In a 2023 report, the World Population Review ranked Barbados as the 18th most densely populated country in the world.
With an area of 430 square kilometres, and a population of over 280,000 people, the country’s population density is calculated to be 656 residents per square kilometre.
When these statistics are placed in the context of Barbados’ small geographic size and limited resources, it is clear that sustainable land use needs to be carefully considered when undertaking infrastructure projects on the island.
It is also important that the protection of the country’s terrestrial ecosystems is taken into consideration when undertaking development projects.
As such, future development plans on the island should substantially incorporate a balance of grey and green infrastructure.
The balance of solving housing issues
As Barbados’ population and infrastructure projects have increased over the past several decades, so has the number of discussions related to the topic of proper land use.
Currently, the island’s housing demands are being addressed through initiatives such as the Home Ownership Providing Energy Inc. (HOPE) project.
But while creating solutions for better housing availability, the island should ensure there is sufficient agricultural lands to boost food security.
Given the country’s water scarcity, any infrastructure projects must also take a measured approach to protect the island’s limited freshwater sources.
With Barbados’ global commitments to sustainability and climate resilience, the integration of natural areas must also play a role in development plans.
Balancing development and conservation priorities
A report by the Barbados Integrating Water, Land and Ecosystems Management in Caribbean Small Island Developing States (IWEco) Project has stated that low relief, and many years under colonial settlement, have seen significant changes to terrestrial ecosystems.
From 1627 to today, Barbados has lost most of its natural vegetation with only two percent of the island’s vegetation remaining today.
Large swaths of the island’s original vegetation were cleared for agriculture and tourism.
Today, the legacy of those “ambitious” development projects are fragmented habitats, biodiversity loss and pollution.
In an interview with Cari-Bois, Barbadian conservationist and environmental planner, Lani Edghill, said greater efforts must be taken to protect the Graeme Hall wetland which is the island’s last significant mangrove forest.
From her perspective, Edghill said that the country must place more focus on protecting areas like these which are crucial ecosystems.
Additionally, she said development projects that are close to biodiverse areas on the island must have proper drainage and better incorporate green infrastructure practices.
As a starting point, Edghill said it’s important for developers to rethink the concept of drainage in urban areas to ensure the land isn’t entirely covered with concrete that simply allows rainwater to quickly run off the earth’s surface and not percolate into the soil.
With the island experiencing water scarcity, this approach to development can also allow for the replenishment of freshwater aquifers.
Techniques to help developers balance construction and sustainability
Edghill would like to see bioswales incorporated into future infrastructure projects on the island.
A form of green infrastructure, bioswales are depressions which are either vegetated or mulched and receive rainwater runoff.
The vegetation and organic matter contained in bioswales help slow the flow of excess rainwater and allow it to be absorbed into the earth.
Considering the benefits of green infrastructure, Edghill said that policies and legislation are going to be the most effective way of ensuring these elements are incorporated in development projects.
The draft of Barbados’s Physical Development Plan (PDP), Amendment 2023, details plans for a National Heritage System (NHS) which aims to:
- Implement policies that will conserve and sustainably manage areas under this designation
- Ensure development within or adjacent to the NHS accounts for climate change and disaster impacts
- Increase vegetation cover and encourage water infiltration, utilize nature-based solutions
- Incorporate a Roofs to Reefs Programme to reduce ecosystem pollution.
To further conserve Barbados’ limited land and biodiversity, Edghill suggests that there be an overhaul of the island’s construction practices.
Developers should move away from the mindset of singular buildings – especially for housing communities – and embrace co-housing communities where different housing options are available on one piece of land.
Under this concept, the land’s resources would be co-managed and there would be shared community space.
From a social standpoint, Edghill envisions this would also “bring back the village culture that has faded in Barbadian society and help to knit together those living in these communities.”
However, Edhgill notes that these types of communities are currently not accounted for under the country’s Town Planning Act and this will have to be updated.
The services provided by terrestrial ecosystems should not be underestimated.
Gullies, which are plentiful in Barbados, are integral to the island’s drainage, filtration of rainwater and biodiversity as they are home to many of the island’s flora and fauna.
Mangroves – in places like Graeme Hall – act as nurseries for commercially important marine species and offer protection from storms to surrounding communities.
With efforts to boost Barbados’ climate resilience, plans made for the Natural Heritage System must be prioritised and the country’s legislation needs to not only protect terrestrial ecosystems but also integrate green infrastructure into future development projects.