UWI, MONA redevelopment project seeking to transform the Mona Commons squatter settlement
THE UWI, MONA Redevelopment Project is seeking to improve the living conditions of the approximately 900 residents in the Mona Commons informal settlement, adjacent to The University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI) in Papine, St Andrew.
Dr Olivene Burke, Executive Director of the Mona Social Services (MSS) - UWI Township Programme, was mandated since 2012 by former UWI, Mona Principal Professor Gordon Shirley, and later by current Pro-Vice Chancellor and UWI, Mona Principal Professor Archibald McDonald, to examine the possibility of redeveloping and transforming Mona Commons from a squatter settlement to a formal community.
Burke, along with her team of researchers Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee (Mona GeoInformatics Institute), Tarik Weekes (MSS), Dr Orville Beckford and Aldene Shillingford (Social Work Unit, Faculty of Psychology, Sociology and Social Work), have structured a development plan for the settlement based on studies conducted by the MSS in 2013 and 2015.
The study revealed numerous problems, including the perennial one involving vendors who encroach on the roadway obstructing traffic flow in the vicinity of the hospital.
“This situation compromises the lives of people in need of emergency care at the UHWI as ambulance and security vehicles lack freedom of movement on Sir John Golding Avenue,” Burke said.
“The commercial activity on the sidewalks forces pedestrians to walk on the roadway which presents further hindrance for the quick-moving vehicles. This situation, coupled with the increasing health threats faced by the institutions and communities within the vicinity of the squatter settlement, triggered The UWI’s response to understanding how to change the settlement to a community and ultimately the lives of the residents,” Burke noted.
In addition, she pointed out that because the settlement did not have access to proper sewerage infrastructure, human waste was not being pumped into a system. “This can trigger the spread of communicable diseases. Coupled with this, water supply is inadequate and largely unmetered, and there is limited access by garbage and fire trucks,” she added.
In addition, like most informal settlements, Mona Commons was plagued by crime and of violence,
To address these problems, on January 8, 2014, The UWI was granted a lease on the Mona Commons land for 99 years by the Commissioner of Lands. This lease paved the way for The UWI to broaden talks with relevant stakeholders on the transformation of the settlement to a formal community. Between August and December 2014 and since 2016, talks were held on the redevelopment of the area with the Inter-American Development Bank; CHASE Fund; Office of the Prime Minister; then Minister of Transport, Works and Housing, Dr Omar Davies; Planning Institute of Jamaica; Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation; National Housing Trust; The World Bank; Papine Development Area Committee (PDAC); Mona Commons Steering Committee; St Thomas Aquinas Church; Golding Circle Citizens Association; United Theological College of the West Indies; and the Jamaica Public Service Company.
“The demographics and the face of the community have not changed in over 40 years,” Burke remarked. “We are taking the research approach to transform the settlement into a model community. It is a squatter settlement now but we want to upgrade the poor housing quality that exists presently into houses,” Burke said.
However, Burke recognises that in order to transform the community, the mindset of the residents has to change. “We need to work with the people to transform not just the infrastructure, but also the social aspect of the community.
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“Our approach to the development is two-pronged. We plan to incorporate a social programme alongside a physical/infrastructural development programme. For the physical/infrastructural development, we have engaged an architectural team that is working on the preliminary design of the community, a team of surveyors are involved, and engineers have been examining the soil type. While that is being done, we are complementarily working on changing the minds and behaviour of residents,” Burke said.
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She added: “There have been programmes like this done in similar environments, but these met with limited success because the residents were not socialised in how to treat with the new environment in which they were placed. This is important, as at the end of the day, they will own it.”
Burke hopes that within three years the project will be finalised. “We will be developing on a phased basis – developing while the residents are there – building structures and moving some residents to other places in the community,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Redevelopment Project has instituted some social changes. Five students from the squatter community were awarded UWI Township tuition fee scholarships, valued at approximately $5m, to attend The UWI full-time. A parenting and literacy programme has also been established, and a Back-to-School Treat and Health Fair were held in collaboration with the Lion’s Club of Mona and The UWI Guild of Students. Additionally, infrastructural improvement were made to the Mona Commons Basic School (located in the squatter settlement), in collaboration with The UWI’s Office of Student Services and Development, the Florida State University and the University of Tennessee.