JIS News

Associate Professor at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Canada, Dr. Donovan Plumb, has suggested the learning city concept as a way to enhance the capacities of citizens in developing countries, such as Jamaica, to deal with critical issues, including uncontrolled urban growth, poverty, and preserving the vitality of the rural areas.
The learning city concept seeks to mobilize sectoral resources in locales where they exist, to develop and enrich the human potential for fostering personal growth, maintaining social cohesion, and creating prosperity.
Speaking at the Jamaica Council for Adult Education (JACAE) Learning City Conference, at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on March 17, Professor Plumb said a report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has revealed that by the end of 2008, more than half of the world’s population – totalling some 3.3 billion people – are expected to be living in towns and cities.
“And as (well known) geographer, Mike Davis says, ‘from this point onwards, any further increase in poverty levels will be located in cities’. We have to take this on, this is a big issue,” Professor Plumb stressed.
He noted that given the reality of the global economy, and the importance of urban economic competitiveness, the “great benefit of lifelong learning,” was a way to continuously improve the skills and knowledge of citizens. “My big concern is that the exclusive economic cast to the concept of the learning city is far too narrowly drawn. Global development, now more than ever, is generating conditions of increasing inequality, environmental degradation, and social upheaval,” he pointed out. “As is well known, over the past 30 years, the gap between the haves and the have-nots has grown, not declined. While levels of poverty have not deepened to any great extent, there has been a vast increase in the level of relative poverty. People who once enjoyed the security of the middle class, find themselves or their children slipping into a less secure economic bracket,” Professor Plumb said.
This, he argued, was only part of the problem, noting that while poverty was once confined to rural areas, it had emerged into an urban challenge.
“The destruction of indigenous rural economies worldwide over the past three decades has largely been as a result of structural adjustment programmes, and has resulted in a massive and largely uncontrolled urban growth; and I think Kingston has experienced that growth,” he argued.
Of concern, the professor noted, was the fear that the “field is not level.” Citing Canadian city, Edmonton and Jamaica as examples, Professor Plumb said the former, which had a population of 750,000, had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of close to $60 billion, while Jamaica, on the other hand, with a population of 2.7 million, had an estimated GDP of $12 billion.
“The tax base of these two contexts is immensely different. The economic capacity of Edmonton to generate formal learning opportunities for its citizens is massive, (whilst) the opportunity cost for (the) average Kingstonian to learn, for instance, a trade in the telecommunications sector, is far higher than the opportunity cost for the average Edmontonian,” he informed.
The massive inequalities between these two contexts, he argued, were derived from a long and complex history of inequitable relationships from the beginning that contributed to a competition that was unfair.
“Our difficulty is to imagine ways (that) citizens of cities throughout the world, like Kingston, can benefit from (provisions like) technologies, without exposing them to the intense risks of uneven development that are still present and operational in the world,” the Professor said.
While not being able to say how these developments could be avoided, Professor Plumb suggested that consideration be given by individuals, particularly in North America and Europe, to “rethinking” their high consumption lifestyles.
“The learning city, in these contexts, should be tuned to enhancing our understanding of the tremendous cost of unfettered development, and it has to be tuned to adopting more sustainable ways of living,” he suggested.

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