The devil is in the details, they say.
So if it’s likely that Cayman will boast a population of 100,000 within the next 10 to 20 years, the country’s leaders must map out every detail relating to how potential infrastructural, environmental and cultural issues are accounted for and mitigated.
This month’s Cayman 2.0 series has been dedicated to population.
Specifically, we examined the idea of 100,000 people living in these islands founded upon the seas. We spoke with developers, environmentalists, realtors, economists, government leaders and the man on the street.
Some didn’t think Cayman could or should entertain the thought of 100,000 residents.
Caribbean economist Marla Dukharan, for instance, said she does not believe Cayman needs such a large population to generate economic growth. She says, rather, Cayman should ensure its GDP per capita is more evenly distributed and the needs of current residents are being met. Population alone, she said, does not dictate economic success.
A majority of those we heard from, however, believe it’s inevitable that Cayman will reach a population of 100,000 sooner rather than later, even if many of those same people don’t like the idea of the country growing to that extent.
Many called for realistic and tangible planning to ensure any significant change in population is a change for the better.
Traffic is a concern.
Those driving into town from the east experience a daily gridlock that turns a normally 15-minute commute into an hour-long trek. It’s almost impossible for them to imagine another 35,000 people – and potentially tens of thousands more cars – on the roads.
Any plan for growth also needs to include forward thinking on population disbursement. Cayman’s capital of George Town should not – and cannot – serve as the only hub for industry and commerce if Cayman is to successfully grow. Where are the incentives to drive businesses – and, in turn, residents – to the eastern districts?
Population growth will put stress on all of a country’s infrastructure. With many of Cayman’s schools already pushing capacity, how will existing facilities deal with an influx of students?
We also heard about the environment. Will previously untouched areas of natural habitat be sacrificed and developed in order to accommodate such a spike in population? Or are there plans to repurpose existing structures? Is building ‘up instead of out’ a viable option or does that further erode Cayman’s quaint charm?
It’s no secret that work-permit and permanent-residency grants are a significant source of income for the Cayman Islands government. In fact, the government was projected to pull in $86 million in work-permit and permanent-residency fees in 2020 – enough to fund a quarter of its annual payroll.
So when it comes to allowing more people to work and live in Cayman, it’s hard to believe public policy will change in order to slow population growth.
We’re pleased to hear that government’s Plan Cayman project, a document outlining potential strategies to handle several of the issues we’ve raised here, is progressing.
But that project has yet to be translated into the kind of legislation and policy directives that will have a practical influence on if, how and where we develop in future.
And while we don’t want to be cynical, we must point out the laughable number of studies, research papers and other reports created over the years that yielded little-to-no noticeable difference to day-to-day life.
Our Cayman 2.0 series has shown that our rapid growth over the past half-a-century has not been all that well planned. Cayman has reacted to growth after it has happened, rather than preparing for it in advance. Perhaps we can learn the lessons of the past and build a clear social, environmental and developmental plan that includes rational and realistic population forecasting as part of the mix. That way we can chart our own course instead of going where the wind takes us.
For Cayman to continue to grow, we’re calling for realistic, sustainable plans that will allow everyone to benefit – government and private sector, expats and Caymanians, rich and poor. And in order for that to happen, Cayman’s leaders must have a clear plan forward.
Growth without those specific details has the potential to make life devilishly difficult for all of us.