Belmopan, capital of Belize. Discussion of the need for a new capital for the British colony of British Honduras took place for years before it was actually built. Four reasons were advanced: first, the old capital, Belize City, lying a scant eighteen inches above sea level, had been devastated by major hurricanes in 1931 and 1955. Second, planners hoped to reduce the overwhelming centralization of educational, economic, political, and cultural functions in Belize City. Third, some people believed that Belize City, with its squalid slums, inadequate sanitation, and severe overcrowding, had reached the limits of urbanization. Finally, the government hoped to focus attention on the neglected interior of the country.
Planning began in earnest following Hurricane Hattie, which struck Belize City on 31 October 1961 and killed 262 people and destroyed or damaged 75 percent of the city's structures. A site near Roaring Creek Village, some 50 miles southwest of Belize City, was selected. Safe from the onslaught of hurricanes, it had an abundant supply of potable water from the Belize River and was located at the intersection of two of the country's major highways.
Designed to be built in five stages over a twenty-year period, only $12 million was initially available in the form of loans and grants from the British government. Of 8,100 acres purchased for the site, 450 acres were cleared. Construction began in 1966, and the new capital opened officially in 1970. By then buildings to house the national government, civil servants, and essential public services had been completed. The central area for public buildings includes three plazas, government, civic administration, and commercial, which are connected by pedestrian walkways. The government complex, in the shape of a Mayan temple, includes a series of gray concrete-block buildings that house the principal ministries and is crowned by the National Assembly.
Twenty years after the first offices were occupied, the buildings, with their cell-like offices, were severely overcrowded, and in 1991 construction began on two massive new office structures. Other buildings completed since 1970 include the government printery, the public works department, a police training complex, the national archives, and Belize House, the residence of the governor general. Municipal buildings housing police, fire officials, a post office, and a civic center have also been completed. The commercial sector has grown more slowly. More than eight hundred residences have been constructed and occupied since 1970. In 2000, the town of Belmopan was incorporated.
While some early planners envisioned a busy city of thirty thousand people with tree-lined avenues by the 1980s, population growth has been modest. In 2005 the population was estimated at 13,500. Nevertheless, since the 1980s Belmopan has attracted refugees from neighboring Central American countries, many of whom have settled on the city's outskirts. The new capital has spurred agricultural and commercial development in the center of the country and now is an important transportation hub. Since the 1990s Belmopan has experienced growth: a number of foreign governments relocated their embassies from Belize City, and it is home to the main campus of the University of Belize. On the negative side, few industries have relocated to Belmopan. Many civil servants continue to commute from Belize City.
See alsoBelize .
Belmopan, Belize C. A., Miscellaneous Collection #97 (ca. 1970), National Archives (26–28 Unity Blvd., Belmopan, Belize).
Peter Furley, "A Capital Waits for Its Country," in Geographical Magazine 43, no. 10 (1971): 713-716.
Kevin C. Kearns, "Belmopan: Perspective on a New Capital," in Geographical Review 63, no. 2 (1973): 147-169.
M. Day, G. Gruszczynski, and K. Schuparra, "Belmopan, the Hummingbird Highway, and Other Regional Influences," in Environment and Resources in the Hummingbird Karst of Central Belize, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Department of Geography, Occasional Papers Series, no. 2 (1987): 42-49, and figs. 9 and 10, pp. 15-16.
Probst, Heinz J., and Helmut Nuhn, eds. Polarization and Capital Relocation in Belize: Case Studies in Urban Development and Planning. Hamburg, Germany: Wayasbah, 1990.
Woods, Louis A., Joseph M. Perry, and Jeffrey W. Steagall. "The Composition and Distribution of Ethnic Groups in Belize: Immigration and Emigration Patterns, 1980–1991." Latin American Research Review 32, no. 3 (1997): 63-88.
Brian E. Coutts