More than 40% of Mauritians live in urban areas. Migration to towns is growing day by day. This was so some 30 years ago when there was a marked difference between urban living and life in rural Mauritius. Although there have been considerable improvements in the villages in terms of infrastructure and other facilities, people particularly the young ones are on the lookout for an opportunity to settle in the towns on account of the collective quality of urban life. It is expected that more than half the population would soon be living in towns/cities. And this is a world phenomenon.
The government has thought about the need for new cities to cope with the challenges of urban living and which could also be magnets for investment. The announcement to built ‘a number smart cities’ falls in line with this vision.The Prime Minister in his speech on “Achieving The Second Economic Miracle And Vision 2030” has stated that smart cities “will be designed with 4 key focus objectives, namely ecological sustainability, economic competitiveness, digital connectivity, with an improved quality of life within the Live, Work and Play concept”.
Many people are interested to learn more about the smart cities. Some believe that they cannot do anything about it; they are dwarfed and disempowered in face of such a modern, technologically impregnated innovative project. I picked up the brains of a few whose opinions I believe are not compelling or scientific but are noteworthy the more so because their ideas are related to the ecological impact and climate change in the construct of the smart cities
Some view that the forest scrubs (which stands at 47200 hectares around 25% of total area and almost same as built up areas) should not be decreased to build the cities, given the primordial importance forests have in sheltering the biodiversity, providing food and natural resources, absorbing greenhouse gases, and regulating climate.
Others believe that the smart cities should provide an effective waste management system where the biodegradables are separately collected and used for compost and the non-biodegradable waste sent for recycling.
A few oldies entertain fears that the smart cities may be developed poorly leading to overcrowding, congestion, declining quality of life and impacting negatively on environment.
There are smart cities across the world. What makes smart cities is not same everywhere. A smart city in United States is different from what is considered as smart city in India. In general the smart cities are built up areas par excellence for residence, business and pleasure. They have the ability to generate most of their usable energy from renewable sources: wind and sun, to use Information technology to provide essential services to the citizens. The technological platform therein includes automated sensor networks and data centres, video crime monitoring, public information and grievance redress, electronic service delivery, etc. The modern cities have a sustainable water management system. Rain water is captured for irrigation. Rain gardens replace lawns and soak excess water. Driveways and sidewalks are made of permeable materials to allow water to seep through them and act as a filter for aquifer below. Excess water during floods and storms are effectively funneled into drains to reservoirs. The buildings are energy efficient. Solar panels, roof gardens, windows lined with heat trapping film and the like are the norm.
Well-designed cities can bring clear benefits, including economic development and prosperity. More importantly the smart cities offer an opportunity to mitigation, which refers to all activities that contribute to reducing global greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere like use of renewable energy production, such as wind and solar energy, enhancing energy efficiency, measures to combat deforestation and forest degradation, adopting practices that avoid releasing greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane) into the atmosphere.
The shape of our future cities rests with us. The quality of life, delivery of services, leisure, safety, environment and ecological concern, impact on climate change – a non-negotiable priority are the few things that will say how smart our cities are?
* Published in print edition on 4 December 2015