For anyone that follows news on smart cities, you might have seen that the Indian Ocean island nation has been mentioned on quite a few occasions.
Mauritius started their smart city idea in the early 2000’s. Ebène Cybercity, which is located roughly 15km to the south along the M1 (one of the main highways on the island) and is built on sugar cane fields.
The concept behind Ebène Cybercity was to create a modern workplace for Mauritians and also bring a high-tech hub to the island. Back in the early 2000’s it was promoted as a leap into the future for Mauritius.
Despite being early adopters to the smart city concept, Ebène Cybercity, has also been criticised by many. It has been slated for having poor transport links, poor access routes, and for having a lack of parking.
Ross Macbeth, a Scottish-trained architect based on the island told the Guardian (who wrote an article about Ebène Cybercity a year ago) that the smart city is far from perfect, but the project achieved what it was set out to do, which was to create a modern working environment and also to help decrease traffic congestion from the capital, Port Louis.
Despite the criticisms that Ebène Cybercity has received, the building has high speed internet, which, at the start of the millennium was very rare. In addition, it has back-up electricity generators as well as networking systems to guarantee that big businesses can stay online.
The cybercity illustrates an important difference in planned urban growth between developed and developing countries. As the world’s cities grow and intelligent urban design becomes a global discipline, a vision of Mauritius’s future demonstrates that the concept of a smart city is far from standardised. (Christopher F Schuetze, The Guardian, May 2016)
What’s interesting about this example is that, in Europe, a smart city would be perceived as an existing city that has been regenerated with an array of smart features. However, in Africa it seems to be the other way round. Ebène Cybercity was built away from the dust and the hustle and bustle from Port Louis. Smart city projects on the continent are based on the desire to start with a fresh slate, as mentioned in The Guardian article.
Rashiq Fataar, an urbanist based in South Africa, criticises the smart city concept on the continent. He sees them as projects that benefit the elite rather than the population as a whole.
Bertrand Moingeon, a Parisian professor who studies urban development in Mauritius stresses that Africa needs to use existing smart city models which should primarily focus on social and environmental improvements.
The current Mauritian government, which has been in power since the end of 2014 and boasts the country’s first woman president, describes smart cities as a “cure for all”, from attracting foreign workers to improving construction. There are plans for another smart city; the Heritage City work has currently started on the project and has cost USD 820 million.
The 115-hectare suburb plans to house most of the country’s government buildings as well as housing for government workers.
Again, Heritage City, like Ebène Cybercity, has been criticised. Heritage City is for the government and its workers. Smart cities are meant to represent creating liveable knowledge hubs. Here, it once again shows that the elite are the chosen ones, something that must change in Africa.
Despite the criticisms of housing the elite in these smart cities or having certain infrastructure issues such as a lack of parking, Mauritius can be seen as an early adopter of using the smart city concept. In addition, the tiny Indian Ocean island has taught us here in Europe that we do not need to use existing cities to make them “smart” we can create new ones in alternative and sparse areas.
There are still a lot of lessons Mauritius needs to learn about adopting this smart city concept, particularly making sure that everyone can take advantage on what they offer, no matter if a person is rich or poor.
I’ll leave you with Paul Doherty, President & CEO at The Digit Group’s thoughts on smart cities in Mauritius.