The needs of downtown George Town remain myriad, residents heard once again Thursday evening.
Lack of parking, housing and green spaces persists. Irregular and at times dangerous street designs hamper walkability. Worsening traffic clogs the roads with cars. High unemployment disadvantages Caymanian residents. Single-use zoning limits business options. The list goes on.
George Town manager Colin Lumsden and other officials sought to provide the public with an update on addressing these long-discussed needs Thursday.
The Public Works Department architect said planners are exploring the concept of ‘complete streets’ to enable accessibility for all types of residents in the downtown area.
“Streets are not made for cars. They are connector valves for everybody. They are for people who walk and ride,” Lumsden told a crowd of around 60 individuals at Constitution Hall, formerly George Town Town Hall.
A major aim of the ‘complete streets’ concept will be to integrate bike lanes, sidewalks, safe crosswalks and trees into the zone’s roadways.
The hope is to make George Town not only more modern, but also more welcoming for residents and visitors alike.
Currently, city planners are focussed on a 200-acre space along Harbour Drive, from Eden Rock to Da Fish Shack and ending at Eastern Avenue.
A timeline shared at the meeting indicated that ongoing efforts, such as code reforms, capital infrastructure development, public consultations and minimum operation upgrades, will carry on past 2022. The research and planning phase, which began in 2015, is expected to conclude by 2020.
Lumsden broke down plans to incorporate mixed-use buildings, commercial and institutional areas to boost business growth, and multi-family sites and single-family dwellings to improve housing diversity. Development of a small business centre in the downtown area could also encourage diversification and growth of local companies, he added.
Only 1% of the study area was determined to include green space.
“I am hell-bent on making sure trees are part of our row design,” he said, adding that trees contribute to air quality, heat control and quality of life.
“It doesn’t take a keen eye to notice the amount of asphalt and parking compared to green areas.”
Several streets are being examined for road works and possible extensions to better connect George Town.
Planners hope to make Harbour Drive a more scenic route, for example, Lumsden said. Other streets, such as Godfrey Nixon Way, have been identified as roadways that could be modernised to enhance connectivity and accessibility.
In terms of next steps, Lumsden said planners are currently looking at installing better lighting to improve safety, planting trees, building parking garages, updating kerbs and sidewalks, and redesigning roads with the input of the National Roads Authority.
Other ideas include electronic displays, recycling bins, improved bus routes, and bike and vehicle sharing services.
“We’ve pretty much modelled the entire city and have been looking at different designs throughout the entire city itself,” Lumsden said.
To bring life back to the area, Lumsden said, officials would also like to incorporate the concept of “city furniture”.
“We looked at George Town like a living room,” he said. “It needs seating. It needs artwork.”
Evening events could encourage the public to stay back in George Town outside of regular business hours. One event on the books, called ‘Saturday Night Live in George Town’, would potentially launch 3 Aug. with family-focussed activities, including street performers, food trucks and vendors.
While attendees were largely hopeful in the feedback provided, some pointed out that upgrades to George Town have been a long time coming, and that delays have been to the detriment of small business owners.
“There seems to be a concern that there is a lack of cohesion,” said architect Eddie Thompson, who pointed out that the evening’s presentation made no mention of the cruise port and how that might affect development.
He questioned if a proper traffic study that considered cruise tourism had been conducted to determine maximum capacity. He also encouraged planners to avoid getting caught up in the minutiae of redevelopment and to start focussing on low-hanging fruit that could be addressed in the short term.
Another attendee, Noel March, said, “The disappearance of high-end Royal Caribbean cruise passengers has hurt small business.”
Touching on the high unemployment numbers in the downtown area, he said such passengers could be boost to small businesses and encourage hiring.
Smith Cove resident Suzanne Bothwell touched on the issue of gentrification and concerns that it has become increasingly difficult for families to maintain and redevelop land that has been passed down.
“What we find is that over generations, the children and grandchildren have great difficulties in redeveloping land for new purposes,” Bothwell said.
“Gentrification of cities and traditional environments is now being seen as an extremely pervasive and destructive thing … I would like for that thought to be present in the minds [of planners], that we do not create an animal that we did not intend to create.”
Lumsden responded that the question of gentrification was a difficult one.
“It’s a reality and no one here has ways of controlling that, but we are very cognisant of it in a very sensitive way,” Lumsden said.
“There are a few developers and stakeholders we’ve talked to that want to give back to the community …. That’s a good sign.”
Charles Brown of the Department of Commerce said gentrification in many places can be unpreventable, but that the department is looking at ways to encourage small investors and developments through measures such as reducing lot sizes.
He added, however, that some places do need an injection of capital and wealth.
Live, online polling conducted during the session indicated public interest in developing nature and sea-view sitting areas, and providing pedestrian and parking connectivity with surrounding developments.
Participants were also encouraged to mark maps placed on tables to indicate where they would like to see the development of parks and vehicle parking, where they would live if George Town were redeveloped, and where they consider downtown’s central business district to be located.