Re-inventing Urban living

‘I found Rome brick, I left it marble’

— Caesar Augustus

The verdict of the people is unequivocal. In the space of six months, L’Alliance Lepep has won a second and more emphatic landslide victory in municipal elections which include areas which were considered to be citadels of the opposition.

It is a historic and unprecedented win as they won all the 120 seats in the 30 municipal wards of the four towns and the City of Port Louis. The rout of the opposition is total.

Voter participation in municipal elections has traditionally been low at around 42% and the 35.6% voter turnout in the 2015 municipal elections is therefore below par. However, the results clearly show an endorsement of the voters for L’Alliance Lepep and a large win over its main challenger, the MMM. It also confirms that the large inroads made by L’Alliance Lepep at the December 2014 general elections into the urban electorate, a part of which has traditionally supported the opposition, have been extended to encompass the totality of the 30 urban wards covered in the municipal elections.

The municipal election results also amplify the disavowal of both the leaders of the MMM and the Labour Party and their condemnable rhetoric. Their position has been untenable for quite some time. Yet, in total disregard of the people’s sanction at the December 2014 polls, they have with the support of faithful apparatchiks quashed rumbles and dissent within their parties to doggedly hold on to their posts. Will they now realise that they no longer have the people’s trust? Will they finally understand that they should go as they have become heavy liabilities for their respective parties and that their persistence in holding on with their heads buried in the sand, profoundly undermines the future of the two parties?

It must be emphasised that the nature of the people’s vote augurs well for the future as it robustly rejects the divisive rhetoric used during the campaign. It is therefore important that this building momentum and national unity of purpose be further strengthened through an appropriate policy framework which generates inclusive growth, creates employment, provides equal opportunities for all in a transparent system and takes everyone on board. Such an approach will snuff political forces which have stoked and thrived on division for decades, in order to usher a more united Mauritius.

It must be remembered that both the general and municipal elections have been won on the strength of vox populi and the people’s trust that the government elected by them will bring about the paradigm shift in good governance and policy framework required to deliver on the promises made and on the fundamental and urgent needs and expectations of the people. Now that the elections are behind us, it is high time to earnestly focus on delivery. The people’s needs are quite simple and straightforward. They want jobs creating growth and a transparent rule-based system which provides a level playing field and equal opportunities for all based on merit. They want a more equal society where the fruits of prosperity generated through collective hard work are shared equitably and where the vulnerable are protected.

Above all, they want an end to double standards, corruption, bad governance and the appointment of pliant sycophants in key posts instead of proven professionals. This unsound practice undermines rigorous governance and the public interest, as attested by the numerous alleged malpractices being uncovered. The government therefore has the responsibility to ensure that it lives up to the people’s trust and expectations and that these benchmarks and guiding principles are strictly adhered to.

An urban master plan

The clear mandate given to the new team of councillors entrusted with the responsibility of running the affairs of the five municipalities provides a golden opportunity to imaginatively reshape our towns and the City of Port Louis into dynamic, vibrant and convivial living environments providing efficient services, security as well as a rich range of recreational and cultural activities to its inhabitants. The development of our towns and Port Louis has been rather piecemeal over the past decades without any real master plan. It is a shame that the Port Louis Theatre, Plaza or the old Town Hall of Curepipe are in the state that they are.

Now that there is going to be an obvious synergy between the government and the municipalities, isn’t it time to urgently set up an able team of town planners, urban developers, landscape architects, elected councillors and representatives of civil society, etc., to brainstorm an imaginative blue print to transform the five municipalities into eco-friendly and convivial smart cities providing a wide range of facilities and activities for the benefit of not only the townsfolk but the people at large. Our towns are relatively small which renders the realisation and management of such a venture feasible.

With the choice of the right team and inputs from appropriate experts, we have the opportunity to convert our municipalities into a model which goes beyond the conventional definition of a smart city. Apart from using ICT (information and communication technologies) to provide improved urban services at minimum cost and engage its citizens more proactively, our model smart city must also be eco-friendly and vitalize the concept of proximity among citizens within the community which should characterize urban living. In England, the boroughs also provide, apart from standard services of garbage collection, street lightning or library, diverse courses in say pottery or cookery or gardening and other activities in borough centres, likely to interest and bring citizens together. These centres also act as an exchange hub for people to offer diverse services and connect with citizens.

There is a new mix of elected councillors comprising a welcome inclusion of women and the young. Let them who have their ears close to the ground, bring their contribution to remodelling our towns and Port Louis into a beehive of urban activities where its inhabitants enjoy conviviality and quality living. The significant improvement of the quality and rich diversity of urban life in the municipalities should be one of the priorities of the Municipal authorities and councillors.

From time immemorial towns and cities have been the centre of human social interaction and a hub of essential activities of trade through the market place and shops, recreation by visiting artists, theatre troupes or troubadours and necessary services such as security provided by the town provost. What should we do to make the quality of urban living far better in present days?

The driving principle must be that the citizens must be able to find their towns and city and even their locality organised to be autonomous for most of their basic existential and recreational needs. This includes having efficient municipal services and an equally efficient hotline service which resolves problems faced by citizens. It also means a salubrious and modern market place, a clean and healthy environment, an on-going time table of cultural and other activities likely to attract citizens, essential services, green spaces and outdoor health pathways, easy parking areas and cycling tracks as well as recreational, shopping and eating outlets.

The municipality must also organise communication with its citizens to disseminate information about facilities available and upcoming events and activities through the internet, information leaflets or other means. What about having a street eating food court selling all the great local fare? What about a permanent exhibition space to allow local handicraft industries and SMEs or decorative plant growers to showcase their produce? It could also be used as a gallery where local artists could exhibit their paintings and sculptures.

The cultural scene needs to be revitalized and the municipalities can be a potent catalyst to do that provided it is intelligently thought out with a good mix of theatre, sketches, cultural shows and concerts, etc. From what we know of our municipalities, quite a lot has to be done to attain these essential elements required to re-inventing urban living.

Positive fallouts

Such a welcome upgrading of urban living would also help broaden economic activities within the municipal areas as well as significantly enrich the cultural and recreational scene in the country as artists, entertainers, musicians, and theatrical groups are provided with a platform to perform in the five municipalities. In short, the idea is to brainstorm, with the help of specialists and town planners, a re-invention of urban living in a manner which encourages town and city dwellers to participate in the diverse urban activities, thus strengthening the sense of kinship among fellow citizens and with their town or city.

This could lead to the organisation of healthy contests among the municipalities in diverse cultural, sporting or other events. With ambitious vision, expert guidance and a collective will, the municipalities can be converted into a dynamic hub of quality urban living. Once one of the municipalities has been satisfactorily revamped into a model of urban quality of life, we should also envisage replicating it progressively, in a parallel venture, in the rural towns and villages of the country bearing in mind their specificities and requirements.

A modern city must be able to integrate digital technologies and ICT, energy efficiency, green energy and sustainability to support future generations. It must therefore establish directives and norms to do so and in particular in all new urban constructions. It must also be able to harness the funds required to also make the city or town become, as was the case in its primeval form, a convivial and gregarious space for the urban interaction of the people through participation in its diverse facilities and attractive cultural activities.

A city or town or village is certainly not an anonymous and impersonal retreat but a vibrant and living entity which harbours our home. Let us imaginatively re-invent urban living to enhance our quality of life. This will go a long way to strengthening a sense of belonging and involvement, thus probably helping cut down future voting abstention as citizens progressively take on the responsibility of replacing ‘brick by marble’ and running their cities and towns.


*  Published in print edition on 19 June 2015

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