There are many identifiable recreational centers and landmarks that have been named Tivoli, but there is one that many Jamaicans identify with, Tivoli Gardens. Its foundations were laid in the early 1960s by the Ministry of Housing and the West Kingston Trust after the squalid Black-O-Wall was pulled down. The authorities may have had a name in mind, but the protagonists of the community blessed it with one which was rooted in its rich history.
Many trace the formation of Tivoli Gardens to the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Edward Seaga. He pioneered the project when he served the community as its representative in the West Kingston constituency for 40 years. The very site where Tivoli Gardens was built once had a movie house called Tivoli. The Twari family that bought the property later renamed it, Queens, according to the Jamaican observer.
The idea for creating the community was to offer the people a quality of life that they had been deprived of because of the violence and crime that had plagued the area for a long time. The target was to tackle the accommodation challenges facing the people, and secondly, improve their social needs.
The former Prime Minister, who happened to be the minister of development during the period, explained that the site had been built on seven parks that used to be there in the recent past. The Tivoli Gardens was to preserve the memory of those parks. It was part of Edward’s vision to infuse a recreational settlement that offered the people an opportunity to develop themselves through their own initiative because the government has by far neglected them for a long time.
In the Tivoli Gardens, everyone’s need was attended to, from the little ones to the older generation; there was the presence of a pre-natal clinic, a maternity support system, and a preschool at the secondary level. It also had a community center where those with skills in sculpting, art, and drama, exhibited their talent and were nurtured. There was a band known as Double Barrel that gave musicians a platform to share their music.
Old people were not left out of the fun. There were social programs like the golden age club, where they went to explore activities in craft and embroidery. The center also had a computer lab and a photo studio that offered those with an interest in these areas an opportunity to take advantage of them. It became a sphere for socializing children, and their sporting club later produced exceptional sports personalities.
If there are any memories Edward holds, they are those of the good old days until partisan politics divided the community. The name Tivoli Gardens later became propaganda machinery to denigrate individuals who came to identify with the community, causing the social programs to collapse as a result of these shocks. By the 1970s, crime had taken over the gardens, dimming the glow of its flowers, and compelling concerned parents to keep their children indoors. Those appalled by the happenings relocated to a different part of town.