin air or suddenly be plentiful. People who are making their lives on the streets, begging, hustling, making furniture, robbing, selling, etc. may find themselves under pressure to stop those activities. But, that’s their livelihood and getting out of one set of activities into another will take more than wishing, including training and repositioning of attitudes.

Those who want to venture into downtown have many things to deal with, but one of the largest blocks to move will be fear. The image is that the area is dangerous. News reports of violent crime will dominate people’s thoughts and be hard to displace. Stories of little glimmers of change and pleasant developments will be blips and not something that will alter the overwhelmingly negative impressions.

Downtown is not ‘cool’ and certainly not ‘swanky’. It’s seedy. It smells bad. It’s dirty. It’s a mess. No critical mass of things that are the opposite of those impression exists in a large space, besides the developments along Ocean Boulevard. People with money to spend wont choose to go downtown just to ‘look good’. They have little to attract them there or make them stay there after a visit to do some errands. Let’s not paint it rosy when it’s black. If, out of thin air, downtown was awash with sidewalk cafes,fromageB20130416GT nice-looking eating places and bars, sounds of soft music, and some fashionable clothes stores, then it would be clear that it had changed. But, they wont come out of thin air. The change has to come because enough people feel the ‘risks’ are going to be outweighed by the ‘rewards’.

It will be one step at a time, but it needs to happen. It’s potentially one of the better pieces of economic and social policy the country can develop. People having hope can do a lot to ward off the dangers of hopelessness.movie_kingstonparadise

Digicel opened the eyes of at least 7000 people, and I would estimate that nearly as many were there to look on and experience without too many concerns. If their target of 20,000 participants is to be realized soon, then it could be the spur that some need to try to be part of a movement that wants to put shape and heart back into the city centre. That means positioning early.

If my supposition is right, and downtown land and rental prices are under valued, that may well be what can drive the change to happen a little faster. Would a tax break help? It probably wont hurt.

The good, the bad, and the ugly (October 27)

Good

Digicel 5k run/walk for Special Needs, in downtown Kingston, at night time. The beneficiaries from the sum of J$1000 fees will be Jamaica Association of the Deaf; Jamaica Association of Intellectual Disabilities; Jamaica Society for the Blind; Jamaica Autism Support Association; Jamaica Down’s Syndrome Foundation; The Step Centre (School for Therapy Education and Parenting of children with multiple disabilities); Mustard Seed Communities; The NAZ Children’s centre; Genesis Academy; Early Stimulation Plus; and Liberty Academy. My daughter got cramp, but she’d been in a swim meet earlier in the day.

Bad

Yet another clampdown on street windscreen washers by the Jamaica Constabulary Force. Another in a long line of ‘nine day wonders’ that seem to infect Jamaican authorities. Maybe, the thought is that people have very short memories or don’t want action, but will settle for word.

Ugly

The US government spying on its allies! U.S. National Security Agency had eavesdropped on the cell phone of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and spied on other allies. Bring on James Taylor–“You’ve got a friend”.