If any city were ripe to be a test bed for next-generation technology and planning, it would be one in a remote island country with few resources. Male, the capital of the Maldives, is a perfect example. Only 2.4 square miles (5.8 km2) yet home to over 100,000 people, the city is compact and gives the vibe of Delhi or Mumbai instead of the other 1,200-odd islands that make up this country of only 115 square miles. At at time when many island states are amongst the most vocal countries screaming about having to address the risks of climate change, one would think that Male would be a leader on sustainable development. And in many ways, the Maldives itself is an economic development success story—at least according to the World Bank.

The city is certainly compact, with its population density ranking among the highest on Earth. Male, however, has become an environmental nightmare. The Maldives’ impressive economic growth has meant its people can afford more and better goods and services, as evident in the scooters and motorbikes that have taken over the island. Walking around the city is hardly a pleasure—in fact it can be dangerous, due to the fact that sidewalks are nonexistent and inevitably the onslaught of motorbikes will make you want to just hide in your hotel. Even walking around the island is fraught with risk—there is no easy path to enjoy the teal and cyan colored waters that help make the Maldives an appealing place to visit in the first place.

Although the United Nations and global governments have done their share to ensure Male and the rest of the Maldives balance economic growth and sustainability, more work needs to be done. The quality of life could improve rapidly if a simple light rail ran the length and width of the island—improving traffic for the taxis and delivery vehicles that are needed to keep people and good moving. The Maldives’ government says it has a plan in place, including launching clean energy installations, the development of an “integrated public passenger transport” and improve public health, but little evidence is on display in Male. Public transportation is limited to ferries that haul people and products to outlying islands.

One reason why more sustainable development has lagged in Male is because the Maldives has long been running huge budget deficits. While growth in the tourism sector has fueled the country’s economy, youth unemployment is still high, and true economic diversification has a long road head. Male would be a great laboratory for investment in technologies and design strategies related to smart cities, but the evidence suggests this will never happen.

The result is a lost opportunity—guests who travel to the Maldives often have to spend at least one night here before or after they visit one of the nation’s many resorts. Most of the country’s cultural treasures are here, and the city’s one public beach offers a quite respite from the hectic city. And the city can be a convivial place to spend a day or two: restaurants and cafes serving “short eats” offer delights for foodies; the waterfront presents impressive views, and the city’s largest open space, Sultan Park, is a great place to hang out day or night. Visitors would be able to learn how to plan for resilience in an era of diminishing resources. Unfortunately, short term thinking is dogma in what would otherwise be a fantastic place to visit on the way to one of the Maldives’ famous posh resorts.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

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Sultan Park at night is an extravaganza of bright lights

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Which domino should be knocked down?

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The water surrounding Male is certainly spectacular

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Cultural highlights include Male's Islamic Center

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Bright pops of color add sparkle to this crowded city

A similar article has been written for Triple Pundit.

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.