Time to Smarten Up

By the definition that we give to politics in Mauritius, I speak from a non-political position, away from the pettiness of partisan politics. By the Greek meaning of politics, then my every word is deeply political as it is seeped with a concern that the management of the city has to be geared towards the well being of ALL its inhabitants. Smart Mauritius is at the moment a concept that is generating fiery debate, and it should because it raises matters of ownership (land, public money, infrastructure, economic and political power, our future).
If we focus on Smart as ‘Intelligent’, this is what the concept should encompass to me:
the capacity to recognise the existence of lessons from the past
and integrate them in our future projections.
the capacity to recognise the existence of multiple points of view (urban planner, architect, sociologist, economist, artist, entrepreneur etc) and integrate them.
the capacity to integrate 3 sets of capital in the concept and execution of a national project: intellectual, social and emotional. A doctor friend of mine describes the 3 Cs that an excellent doctor should master: Competence, Caring, Communication.
the capacity to develop new connections within and with the world.
As a country, we have overstretched almost all the systems in place since independence and we have taken the safer path of patchwork to the limit. The way forward is to reinvent ourselves though a bold, ambitious, generative, integrated, long-term framework. Almost 50 years on from independence when we dreamt of a nation, could the concept Smart Mauritius be giving us a chance to dream and realise the Mauritius of the next generation?
Granted that at the moment we cannot judge either way. The many holes in the changing story are breeding ground for legitimate concern as well as conspiracy theories, especially at a time when the population feels a bit battered and bruised by a number of national scandals. Images of European cities, I agree, reinforce the bluff perception. Now more than ever, though, we need to believe that politics, in the sense of the good management of the city, can and will positively impact our lives in tangible ways in the immediate term (the project), in the medium term (the programme) and the long term (the plan).
Let’s focus on the information that is now available. If Smart Mauritius reorganised our territory and lives: to deliver access to better transport of goods and passengers; provided access to water and electricity to all; created autonomy in terms of energy production and waste management; created living environments which are socially mixed as opposed to ghettos; built on what already exists rather than created more cyber cities; developed sorely lacking facilities such as areas of healthy leisure; enhanced organic agriculture and food security; not only created employment but created the right conditions for an innovation-incubator city, surely this would be desirable a framework by all.  
So far so good, but let’s take the concept further.
A macrostructure for visioning and planning Mauritius
What if the Smart Mauritius plan integrates the capacity to learn from errors of the past? And what if Gaetan Siew and his team could demonstrate, in clear concrete terms, that a Smart Mauritius has the potential to create healthy win-win bridges between the private and public sectors for the benefit of ALL Mauritians? What if this Smart Mauritius comes into being through a truly integrated creative framework that challenges the silo mind-set of individual ministries? We would then finally have a macrostructure for visioning and planning Mauritius.
What if experts in all relevant disciplines, beyond architecture, urban planning, the technology of the future, were invited to contribute to the birthing of the concept of a Smart Mauritius? What if a platform were created to get brains who might approach the subject differently to work together within a multi-disciplinary framework to create a whole, greater than the sum of the individual parts?
What if Smart Mauritius included a Smart Campus ensuring quality, technologically-driven, affordable education thereby democratising access to higher education? The high kudos universities will always have their place. But in a world where life long learning and training will become pivotal to ensuring constant adaptation, and to fuelling the project itself with smart human resources, low cost education with international benchmarking will become a determining investment.
What if Smart meant meritocratic? Simply placing the smartest talents in the right positions of responsibility would ensure optimum outcomes and reduce brain drain.  
What if a Smart Mauritius went a step further and outsmarted the Silicon Valley? Silicon Valley which sees itself as the embodiment of meritocracy is struggling with a culture of sexism in its almost all-male leadership in technology. What if we had the smartness of planning ahead to avoid this mistake, what if we deliberately invested in capacity building and included the competence of half of the population, women in this plan?
What if Smart meant the smart management of our patrimony and cultural diversity? What if Smart meant not only the cliché of insipid malls or the superimposition of look-alike world cities but the development of a distinctly Mauritian scape with the help of local artists?
What if Smart meant the development of international relations based on new parameters set with the regional and global forces to ensure equitable deals regarding the exploitation of our seas, the management and co-management of our islands?
What if Smart meant good communication rather than a top-down approach? The competent, caring doctor is only half way there unless she has established a communication of trust with her patients. Even when the critical mass of competence has been gathered to realise a Smart Mauritius, even when the commitment to a social dimension that would benefit ALL Mauritians and not just those who have a stake in the designated 8 areas has been demonstrated, the story of the future has yet to be told, in human terms, to weave emotional links between those who propose and the population. A long-term plan that has the potential to affect most aspects of all of our lives must leave space for a sense of ownership by the people.
Ultimately though, all the above what ifs are irrelevant unless we have an answer to this final one. What if we find a way of safeguarding our best interests as a nation through a long-term commitment to a plan without it being dabbled with by the five-year terms of fleeting governments and the ensuing tit for tat? If Smart Mauritius, as I envision it, is to be a long-term Nation-Building 2.0 project then, akin to independence, it cannot be done and then undone by successive governments.


Commentaires

tres bien decrit,bonne reflexion,tres smart.Its high time we start thinking on long term consideration for the benefit of all the nation with the obligation of leaving no one out.

Thank you Ms Mooneeram for sharing your vision of our future smart cities. I like your holistic approach encompassing not only the infrastructure but also adding a mauritian social dimension to it. So often in the past we have seen Ministries working in isolation on some projects with very poor results. We have seen it especially as regards social housing, with scant regards to future impact of their schemes. I hope this government who is initiating this project do take inspiration from this article. I hope too that the planners do take into consideration the growing number of senior citizens and those with a disability.