Mike Stroh believes well planned development is possible without negatively impacting the environment and way of life in Cayman. Photo: James Whittaker

When architect Mike Stroh looks at satellite imagery of Cayman, he gets an urge to move the pieces of the jigsaw around.

He sees buildings too close to the beach, large swathes of land wasted on concrete lots for car parking, and roads choked with traffic.

“If I had been here 50 years ago, I would have done things completely differently,” he says.

If Cayman’s growth had been masterplanned using modern principles from the beginning, it might look very different today.

While impossible to change the past, it can serve as a guide to the future. If Cayman, as seems apparent, is going to continue to grow, it should do so in a planned and strategic manner.

Stroh, of Trio Architecture, talked to the Cayman Compass about some of the methods he believes could allow the islands to continue to develop in a way that could even improve the quality of life.

1. Deeper setbacks

The first thing Stroh would like to do, if he could redesign Cayman from scratch, is move every development to the other side of West Bay Road.

The road itself would be transformed into a public pedestrian and bike path fronting a pristine beach, fringed by vegetation, with traffic restricted to the highway behind the hotels.

An aerial image of the Seven Mile Beach corridor from 1958 shows how the area looked pre-development. NB: Colour has been restored to this image from an original black and white shot.

It is too late for that now, of course, but he believes projects like the Kimpton Seafire Resort – though controversial at the time – show how developers can be incentivised to retreat from the beachfront and create more public space closer to the ocean.

2. Redevelopment of older condominiums

Stroh sees the redevelopment of Lacovia, one of Seven Mile Beach’s oldest complexes, as the likely blueprint for the future of Seven Mile Beach.

Redeveloping these sites – many of which he believes were built too close to the ocean – would be a way to improve the island through development.

While he recognises there are often public complaints about new projects, he says they are frequently more sustainably designed and set back further from the beach than those they are replacing.

This type of redevelopment, he says, also lessens the requirement to build on green space. Over time, this could enable a retreat of buildings from the beach.

3. Taller buildings

As far as the future of building design goes, Stroh believes the only way is up.

If developers are moving further from the beach and taking up less area, he says, they need to find the density elsewhere.

“It still needs to be economically feasible and that will mean 12-15 storeys.”

He believes this can be achieved without turning the area into Sunny Isles or Miami Beach.

An architect’s impression shows how the proposed 10-storey Lacovia development will look.

“This will result in smaller footprints, wider distance between buildings, and plenty more green space, which can be transformed into herb gardens, parks, or properly landscaped beach accesses,” he said.

4. New approach to car parking

If Cayman wants to avoid building on green sites, he says, planners could look to the vast amount of prime real estate in the Seven Mile Beach corridor given over to car parking.

This could be addressed, he says, by using below-ground or first-level parking lots in taller buildings.

The Marriott resort – often held up as an example of a property that is impacting beach dynamics – could be moved further back if it was redeveloped on the site of its current car park.

He also believes the parking requirements for new developments could be reduced if other ways were found for people to get around

5. Transforming public transport

If Cayman is going to grow, it needs to deal with its traffic problems.

“My entire focus would be on sustainable public transport,” Stroh said.

Utilising the water is a ‘no-brainer’ for Cayman says Stroh– PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

A system of ferries and electric buses from the outer districts to George Town and Camana Bay is a “no brainer”, he believes.

He also suggests incentivising large companies, including developers on major construction sites, to bus in their workers.

6. Embrace complete streets

Redesigning roads, so they can accommodate bicycles and pedestrians, could help people get around without cars. Stroh believes the Complete Streets initiative – using a line of trees to create a barrier between the roadway and pedestrian and cycle lanes – has huge potential for West Bay Road.

If people could cycle and walk comfortably and safely, he believes they would leave their cars at home.

7. Proper beach access

Developers granted permission for large projects on the beach could give back to the community by helping fund a network of clearly marked, well-maintained lanes for public beach access.

Stroh believes these should be wide pathways with benches, drinking fountains and fresh-water showers for people coming off the beach.

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  1. “If I had been here 50 years ago, I would have done things completely differently,” he says.
    DUH??? Of course you would have. Just about anything in the entire world could have been done differently. Having said that, Caymans is a pretty nice place, eh?

  2. These are some great suggestions for improving some of Seven Mile’s development issues, but the reasoning for taller buildings is quite shaky. It is very idealistic to suggest that taller buildings would result in more green space. A quick look around SMB or most cities in the world will show you that this isn’t the case. In reality, taller buildings do two things that make it more unlikely to increase green or public space.

    First, taller buildings greatly increase the price of land. A $50k lot is far more likely to be transformed into a public space than a $5 million lot. With more expensive land, developers have more incentive to maximize the return of each square foot. Herb gardens sounds great, but when developers have the choice between plants and adding 5 more $1 million condos to get a better return on investment, they usually opt for the latter.

    Second, the additional capacity that is held in a building vertically will always spread out horizontally. Doubling the number of people by building twice as high means those people will use double the amount of beach, double the roads, and want double the amenities like attractions and restaurants. This again decreases the likelihood that public spaces will be created around the tall building since everyone will try to cash in on the additional capacity. It also puts a major strain on infrastructure and natural resources as we have all seen.

    The increase of land value and increased number of people is great for the economy, but not so great for the quality of our tourism product and the quality of life for residents. Anyone living in Cayman should be intimately familiar with this dilemma by now. For the last few decades, our society has consistently valued economic development over cultural and spiritual development. We continue to choose more money instead of more culture, more nature, and more family. Whether our buildings are short or tall, this core problem remains the same. Tall buildings only multiply the problem.

  3. Bravo William V! Well said! Not to mention, the amount of sunlight that is cut by these out of place looking skyscrapers! Most people will be in the shade down below, and not too much grows or tans in the shade.