The Cayman Islands is growing quickly and with growth comes tough decisions on how to proceed. Infrastructure connects people and places, and doing it right will play a big role in how Cayman’s communities will interact with each other writes Journalist Basia Pioro-McGuire.
Facing today’s challenges, what we need to do is to create the infrastructure that will allow us to continue to grow,” says Dragon Bay developer Michael Ryan.
One important aspect of that is to connect us with people who want to visit here and for those people who live here, to connect us with other places that are important to them.”
He argues that over time, however, Cayman’s infrastructure, through neglect, has put us at a disadvantage within the region.
“We used to brag about the quality of our infrastructure, for instance, we used to have more airlift in the region than almost anyone else, but now everyone has passed us by,” he says.
“As part of our ongoing effort to make sure our project is the best, our team flies around to other jurisdictions in the region to get an idea of what is taking place in terms of development, and we have seen that almost everyone has better airports, better runways, better facilities,” he continues.
“There is no way we can still call ourselves a world class island.”
History shapes communities
Jeremy Hurst, president and broker owner of IRG, agrees Cayman is distinct among many other islands in the region due to its social history.
“As a thriving port, Bermuda for example developed a two-tier society of traders and merchants, and later the finance industry on one hand, and locals on the other. Similarly the Bahamas, due to the plantation system, lent itself to develop a divided society,” he said.
“Because we have a paucity of natural resources, the majority of settlers were shipwrecked sailors or people who came and decided to stay. In a place that had little to offer people had to work together regardless of colour and intermix because there were fewer social constraints.”
Faced with few resources at home, the men went to sea, and the women stayed home.
“I think that molded a group of people perhaps different from other Caribbean cultures and created a perfect basis for conservative work ethics that supported the development of the offshore finance industry,” says Hurst.
“As you examine that socioeconomic background, with everyone living together, it was alien for the culture to divide.”
He notes the clearest example of community spirit can be found along Cayman’s shorelines.
“It’s the reason we have not openly encouraged private beaches, even anything with a 200-plus frontage needs to have a public right of way and traditional rights of way have been enforced,” says Hurst.
“There is a tradition to ensuring public access to amenities, also incorporated in the concept of public open space and the land for public purposes in the development plan.”
He argues that it is understandable to have gated communities for prestige purposes; to create a desirable controlled environment, but thinks Cayman should be careful about allowing them everywhere. Acknowledging that certain people are looking for a specific real estate product, where these communities are located if they are to be built needs to be carefully considered, and to ensure it is for the right reasons.
“I would not like to see all of Grand Harbour gated off, for example,” he says.
“In the current situation, we see crime increasing, I understand that communities may wish to have security and one way is a gated community,” he continues.
“But the goal in my opinion should be to try to solve the crime problem.”
Integration’s not for everyone
Paul Pearson of Davenport Development says the San Sebastian has been specifically designed to keep non-residents out.
“We have a gated community and each dwelling will have its own private gated courtyard to the front and then the inside pool area will only be accessed through either the owner’s home or a locked gate that owners have the key for.
“Absolutely no public access will be available to the development,” he says.
“We had to do this due to the increase in crime and the need for it. People who have bought – and we have 80 per cent of phase one (44 sold out of 56) – love this feature and I believe it is a significant part of the decision process for them.”
He says that unless Cayman gets a hold of crime, developers will have no choice but to build this way.
“There is a concept called building crime out … in other words you build so as to keep crime out – that is what we have done on this development and will be doing in the future with all future developments,” he says.
“It will take away the feeling of a crime free society that we have had up until now, but then again there is no point in having the feeling if the reality is a lot different.”
Not a tourism option
From a tourism perspective, the Ritz-Carlton’s Ryan thinks Cayman should avoid that strategy.
“As a high end destination we need to promote true integration between visitors and residents. All-inclusives are the antithesis of high end and do not promote the benefits of development spreading throughout the community,” he said.
“Our project, for example, has employed thousands over its life so far and hundreds of local businesses benefit directly and indirectly every day. One of the goals of an all inclusive is to keep every dollar spent by a guest within the resort, this does not spread the benefits.”
He draws the connection to social issues.
“You prevent crime, not by building walls and putting guards out front. You prevent it by fostering and supporting a strong community with strong values and economic opportunities and social mobility. This prevents people falling into despair and to crime as being an accepted behaviour,” he said.
“People with wealth have choices and don’t have to come to a place that needs to lock them in. The option to engage in a cosmopolitan community where they can interact with people who are their social and economic peers is a huge advantage Cayman has over its competitors and needs to be embraced rather than ignored.”
He points to places that followed the all inclusive route like Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
“They are down market and their images reflect this”.