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Let's honour fallen police in a National Memorial Arboretum

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, May 19, 2017

From time to time people ask politicians to mark some tragedy or fatal heroism and nothing happens; not because of faint heart, but maybe concern about what to do and how. The recent call by the Police Federation for a monument to fallen police echoes many over decades. Today we know police are human; an officer is somebody's child. Some are rotten eggs to the same degree as in your family or society.

We can deal with national grief better, and I now reprise an idea floated in the noughties to have a permanent space to mark fallen merit in the uniformed services, local heroes and national disasters. A nation is more than the value of its currency or gross domestic product, and things which feed our spirit are important and might be better value than money in our pockets.

Our nation has not properly memorialised major, tragic events for closure, or as a factual record for posterity, but where is the national monument to victims of the Kendal crash? Bog Walk Gorge hydro tragedy or Tivoli massacre? No narrative for posterity? Do they rely on fuzzy brains or rumour? Local site markers — Kingston earthquake, Flat Bridge drownings are not enough, and a National Memorial Arboretum would organise our pain, ensure clear narratives, and enure to a gentler, respectful, fact-based nation as we view with awe the trials we have overcome.

An arboretum is curated green space with monuments, so 100 acres in Manchester would be ideal, and we may begin with five acres and raise stelae to police killed on duty before 2020. Selah.

Kingston is not Jamaica, so we should disperse our national bounty appropriately, as with our growing network of highways everywhere will soon be accessible. Truth is, if the quality of life in Kingston continues on the present trajectory we may take refuge in a safe, dignified new capital inland — civil service, residences, commerce, academies, embassies. Kingston may then be the node for offshore financial services, free zone, trade, warehousing, transport and logistics; so let's not put everything here. Manchester is central and has a climate to assure year-round viability for most cultivars. The parish is also our “green thumb”, and as we welcome millions of visitors many will put Manchester on their itinerary and help reboot this inland sleeping economic giant. If we build it they will come!

A National Memorial Arboretum Foundation should be formed to govern, acquire rare tropical trees and shrubs, and commission overall spatial planning and design. It will approve plans for monuments which may include fountains, waterfalls, tall and sunken structures, pyramids, monoliths, innovative design, and engineering. This foundation will be responsible for national and international fund-raising, bequests and sponsorship to be self-financing; links with environmental groups, arboreta abroad for technical assistance, gifts and collaborations. The financial model should include maintenance charges, income from merchandise and memorabilia and visitors to become donor members. Peeps ask what critical mass of exotica have we created since the English established the botanical gardens at Bath, St Thomas, or the Royal Botanical Gardens at Hope? Many poor people enjoy Her Majesty's provision at Hope every day, but we have not done much in Independence to create a kinder more verdant society.

The arboretum should begin with a manageable acreage, grow based on resources, and feature pure stand trees and shrubs; roads, pathways and nooks to host structures to honour the honourable. No vanity projects, please! In time it will have offices, maintenance, security, food court, memorabilia shops, and picnic area, parking; guide service, wheelchair hire, forest fire towers, safety, security and signage; rules regarding, noise, litter — the works. It will create jobs, a good visitor experience, and a reverential milieu. Imagine a family from London on a day trip, tracking down names of relatives etched in the granite of a memorial? As the collection grows, from over the island churches, students, the Diaspora will make the pilgrimage to pay respect to friends and family. Selah.

The immediate focus should be to appoint a point person and steering committee; hustle seed money from Cabinet and commercial banks; locate and designate 100 acres as a national park (we give away a lot more land to foreigners) or whatever for the arboretum; then design and create suitable access, roadways into five acres as a start. The National Memorial Arboretum needs cross-party champions in the House and Senate to pass it into law. The police also need Parliament if they are to create monuments to fallen merit. They come from and serve all over the island and deserve support. They need a bold, innovative monument to command attention as the opening act of the arboretum. Fund-raising will be a chore, but with a credible private sector face it is doable. Maybe, in the spirit of Independence, take donations from locals only as a test of the value we put on police services. Selah.

As for the arboretum, volunteer architects, engineers, designers will offer services for this once in a lifetime commission. However there should be a national competition open to all Jamaicans here and abroad to find a suitable concept; then a winnowing. Great ideas are not the preserve of the trained, so laymen must be tapped, but professionals will be the shortlist for drafting, mock up and adjudication. I have frequently lamented the absence of creativity in the design and artistic fields; noticeably, the built environment and maybe the arboretum and its flexible donor funding for monuments may inspire them to elevate the spectacular aesthetic above the mere functional. A nation is inspired by spectacle. We need inspiration!

 

Franklin Johnston, D Phil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.