Using excerpts from the book ‘Going Crazy in the City: Neighbourhood Context and Mental Health’, this blog reflects on depreciated community environments which have increased the social and economic in-securities for Jamaicans. It considers the relevance of agency to community development, recognizing the need to bridge the inequities in agency to facilitate more creative responses for sustainable development. The book uses vignettes to provide insights into the lived experiences of Jamaicans of diverse socioeconomic and political backgrounds, living in ‘Bottom River’ [an informal/squatter settlement], ‘Middle Ground’ [a middle-income community], ‘Hill Drive’ [an affluent community] and ‘Country Road’ [a rural community].
“…The residents of Bottom River were a proactive and resourceful set. With no legal access to electricity and in dire need of this modern convenience, the young at heart wasted no time in constructing what seemed like a practical plan to acquire this urgently needed resource. They obtained reams of left over wire from a construction site and attached them to the light pole which ran closest to their community. The wires spun out in a pattern much like the network of arteries and veins in the human body. In some spaces it resembled a colourful and intricately designed spider web. Bottom River had a special communication system, like a morse code to alert members when the authorities or strange faces were seen on the fringes of the settlement…” (pg 59).
Community Action and Agency
With depreciating physical environments occurring across the landscape from Bottom River to Middle Ground, all the way to Hill Drive, an important question to ask is ‘Have residents taken the necessary action to improve their environments and if not, why not?’ How much is this wrapped up in access to resources, power or status? One answer may lie in the concept of agency. Agency is an expression of individual power to take action on a matter of importance in a given set of circumstances. Hill Drive residents made efforts to garner resources to repair roads, etc. through their access to the corridors of political power. Beverly and Tina recognized their inability to change their environment in Bottom River. Hence their move to Hill Drive, spurred by the need to reside in an environment perceived as safe and one in which Jahmal would more likely be exposed to positive influences which could have a lifelong impact. But what of Bottom River and the residents who had to remain there? What would their outcomes be over their life course? Persons like Carlyle, Ms. Esmie, Joan and Mama are forced to accept their conditions and make decisions (e.g. purchasing a new car) which may not be in their best interest long-term. Their lack of control over their environment and inability to change their living circumstances could undoubtedly have a long-term negative impact on them and their families.
Some critical questions for consideration are:
- How can residents of all communities be afforded agency?
- What are the forces that will propel them to demand and/or institute the changes they deem necessary to preserve their health and well-being?
- What support is needed to realize this potential and where are the sources of such support available?” (pg 122)
A sense of local agency is integral to the functioning of a community. The empowerment of citizens through training and other social development programmes brings life to a community and gives a voice to its people. State/citizen and non-state partnerships are needed to address challenges of urban blight and the accompanying social decay. Such multi-sectoral collaboration can best offer creative prospects for a more integrated, de-politicized and sustainable approach to community development.
Written by Dr Jasneth Mullings
Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Jamaica
17 January 2018
Excerpts from the book ‘Going Crazy in the City: Neighbourhood Context and Mental Health‘ (2017).
Authors: Jasneth Mullings with Rainford Wilks, The University of the West Indies, Mona
Arawak Publications Arawak publications |Publisher & Publishing Consultants.
Jasneth Mullings is currently assigned to the Health Research Resource Unit, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI Mona as an Epidemiologist/Research Scientist, where she is supporting the Faculty s research programme. Her research spans community health and health systems research and interventions. Rainford Wilks, is founding Professor of Epidemiology and founding former Director of the Epidemiology Research Unit (ERU), TMRI, UWI. His clinical, research and teaching interests are in the chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), primarily in cardiovascular diseases, and their risk factors.
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