Portmore, Saint Catherine Parish, Jamaica
Portmore is one of the island's most densely populated zones. The fast-developing "Sunshine Community" has, within the past three decades, successfully provided home ownership opportunities for many Jamaicans. The early communities of Waterford, Gregory Park, Edgewater and Bridgeport have now been joined by the largest housing development project in the country's history, the Greater Portmore Development Scheme. Educational, Health, and Commercial facilities now render the area almost self-sufficient, but the corporate area's dormitory community is still connected to the capital by the heavily trafficked Causeway Bridge. Created to relieve the extreme housing pressures of Kingston's population, most of Portmore was built on the low-lying swampland of south St. Catherine that was dredged and filled. The community began to explode with the construction of the Causeway, a roadway built on a sliver of land separating Hunt's Bay from the Kingston Harbour that provided a direct connection between downtown Kingston and the new housing schemes. Today, Portmore houses the majority of the city of Kingston's labor force, a young neighborhood demographically, but in many ways a blending of new and old. To the south of the housing schemes is Port Henderson, one of the oldest ports on the island, which once served as the main landing point for passengers destined for Spanish Town. Port Henderson at the time also shared a reasonable segment of the area's commercial activity, but today is no longer used as a shipping port. There are a few buildings in that area which represent the island's architectural heritage, the old Water Police Station, which now houses Rodney's Arms Restaurant, the Two Sisters twin cottages, the Chapel, Rodney's Lookout, and Grass Piece Lookout. Even before Spanish and English colonial occupation, however, the first Jamaicans, the Taino, inhabited the Portmore area. On the fringes of Portmore, several valuable collections of Taino artefacts have been recovered, and there are two small museums dedicated to displaying these valuable pieces of the past: one at White Marl, a small community to the north of Portmore, and the other by Two Sisters Cave in the Hellshire Hills.
In many ways, the Portmore community reflects the aspirations and the achievements of the majority of middle-class Jamaicans. When the first communities were being created in the 1960s, the spirit of Independence defined many of the plans of the time, and the ethos behind the township was that of a planned, suburban community with the capacity for individualism and community growth. This ethos was reflected in the naming of some of the older housing schemes, names such as Independence City and Garveymeade (after the ardent advocate of Black sovereignty and self-determination, Marcus Garvey) hint at the ideas behind the planning. The houses themselves were deliberately built in a way that allowed homeowners to make additions or to add their own personal tastes onto the basic units provided. Intended mainly to house low-income workers, the schemes allowed many people who would otherwise not be able to afford a home the opportunity to work and pay for their own land over time. With a small down payment, a family would acquire a unit, and as they saved and earned more money, build or expand the house to suit their needs. That aspect of Portmore's development has remained consistent through the years, and today one of the most distinctive features of Portmore is the uniqueness of each house, each street, and each neighborhood.
The Portmore Mall is the largest shopping center in the English-speaking Caribbean. Built to serve the needs of the blossoming Portmore community, the centre has over 100 shops, a movie theater, a large food court and a variety of services available. On the weekends, the mall comes alive when hundreds of people from Portmore, especially teenagers, throng to the mall to shop, eat or just lyme.
One of the best ways to learn about Jamaican people is to drive around the various communities in Portmore and to look at the alterations that people have made to their houses. Jamaicans take pride in their homes, and regard their dwellings as their castles. Nowhere is this more evident than in Portmore, where some people have truly exercised creativity in converting small units into towering mansions, and where each house is a somewhat work of art, assiduously created and meticulously maintained.