Male, the Island Capital Perfect as a Smart City Lab
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
Join the fun on Instagram
A similar article has been written for Triple Pundit.