“That caye is a private island.  Norwegian Cruise Lines purchased it to create their own exclusive port for their cruise ship passengers,” our tour guide said with contempt.

It seems Belize wrestles with many of the same development debates I was hoping to escape for a few days as my family vacationed in this beautiful country on the coast of Central America.  

Desirable places attract increasing numbers of people.  But more people requires more development to accommodate them.  Supply and demand economics mean that as available supply dwindles, demand drives up cost and spurs development.  Development and cost often have an uneasy relationship with the home team, as both inevitably impact the area.

How? Well that’s the question we face here as well.  

Viewed simplistically, my tour guide’s statement seemed ironic, as our small boat’s captain clearly earns his living from tourism even as he scoffs at a large investment from a leader in the tourism industry.  Yet, we vigorously nodded our heads in agreement, even as we enjoyed our privileged vacation. How quickly we want to close the door behind us rather than leave it open for others to come through and share these opportunities.

Belize has its beautiful coast, coral reef, Mayan ruins, mountains and jungle.  We have our schools, housing stock and access to Chicago. These attractions will bring more people.  Without development, the cost will go up such that all but the very wealthy can afford what is already here.  However, development to increase density and make space for more people threatens amenities, culture, character and community when not done thoughtfully.

That caye that the cruise line purchased?  The locals in the southern part of the country consider it a loss, but it alleviated crowding at ports in the north.  And, after outcry from environmentalist activists, the project caused people to get more involved in government development activities, including zoning, permitting and environmental stewardship.  The west side of Norwegian Cruise Line’s caye is now a manatee preserve, limiting boat traffic, noise and pollution while protecting this endangered species. An improvement.

Development anywhere challenges us to increase the size of our pie without changing its flavor.

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...