Flattened by an earthquake in 1907, downtown Kingston has lost most of its grand eighteenth-century architecture, and much of what remains is slowly crumbling into dereliction. Nevertheless, numerous historic buildings can still be found along Rum Lane, Water Lane and King Street, and if you peer into the most unlikely yards you can often find evidence of the intricate structures that used to proliferate here, with their fancy ironwork, marble floors, red-brick facades and wrap-around verandas. In recent years, government tax incentives have been created to encourage redevelopment of the area, although it is alleged that much of downtown has since been bought up by speculators, and the only evident development spawned from these incentives was the building of telecom giant Digicel’s flagship headquarters on the waterfront; their foundation also spent US$1 million restoring the famous Coronation Market to its former glory.
Though many locals still hesitate to walk the downtown streets, you’ll find that exploring on foot is not only the best way to get the full flavour of the area but also feels surprisingly safe. The usual common-sense rules apply, of course, but unless the violence that habitually breaks out in the surrounding ghettos spills over into downtown’s central commercial streets, there’s no reason to expect any problems. It’s not advisable to walk the streets at night in any part of the city; most Kingstonians don’t.