Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Creating Safe, Inclusive and Sustainable Living Conditions

“A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things”- Barack Obama.
Successive governments over the years have failed miserably in many areas of governance, particularly in the aspect of social justice. Social justice is defined by Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006 as “promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity. It exits when all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources”.  Injustice comes in various forms and guise which makes it difficult to recognize and address at times.  The unplanned re-structuring of many residential communities due to commercialization is one of many forms of social injustices which require urgent attention. The Jamaican society like all societies has layers of stratification. The society is divided along social classes’ and sadly, we have turned a blind eye to those of influence and wealth who are responsible for transforming the peaceful nature of numerous neighbourhoods into areas of distress. We all seek peace and happiness as human beings. In fact Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs speaks to Self- Transcendence. According to Maslow self-transcendence are life-altering peak experiences, such as love, understanding and happiness which are at the pinnacle of the human experience and of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Undoubtedly, there should be a sense of happiness in one’s home and by extension in one’s community. However, this happiness which we all seek needs the protection of the State by way of legislation and then by enforcement. This is especially true for the economically disadvantaged and most vulnerable in the society. The issue of town planning and development has never been taken seriously in the society as we have allowed the interference of politics to dictate when and where the laws regarding zoning should be applied. However, all is not lost and we now need to move towards a culture of engendering a platform of social development in which the people are at the centre of development. Any society which places a high premium on social development will reap the benefits of the United Nation Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), especially goal number 11 which speaks to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. In recent times there has been the proliferation of junk yards all over the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA). This practice clearly needs the urgent attention from the authorities, such as, the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC) as well as the local government ministry. There seems to be classism at play surrounding this practice as the operators of such businesses cannot conduct such trade in their high-class communities in which they live. Social development is integral in building safer and inclusive communities. We need to realize that citizens and the way they interact in society should be allowed contribute in shaping policy for a better society. We cannot overemphasize that positive spins off for the advancement toward an inclusive society, this implies that individuals treat each other in a fair and just manner whether in the family, workplace or in any other setting where people operate. We need to cultivate a culture of social cohesiveness in which the voices and concerns of the most vulnerable are listened to and are just as important as those who are of influence and affluence. Unfortunately, a significant number of our communities are no longer safe due to urban decay, crime and violence as well as ad hoc planning policies which have serve to scare away many middle class families. The question of whether or not Jamaica still has a middle class is pretty much debatable. The need to engender ways of making our cities and communities safe again is now. We have seen the negatives of policies which are implemented to serve a specific section of the society, instead of crafted to uplift the masses. The time is right for a paradigm shift to embrace social responsibility and accountability. Such a collective embrace will enables us as a people to look out for each other. One might ask where the nation’s sense of social responsibility and accountability was when Nicholas Francis a third form student was stabbed to death and thrown off a bus while heading home. However, we should learn from the experiences of the past and put measures in place so as not to repeat such sadness that his untimely death has caused. We need to rekindle our passion for civic activism in order to facilitate greater citizen participation and involvement in public policies, decisions and discourse. Most of us are quite familiar with the Jamaican proverb, “di same knife dat stick goat stick sheep”. We need to move towards creating a just and fair society where regardless of gender, sexuality, religious affiliation, socioeconomic background, age, disability or any other social indicator there is a sense of belonging for all. We are going to require more than just talk in order to achieve social justice for every member of the society. As a society we have sacrificed a lot over the recent past.  The quality of our lives is just as important as life itself. Most of us agree that much more needs to be done to improve the quality of our lives. The time to reclaim our society is now. In the words of Elie Wiesel “we must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented”.