When slavery was abolished in the British Empire in 1834, there was enough uninhabited land in the Cayman Islands for the former slaves to establish their own freeholds. This broad access to land became very important when the price of real estate started to rise dramatically in the late 1960s, allowing many Caymanians to turn a profit on land that formerly had little commercial value. Many of the former slaves settled in the North Side District, one of five districts in Grand Cayman (the others being West Bay, George Town, Bodden Town, and East End).
The original capital of Grand Cayman was Bodden Town, which is located in the central part of the island. Bodden Town was eventually replaced by George Town, which today is the most populous district of Grand Cayman. The development of tourism, banking, and commerce that transformed the Cayman Islands has been largely concentrated in George Town. The city of George Town is the seat of government and the center for social and medical services, finance, and duty-free shops. The landing for cruise ships is located in the city, and the international airport is situated in the George Town District, as are most of the major hotels and restaurants. Given this centralization, it is perhaps not surprising that in 1989, 12,921 people, or about half of the total Cayman Islands population, resided in this district. In addition, many residents of the two adjoining districts, West Bay and Bodden Town, commute to workplaces in George Town.
This commuting is made possible by a modern road network that now connects settlements in all five districts. Before World War II, there were few roads, and internal transport and communication was very difficult, especially for the isolated outer districts of North Side and East Side, and even more so for the sister islands. Settlements were self-sufficient, and interaction between them was very limited. As a result, a strong sense of local-district identity developed, juxtaposed with far-flung international contacts through seafaring and emigration. To some extent, that juxtaposition persists in spite of the contemporary ease of access and communication between the settlements and their integration into a centralized island economy and infrastructure. People who travel frequently out of the country, deal regularly with tourists and expatriate workers, wear the latest Western fashions, drive cars made in the United States or Japan, and find fax machines indispensable can nonetheless be very reluctant to move from the district in which they grew up to another district only 10 or 20 minutes away by car.