home Featured, International Planning Perspectives Can Aruba, the most beautiful and happy island have a sustainable development?

Can Aruba, the most beautiful and happy island have a sustainable development?

Is the clichéd saying, ‘Aruba is a perfect getaway’ lacking a vital spark?  Aruba is a beautiful Caribbean island about 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela. It is just 20 miles long and six miles wide. The population is around 100,000, with 33,000 residing in the capital city, Oranjestad. The Arawak tribes first inhabited the island. It was later colonized by Spain and has been under Dutch administration since 1636. The economy is mainly based on tourism. It has the best Caribbean beaches with high and low rise hotels and resorts stretching from the Eagle beach to Palm beach.

The island offers alluring resorts, restaurants, bars, casinos, boutiques, amenities and water activities for people of all ages. California lighthouse, Natural Bridge, Old rock cavern, Alto Vista Church and Archeological museum are popular tourist destinations. There is definitely Dutch influence in the buildings especially in the downtown .  However, there is no rich history and architecture to depict the Aruban culture. Though Dutch architecture prevails, the Caribbean colors dominate the buildings. There are variety of shops,restaurants, malls and local boutiques in the downtown. Huge modern shopping malls like Renaissance and market place and Royal Plaza with luxury brands and local tourist Flea Market and petite platform shops are all found in the same locality. Oranjestad is not well connected to the port and there is no adequate facilities for fishing and boating. There is no proper access for visitors to the port.

Aruba is a windy island with no rich vegetation. Cactus is the only main desert flora found in the region. Most products are imported which is the main reason for the exorbitant prices of the goods.  The island is off the hurricane belt and the place receives very little rain. There is no natural water source for agriculture. There is a desalination plant on the east side of the island, a few minutes drive from the downtown. The Dutch Dialogue started the cross- cultural interactions to study where and how the Dutch approaches to water management, architecture, planning and urban design. The second Dutch Dialogues initiated the Dutch – American interactions in New York, Tampa, San Francisco and internationally in Taipei, Taiwan and Oranjestand in Aruba. Based on the Dutch Dialogue model, in June 2010, the Government of Aruba in partnership with American Planning Association, Waggonner & Ball Architects and Royal Netherlands Embassy hosted the Renobacion Urbano conference and workshop.

The task was to redesign and repurpose the downtown Oranjestad and San Nicolas, a town developed in Aruba in 1930s around an oil refinery. The workshops were also accompanied with a studio project of University of Pennsylvania. The main focus of the Aruban government funded project was on transportation planning, green economic and community development. One of the key issues identified during the workshop for the San Nicolas region is the town’s dependency on the oil refinery as the main economic engine.

Oranjestad, Downtown – Aruba
Source: Josephine Selvakumar, 2012
Oranjestad, Downtown – Aruba
Source: Josephine Selvakumar, 2012
High Rise Hotels in Palm Beach
Source: Josephine Selvakumar, 2012

Aruba is slowly progressing to stay away from its total reliance on the imported fossil fuels and is leaning towards solar, wind and green energy. In 2009, the Danish Company invested on 10 giant wind turbines in the eastern part of the island. The project generates a total of 30 megawatts of renewable energy. In 2011, the Aruban Government hosted a conference, ‘Our future with Green Energy’ where international experts delivered state of art sustainable energy technologies, trends and visions for the public and the government. Will all the endeavors to revitalize Aruba be fruitful? Will the island be just more than a tourist destination? With its excellent wind, sun and sea conditions will the ‘One Happy Island’ have a sustainable development?


10 thoughts on “Can Aruba, the most beautiful and happy island have a sustainable development?

  1. My wife and I visited the island on our honeymoon. As someone interested in the planning field, I’m going to give my two cents.

    Considering the windy conditions down there, I think it can have a sustainable future in terms of wind energy. It doesn’t have much else going for it along the lines of its own agriculture or decent soil due to the lack of rainfall, but the island really cannot help that.

    Also, with the abundance of sun light and lack of cloudy skies, solar energy also becomes viable. I could see some of the rooftops of buildings being equipped with solar panels to convert sunlight into heat (hot water) and/or electricity.

    As for transportation, I do supppose the port could be a little bit better connected with the capital. When I was there, it didn’t appear as tho the island had an adequate public transit system. Most of the folks get around by car or bike or some other means. I suppose they could have bus service stretching out from Orangestad and the city of Noord, in the north-central part of the island. I guess with that, sure, the island could become more sustainable…

  2. This is a very interesting topic. In spite of the aridity of Aruba it has been flourishing economically from time immemorial. In fact some of my relatives migrated there years ago for better livelihoods and remained there, ironically leaving behind a green and rich (fertile land) St. Lucia.

    It seems that the Aruban government has taken the wise “green” initiative. There is no shortage of sunshine on this island; thus solar power can be capitalized upon as well as wave power from the sea and wind which is already being done. As long as the tourist product is attractive Aruba will be prosperous and sustainable and can be a model for similar islands.

  3. I have been to Aruba and indeed the island is quite beautiful. I believe that Aruba has the means of being the perfect example of renewable energy. The fact that you have so much wind would allow you to further utilize the turbine energy that you talk about in your post. Also the fact that you have a factory that converts sea water to to drinking water is truly amazing. As a Planner I think that you have a lot of opportunities to maximize your current resources and continue to think Green. I would be intersted in hearing more about what you are doing and would be willing to help in any way possible.


    Dr. Cynthia Owens Richardson, Chesterfield, Virginia

  4. Thank you for posting this. I’m interested to read about the challenges the island faces. To what extent are the people of Aruba focusing on creating synergy between natural, economic and social sustainability for the island? In my work I find that it is important to find the story and the meaning of the place in the minds of the people and visitors to build synergy on that.

    alle goeds voor the happy island!

  5. Josephine, very interesting writing. We have work in several projects for areas were sustainable architecture and energy are almost unknown and the results of our presentations were sensational. Let me share one with you.

    We are promoting our services, if you need images or videos to support your writing let me know and we can provably collaborate with you. Best Regards.
    We are in the same group in LinkedIn, add me to your network.

  6. Aruba’s only sustainable natural resource is its own population. Given the size of the permanent and tourist population in relation to the size of the island, green sustainability would be very difficult.

  7. Interesting article. Many comments focus on energy (wind, solar) and water, but my main concern would be the durability of the economy. Depending solely on one sector, no matter how much it is booming right now, is always risky. I wonder how much of the revenue stays on the island, and how much is “shipped out” by the foreign owned hotel brands of Eagle Beach… Being dependant on others for the import of food seems like a threat as well. All in all a pretty interesting challenge!

  8. Really like your article. It is very interesting, in depth and I like your perspective. I am going to repost and link back to it on MultiCulturalCooking Network.com

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