Coastal development and community bonds create lasting impression on VIU student

It has been almost two months since my last blog post, and much has changed since then. I have spent six weeks in the village of Hopkins, the first case study of my research project, where I was blown away by the hospitality and the intrigue that the community offered. My research involved interviewing various community stakeholders from all aspects of the village. I was nervous to be seen as trying to “fix the problem,” as an outsider with all the answers, but my fears proved unfounded and my experience has been very positive. I have learned quite a bit about the village of Hopkins and the people I have both informally and formally interviewed have been very helpful and genuine in their response to my questions.

My discussions with various locals regarding stakeholder involvement in waterfront development offered a glimpse into the increasing development that is happening on the waterfront in Hopkins, predominantly to the immediate north and south of the village. I also gained insight on the process of development from the public, private, and community sectors. After completing my interviews, I feel good about the impact I can make with my research results to inform internal and external stakeholders of the current process of development in this community.

While carrying out my research, I’ve also had the opportunity to immerse myself in many aspects of Garifuna culture: drumming lessons & shows, cultural foods such as Hudut (plantain and fish served with cassava bread), as well as fishing and snorkelling in the reef.

My stay in Hopkins was highlighted by the Mango Fest, which is an annual celebration of the start of Mango season in the area. A fellow graduate student had organized a booth for the festival, to complete part of his research, and this provided a great opportunity for us to meet locals from all over Belize. On top of that, we met the famous Marie Sharp, who gave us samples of many of her products. I was fortunate to meet a pair of British ex-pats who offered me a place to stay in my next case study area: the town of San Pedro on Ambergris Caye!

I have now been in San Pedro for about three weeks and the experience has been a drastic dichotomy to Hopkins. San Pedro is the largest tourist center in Belize, accounting for about 60 per cent of the tourist-related economic activity in the country. In that way, waterfront development and tourism have had a much larger impact on this community, which offers a valuable study for other coastal communities in Belize that will face similar issues in the future.

Though uncontrolled development may define one aspect of this community, I had a different experience in San Pedro. This past week a fire broke out in the downtown which burnt almost an entire block and has displaced roughly 20 families. I spent the next morning helping with the clean-up, which opened my eyes to the strength of communal bonds here. Tragedy aside, I was thankful for the experience of being immersed in a galvanized community.

My research findings in San Pedro have been very informative, the community groups have become relatively strong voices in the development conversation, and there are many individuals here taking local action to ensure that future development takes place in a planned and more responsible manner. The final stop on my research journey is Belize City, the old capital, where I hope to further cement my understanding of waterfront development in Belize before my return to Canada in August.

Devan Cranshaw, Community Planning, VIU