Backawall was a former settlement located in West Kingston, which used to be referred to as the worst slum in the Caribbean. It was a haven for criminals and the crime rate was high, and there was no social infrastructure to speak of. Residents lived in old cars, cardboard shacks and wooden lean-tos.
Tivoli Gardens Emerged From The Demolition Of Bakawall
Tivoli Gardens was developed in West Kingston, Jamaica, between 1963 and 1965 by demolishing and redeveloping the area of the Rastafarian settlement Back-O-Wall. It was notorious in the 1950s as the worst slum in the Caribbean area, where “three communal standpipes and two public bathrooms served a population of well over 5,000 people.”
Because its people were poor and lacked political power, West Kingston had been the site for many institutional and undesirable projects, some of which were hazardous to the environment. According to Desmond McKenzie, a senator from West Kingston, the area contained:
“the largest dump at Bumper Hall, on lands where St Andrew Technical High School is now situated; the abattoir which is still there; the largest sewage treatment plant; the largest public cemetery in the English-speaking Caribbean – the May Pen Cemetery; the morgue at that time; the two largest maternity and public hospitals in the English-speaking Caribbean – the Victoria Jubilee and Kingston Public hospitals; the Blood Bank; the largest market in the English-speaking Caribbean – the Coronation Market, and also 99 per cent of all the markets within the Corporate Area.” He continued, “It is also the site of 99 1/3 of all the funeral parlours in the Corporate Area; the oil refinery is situated in West Kingston; the Jamaica Railway Corporation is situated in West Kingston; the JOS bus depot at that time; it is today the site of the largest power plant – Hunts Bay.”
Edward Seaga entered the community in 1961. From the beginning, he encouraged youth to get training and education. In 1963 he was elected to office representing the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), and was appointed as minister of development. He has never lost an election since. He facilitated redevelopment of the area as Tivoli Gardens. In the process, some observers said that many supporters of the People’s National Party (PNP) were displaced by those supporting the Labour Party. McKenzie noted that people had to be able to buy some of the new houses. The new development was named after a theatre, which was later renamed as the Queen’s Theatre. It was considered a model of community development, especially after the construction of a large community centre in the 1980s, which held such activities as a training centre for a range of skills, a sports field, a library, a base for the Tivoli Steel Band, and other facilities. Seaga also ensured that more schools were constructed in the area.
Because of problems with persistent poverty and the development of wide scale, international drug trafficking, particularly between Jamaica and the United States, Tivoli Gardens at the turn of the twenty-first century became the scene of repeated confrontations between gunmen and security forces in 1997, 2001, 2005, 2008 and during the 2010 Kingston unrest. The latest was associated with a manhunt for Christopher Coke, a drug Crime boss, and head of the Shower Posse, who lived in Tivoli Gardens. After his capture, he was extradited to the United States (US) in 2010 on drug charges.