Transforming paradise: 2 ways to revitalize Montego Bay

Just like Aruba and The Bahamas, Jamaica is a popular holiday destination in the Caribbean. When we think of these places, we immediately picture white sand, pristine beaches, Caribbean music… Do you remember the world-famous chorus of Kokomo, the 1988 number one hit song by the Beach Boys? (I strongly recommend listening to this song while reading)

Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I want to take ya

Bermuda, Bahama, come on pretty mama

Key Largo, Montego, baby why don’t we go?


However, the first time I visited Montego Bay—Jamaica’s second largest city—I found a very different city to the one praised in the Beach Boys song. I experienced a very segregated and fragmented place, where everything is clustered: the most beautiful beaches are right next to the Sangster Airport, middle-class residential areas have sprawled over the hills, and a big number of informal settlements have spread all over the city. One of the biggest slums in the city is right in the downtown area, close to Railway Lane, a very unsafe spot often avoided by most locals.

What surprised me the most is that Montego Bay’s relationship with its downtown area is almost non-existent. Middle-class citizens tend to avoid it because it is a busy, mono-functional commercial city center. There’s tons of traffic during the day but, in the absence of downtown residents, the area becomes completely dead and terribly dangerous after 6 pm. The shoreline center with its crystal clear, turquoise water—perhaps the biggest asset of the city center—is used as a parking lot, with a big fence around it and signs that tell you to stay way: “no fishing”, “no swimming”…

figure 1 mobayFigure 1: parking lots with a view. Ramón Zamora, 2014

Can you imagine what it would mean for the city if both locals and tourists could enjoy its recreational facilities, use the public beaches and actually walk into the downtown area of Montego Bay? For instance, they could enjoy the newly opened Montego Bay Cultural Centre and public spaces such as Sam Sharpe Square.

figure 2 mobayFigure 2: The proposal for the Waterfront Park Masterplan. UT Vienna, 2015

Along with a team of students from the Institute of Urban Design at the University of Technology in Vienna, we designed two key projects that aim to tackle these issues: informal housing and the city’s disconnect with the sea. Let me tell you why these projects could help change the face of Montego Bay.

A new waterfront for Montego Bay

The design for a waterfront park includes the complete transformation of the beach area by incorporating new beach facilities, such as beach-volleyball courts and bars. Due to its convenient location close to the KFC and the library, the waterfront park could be a popular meeting spot in downtown Montego Bay. The new beach facilities would be located just a few meters from this fast-food restaurant and the public library—all connected to the new 2,35 km long boardwalk—creating a space where locals and tourists can relax and mingle.

figure 3 mobay

Figure 3: How we visualize the connection with the sea. UT Vienna, 2015

The boardwalk will serve as a walkable connection between the tourist area Hip-Strip (starting at the famous Margarita Ville), the Old Hospitals Park, the newly created beach plaza and the Fisherman’s Village. The central plaza of the Park will be a multifunctional area with a hard surface, perfect for cultural events, concerts and shows. On the two ends of the plaza, bars and restaurant facilities will serve the visitors.

figure 4 mobayFigure 4: Design Principals for the Waterfront and Downtown. UT Vienna, 2015

There are 3 main principles that guided our design for the new plaza:

A – The creation of eco-corridors, to connect the historic downtown area with the newly created multifunctional plaza at the Waterfront Park. These corridors will allow visitors and locals to find their way to the new waterfront with climate friendly walkways and pedestrian friendly paths.

B – The creation of new pedestrian areas, connected to the central plaza of the new Park. They will include Safe Transit Nodes, which are special transition areas where pedestrians can safely cross the Howard Cooke Highway. These nodes need a special design with speed bumps or other speed reducing measures. Speed limit for the highway should also be reduced to 30 km/h.

C – Transformation of the city by creating a new mobility behavior, which invites locals to walk from downtown Montego Bay to the new Plaza facilities, the bars, the volleyball courts, etc. Tourists coming could also come to the area by taking a taxi from the Hip-Strip. Additionally, a public bike-share will be installed at the beach plaza so visitors and locals can explore the downtown area.

 Integral neighborhood upgrading strategy

Unfortunately, having a nice beach is not enough to solve Montego Bay’s security issues. Without a doubt, the downtown area is a very dangerous and socially neglected place. But the slums have a privileged location just a few blocks from the sea and the main square.

We recommend an integral neighborhood upgrading process that begins with an incremental housing project at Barnett and Railway Lane and includes the Gordon Market. For this purpose, we have designed a masterplan to build 419 new incremental housing units, well organized and grouped around public and semi-public areas.

figure 5 mobayFigure 5: Proposal for Incremental Housing Masterplan in Downtown Montego. UT Vienna, 2015

By incremental housing we refer to building basic homes that are designed in a way that they can grow according to family needs. Families can extend their home up to 100 % of the basic structure. Additionally, cultural and literacy programs will accompany the upgrading process.

figure 6 mobayFigure 6: Proposal for Incremental Housing Modules “my growing home”. UT Vienna, 2015

Our intention is to find adequate and multi-dimensional solutions, which have the potential to transform Montego Bay into a more livable and less informal place, and one that is socially and spatially inclusive by incorporating the beautiful shoreline into the urban fabric and capitalizing all natural assets of the city. Montego Bay is a paradise and needs little investment to be truly appreciated by all people, not only those who live there, but also those who visit this Caribbean city.

click through the report here:

Interested in this project? Download the full report here.