ATL Autobahn opened a few days ago in Jamaica’s capital city. At the cost of US$15 million, the state-of-the-art car showroom and service center has the regional dealership rights to BMW and MINI brands. With solar panels providing the majority of its power supply and UV-deflecting treatments on the see-through structure, the ATL Autobahn is
stunting stunning. The Autobahn is definitely a stylish space that complements the sleek, modern design of the automotive brands it houses.
I know what I know about the Autobahn because I read the Observer‘s feature on the space in today’s newspaper. But my outsider’s perspective gave me some insight, still. For months I had driven by the space that was ultimately to become the ATL Autobahn. And when the zinc fencing first went up on Lady Musgrave Road, the first to feel the sting were the goats. This is because there are not many green spaces left in the New Kingston area, and the unpaved lot that existed where the ATL Autobahn now rests, was prime grazing land for some twenty or so plump, happy goats. Well, goodbye goats; you were unable to withstand the gentrification process.
The Lady Musgrave Road goats are now long gone — relocated to greener pastures, I hope. Today, the ribbon has been cut, the asphalt has been laid and the concrete, steel, and glass have been erected on Lady Musgrave Road, a road that already carries a history of inequality and privilege as it was paved to appease the insulted eyes of 19th century governor of Jamaica Lord Anthony Musgrave’s wife. It was more than one hundred years ago when Lady Musgrave expressed her preference not to see the mansion of Jamaica’s first black millionaire George Steibel. So, to satisfy her sensitivities to black wealth, Lady Musgrave’s Road was constructed. Today, the goats are gone, the grass is gone, but, in a way, some of the inequality remains.
Last Saturday night, current BMW drivers and the brand’s prospective consumers were treated to an exclusive grand opening party that was akin to a “New Year’s Eve celebration,” according to The Observer‘s report. The highest ranking public sector officials were present and private sector moguls were in attendance as well. Adding to the party vibe, Saturday night’s festivities also featured the musical contributions of the girls’ dem sugar himself, Beenie Man. In his coverage of the event, Rory Daley said that Beenie Man, who famously sang out for the keys to his Bimma twenty years ago, drove into the function modelling an X3M 40i compact SUV then launched into the lyrics of “Sim Simma.” The guests all happily sang along while admiring the collection of cars on display.
The BMW or Bimma has long been seen as a status symbol. After all, it is the ultimate driving machine. It has been the aspirational vehicle for many drivers the world over. It is the vehicle that one drives to communicate driving excellence, smart wealth, and a need for speed. Yes, it is a dream car, but who in Jamaica can comfortably afford this dream? Not most, I’m afraid. When I see the shiny new imported cars, and calculate the duties and taxes to have them here, I am reminded of The Roots’ pointed music video for their 1996 hip hop classic “What They Do.” (The above picture is from the music video. If you haven’t seen the video or heard the song, click here and enjoy.) And from a practical stand point, in Jamaica, where potholes (like the one pictured at left) litter the roads, where rains can easily flood the interior of a car, and parts are expensive to replace, I find it perplexing that with a very low ride height BMW’s 3- and 5-Series vehicles are still sold. I suppose status symbols trump practicality. I suppose idolized objects of wealth win even when they are not ideal for the terrain. Why else is there a Porsche dealership in Jamaica?
Despite the roads and despite the goats, I still very much salute ATL Autobahn. I applaud them for being able to bring an ultra-sleek, energy-efficient architectural space to Jamaica and I am impressed that they did so so quickly. I am also happy to know that Jamaica’s economy is doing well enough for this dealership to be viable. But, when I drive by, I won’t be singing Beenie Man’s Bimmer song. I’ll be thinking of Protoje. Protoje, who did not perform at the opening event, also sings of the BMW and how it can sometimes be a marker of a less savory Jamaica. I’ve cued up the verse below; so you can just hit play.
I suppose national development struggles are always multi-fold, affecting the environment, the people, the animal life, and the economy. Still, I worry about those old Lady Musgrave goats. I hope they are well. As Kingston considers what symbols it wants to project about its status, this capital city will have many more gentrification battles to face. Goats are just the beginning.