When talk turns to development, most people immediately think of its physical manifestations – new buildings, landscaping, or associated amenities.
Others think of the negative impacts of development – blocked views, paved-over green spaces, or noise where there once was silence.
But the real impact of development goes beyond the physical structures themselves (new places in which to live, work and play), to the economic activity they generate or facilitate.
That’s why the recent report that Grand Cayman is experiencing an “explosion” in development – with more high-value planning applications approved in 2017 than ever before – is welcome news.
As the Compass reported last week, the Central Planning Authority has approved a record-breaking 1,013 projects with a combined value of $688 million so far this year. Each of those projects, large and small, represents work for contractors, electricians, suppliers and other construction industry personnel. Each of those projects is an expression of confidence in Cayman’s long-term stability. Each contributes to the vibrancy and growth of our economy.
Many of the development projects on the books represent tens or hundreds of new permanent jobs, generating even more economic activity and helping fuel Cayman’s government. As well-known real estate broker Kim Lund told a Compass reporter, “Cayman has reached a tipping point and become quite attractive, not only to tourists, but investors wanting second homes and a safe place to invest. The huge improvements that are being made to our infrastructure make Cayman a better place to visit and live.”
In order to afford the huge government we have already created, and the ongoing costs to which our country has committed, the islands’ economy and tax base must continue to grow. To adapt a line from Gordon Gekko in the movie “Wall Street”: “Growth is good.”
Growth is also necessary if our small islands are to continue to fulfill obligations already in place to retiring government workers, especially pensions and healthcare benefits. It will take gigantic outlays of cash to meet those commitments while, at the same time, social services for certain portions of the Caymanian population continue to escalate dramatically.
And none of that takes into account the hundreds of millions of dollars needed, or at least desired, for capital projects such as the downtown port, new schools, highway construction and other infrastructure projects.
Dart Real Estate president Jackie Doak – whose company is responsible for much of the increased development activity – said Dart’s investment is an expression of its belief in the strength and resilience of our economy. That investment gives momentum to a virtuous cycle that inspires others to invest and drives continued prosperity and growth.
Government can help keep that growth on track by investing in infrastructure, education and public safety – capitalizing on and improving Cayman’s reputation as a safe, stable and welcoming jurisdiction.
Some residents have expressed concern about increased development, or about particular projects that have been proposed. Concerns include the environmental impact of such large projects, or even how they might restrict views or contribute to the loss of beach access.
Many of those worries have merit, but they must be reconciled with this existential fact: Growth is necessary for Cayman’s long-term survival. The negative impacts of growth can be mitigated, to a certain extent, by thoughtful and sensitive urban and social planning.
But generalized, vague and romanticized longing for “the good old days” should be put to rest. It simply is unrealistic to think Cayman can ever return to those early years – much less make progress – by adopting policies of stasis, stagnation or regression.
For individuals, growth at the cellular level is the literal definition of life. When cells no longer reproduce, life is at an end.
For societies, economic growth is an essential requisite to fund social needs, to improve the quality of the lives of their citizenry and, perhaps most importantly, to provide meaningful opportunities for future generations in their homelands.