If there is one development in the Cayman Islands that supports the concept of the past directly influencing the future, it is the newly emerging community of Camana Bay.
The absolute embodiment of modern urban living, this new town is also firmly rooted in Caymanian traditions. Relying on age-old architectural techniques along with the use of indigenous plants for landscaping, the Camana Bay designers took several pages from the islands’ history books to shape this future community.
As modern as the development is, time-tested design techniques – such as how to capture light without too much heat or how to create shade and encourage breezes – have had a significant influence on the grand plan for Camana Bay.
“From the very outset, Camana Bay has been about taking the best of the past and merging it with the best of the future,” explained Dart Realty’s Sandy Urquhart, Senior Vice Presidence – Design and the driving force behind the incredible detail of the town. “We really have embraced the traditions and unique characteristics of the Cayman Islands and utilised them in the designs. History has underwritten many aspects of Camana Bay.”
He added that the direction in which buildings face, the use of louvers, the style of porches and verandahs, decking, the type of materials, where trees are planted, and many other aspects of the overall design and architectural integrity have utilised techniques used many years ago but which have been lost in more recent times.
While history certainly influences much of the design detail on many of the buildings, it is, however, most apparent in the outside spaces between the structures. Even when the town was nothing more than a vision, merely an enchanting picture in the mind’s eye, the Dart Group, developers of this incredible community, were thinking about the traditions of Cayman’s natural landscape. Before they even designed the first building or turned over a single sod of earth, Dart had foresight to establish a nursery which now, some 12 years later, is the source of the mature, indigenous, native plants and vegetation, that flourish all over the finished phases of the development.
Indigenous and native species make up the vast majority of the natural landscaping throughout the Camana Bay community, but the developers have also created a unique microcosm of Grand Cayman’s entire natural history that has been evolving for the more than 3 million years since these islands emerged from the ocean.
Camana Way is not only the road which links the town centre to West Bay Road and Seven Mile Beach, it is a living snapshot of Cayman’s natural bounty, representing five of the islands’ distinct ecosystems.
Although cars can traverse this unique 30-metre wide boulevard, it has really been designed to be enjoyed at a much slower pace on foot or by bicycle. Starting from the town centre, Camana Way introduces strollers and cyclists to the kind of species found in the seasonal flooded brackish woodland common in the island’s interior but where few visitors often tread. This type of wetland varies in salinity throughout the seasons, so a wide variety of species can grow in what at first glance may seem a harsh environment. Mangroves, salt marsh fleabane with is distinctive odour, and smooth water hyssop are just some of the plants featured in this slice of wetland system.
The woodland section showcases some of Cayman’s unique trees, such as the Ironwood, which was a key part of local history but, because of its extensive use in the early construction of the island, is now scarce. Urquhart explained that in Camana Way the efforts that have been made by the nursery staff to understand and propagate local species of plants that are rare in some cases endangered have come to fruition. The Silver Thatch Palm, the Banana Orchid and Sea Lavender are just some of the historical endemic species that are disappearing in the wild, but because of Dart’s commitment to the islands’ natural history, future generations will still enjoy these unique plants and trees.
“The nursery team has built up an incredible amount of knowledge about the endemic plant life and are propagating species which could have been lost to history,” said Urquhart. “This walkway offers so much; it’s not just a beautiful natural environment, but it’s a museum, a conservation programme, a place of education, and somewhere that the amateur gardener can come and see what native and endemic species they can grow in their own yards.”
As the would-be botanists amble along Camana Bay, they will see the Yellow Mastic, the Bull Hoof, and Red Birch trees as they move through the dry limestone woodland. The West Indian Cedar and Buttonwood Trees are found in the sandy woodland area – a colourful slice of Cayman’s environment – and home to the Broadleaf Scarlet Cordia, the Peacock Flower, the Yellow Trumpet Bush, the Peregrine and Minniroot as well, which Urquhart says will attract a variety of local wildlife.
“As the plant life along Camana Way matures, it will attract increasing amounts of native butterflies, lizards and birds, and it will take on a natural shape on its own,” he explained. “The use of native and endemic species across the development means the landscape here doesn’t need an enormous amount of maintenance or huge teams of gardeners out pruning and tweaking. Camana Way will just grow because the plants that have been planted there belong here on the island – Cayman is their home.
“Aside from keeping the path just clear enough for people to be able to walk along comfortably, the plant life will be allowed to flourish and eventually, as it becomes increasingly mature and dense, those walking along Camana Way won’t even realise they are walking through the middle of a road.”
The unique walkway ends at West Bay Road in its own representation of a traditional Caymanian beach where typical flora such as White Sage, the Bay Vine, Blue Passionflower and Seaside Sapphire are flourishing as they still do on many of the islands’ untamed beaches.
Urquhart is passionate about the environment that is now emerging along Camana Way and says the influence of history cannot be underestimated. He explains that this short stretch of Cayman’s natural eco-systems, as well as the wider landscaping throughout the development, is also representative of Dart’s very real and genuine commitment to creative a community that is an honest reflection of the local environment. “The detail in the landscape and the architecture is inspired by Cayman’s historical environment and not, as is often the case with other developments here, North America. Camana Bay is Caymanian and very much part of the islands’ continuing story,” he said.
The community may be exceptionally modern, but all through the development lessons have been taking from the past to shape and form the wider community.
“A great deal of though has gone into creating the landscape here at Camana Bay and we are trying to be as honest about being part of the Cayman Islands as possible. It really is a true representation of how the past can inspire a genuinely better future. When it comes to creating beautiful communities, not everything that is new is always better, and we have done our very best to embrace that concept at Camana Bay and hope that history will continue to be a part of our future,” Urquhart added.