Over the past few years, change has been ramping up in the coastal city of Progreso.
New restaurants with fancy menus and hotels have slowly but surely replaced most fried fish joints and inns, at least on the oceanfront boardwalk.
The presence of non-Yucatecos is, of course, nothing new in Progreso. Still, the increase in the construction of luxury homes, hotels, and rental properties catering to folks from elsewhere in Mexico, as well as the United States, Europe, and Canada, is striking.
Of course, this does not mean that Yucatecos no longer frequent Progreso. Now, most day-trippers from Mérida and other nearby cities are more likely to be seen on the beach with coolers and beers purchased at convenience stores than eating on the Malecon.
Progreso was founded in 1872 to create a seaport closer to Mérida than the older port of Sisal. The city was named “Progreso” (meaning “progress” in Spanish) to reflect its founders’ hopes for the city’s future.
In 1881, a train departing from Mérida’s La Mejorada neighborhood began offering cargo and passenger service to Progreso — establishing the then-sleepy town as a popular beach destination for folks from Mérida.
It also became common for affluent and middle-class families in Mérida to own beach houses in Progreso, which were enjoyed during the summer, as well as Easter and the occasional long weekend.
But as companies in Mérida began to offer less and less time off to their workers, many of these beach homes fell into disrepair.
While it’s a good thing that these old homes are being rescued, the construction of new enormous towers and resorts along Progreso and its surrounding communities is striking.
Though less than a decade ago there were hardly any buildings with more than three or four floors, dozens of towers more than 10 stories tall have begun to dot the landscape, with more on the drawing board.
Blame a “rules are meant to be broken” attitude.
Transparency when it comes to approving the construction of these types of developments is virtually nil.
“Here in Progreso, there is absolutely no public consultation, although these changes affect us all. One day there is nothing and the next trailers and huge signs are announcing the construction of new condos,” Mary Gutiérrez told Diario de Yucatán.
Among the concerns most cited by locals is the municipality’s inability to keep up with potable water demands, rolling blackouts, a lack of parking, and erosion.
“People have just begun to wake up to the fact that tons of sand are being moved to create beachfront for new developments, but ultimately history is doomed to repeat itself,”Orlando Cachon Pinto commented on Facebook.
During a recent interview, Enrique Tava Griffin, president of Yucatán’s construction association argued that Development along the coast is inevitable, but that the construction of towers is the best way forward as it makes it easier for communities to avoid sprawl and offers access to basic services.
Then there are also the social justice issues. As Progreso and other nearby communities like Telchac and Chixulub continue to grow, so is the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
In many ways, Progreso is better today than ever before, at least as a tourism destination. But a lack of regulation, transparency, and growing inequality mean that these changes are not to be enjoyed by everyone.