Harbour front needs attention

The incredible response and discussion generated by the new cruise ship terminal proposal is a wonderful example of our community’s involvement and concern over our island’s future.

My intent is to add my voice and share the discussions that I have had with friends and family regarding this very important decision.

I would like to make it clear that, as an architect and designer whose family has had a hand in the development of this island, I find the prospect of a new, state of the art docking facility incredibly exciting. I would encourage all growth on our island in order to meet the ever-increasing competitive needs of tourism and the essential employment and income needs of our community. I do not advocate a plan that would in any way damage our fragile ecosystem but it truly seems that an unbiased body of research will be carried out to determine whether this new infrastructure will in fact be detrimental to the environment. If the research comes back showing a negative impact on our reefs or our beach, the government has clearly stated that the show would be stopped. It would be a very short-sighted act of madness to put our most valuable resources at risk for a dock and I believe that this is universally understood.

If, however, the research shows that the new terminal would not be detrimental to our ecosystem or our beach, then what?

The largest question in my mind is: are we putting the cart before the horse? My concern over this issue, which is shared by many people I speak with, is that building a large cruise ship terminal in an area unable to support or control large numbers of people will result in a chaotic and potentially generic harbour front. The chaos will be the result of a lack of pedestrian access combined with a lethal vehicular bottleneck. The generic aspect will come from the hastily built new structures that house increasingly cheap, fast food and trinkets. From an aesthetic standpoint this would merely be sad. From an economic standpoint it would be devastating. How many tourists, or locals for that matter, want to stagger around in the heat with 13,000 other people looking at souvenirs that they can get anywhere and then sit in traffic for 45 minutes to get to the beach?

As for any local use of the downtown harbour, unless you work in George Town there is really no reason to spend time there. Already we watch as tourists scurry across the road, desperate for a crosswalk or some kind of continuous paving to walk on, panicking because they don’t know which way to look for oncoming traffic. It is in our best interests to improve the entire infrastructure of George Town before we even consider bringing more people to this port.

The best way to make sure that we maintain a steady tourism demand is to make our town centre a vibrant, beautiful, and truly Caymanian destination that visitors and locals appreciate and, more importantly, return to.

An improvement of George Town would have to serve two purposes: first, it would have to make the area usable for locals who work and use the downtown facilities. Second, any new planning would have to improve on the experience that tourists have during their brief time here. In order for George Town harbour to compete as an international destination we must look to other successful ports as precedents for planning and use. At the same time, however, we must not lose the specifically Caymanian charm of George Town as this is our real resource.

Looking at other global ports, and comparing them to George Town, the following questions first come to mind:

Can we introduce car free zones? Where can we position shaded boulevards and mini-parks? Can we encourage these spaces to support local musicians or a small craft market? Where are the public spaces for people to have lunch al fresco and enjoy the local scenery? Can we create a coastal causeway leading to the fishermen’s cove and connecting the restaurants along the shoreline? Why are none of the world’s largest yachts, most of which are registered here, not flaunting themselves in our harbour? Essentially, where are all the magical features of a Caribbean port that every tourist envisions when they arrive on this Island? These are the same features that would encourage locals and overnight tourists to spend time downtown and would create a true Cayman destination.

Aside from my design aspirations for a truly amazing, and accessible, downtown harbour front, there is also the matter of money to consider. The costs to build the port have been placed in the US$100M range. The costs to move the cargo facility have been estimated at US$71M? In my mind, the costs to update and improve the infrastructure of the town itself should be the first priority and should be considered as integrally linked to the total costs of the project. Inviting thousands of people to one square kilometre of our island at one time is a great undertaking and if our intention is to show them the best of our island’s hospitality and character then we must provide a vibrant, authentic, and safe harbour front.

Michelle Nicole Butler