Nicolas Dalais: « A town cannot be built on a whim! »

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Creating projects that make sense. Here is the motto of Nicolas Dalais, who has contributed in the development of Cap Tamarin project. He gives us his insight regarding upcoming developments that should start during the course of the year.

Huge construction projects are being announced for 2017 till 2019. Do you believe in this great construction phase?

I am quite convinced. We have entered into an era of sustainable development where urban planning starts to make sense. I am persuaded that in addition to the Smart Cities project, the Métro Express (Light Rail Project) will drastically change urban landscape of the island. Now, the key question remains: do we have the required human, financial and logistics resources to bring this project to a successful conclusion?

One of the flagship projects for this great construction phase is the Smart Cities project. What is your view regarding this type of development?

Personally, I do not consider the words “Smart City” to fit the context in which we are using them. Instead of talking about “Smart City”, we should refer to the overall planning of Mauritius, as we should consider the island as a town itself. I prefer to talk about ecodistricts.

According to me, the Smart City Scheme is a great idea as it provides promoters with development opportunities which are different from ‘morcellements’ or housing estate (IRS or RES). We are really entering into a well thought out development with a genuine debate on the quality of life as well as on time and space factors. The kind of initiative from Government is quite positive but I feel that there is a lack of joint discussion. Very often, projects are not well connected to nearby towns or villages, or even to the Metro Express project. There are two approaches that are moving together, simultaneously. There is a lack of coordination between the Smart City Scheme and the Metro Express project.

However, these Smart Cities or ecodistricts will provide for a well thought out real estate offer that will allow Mauritians to benefit from an even higher quality of life.

Isn’t it likely to change the real estate landscape of Mauritius?

I think that we would totally benefit from it. Mauritius has been always promoted abroad as a paradisiac destination with its luxury villas. But in a few years’ time, we shall have much better to offer. These projects will attract, I hope, a young population – as opposed to IRS projects which target a wealthier customer base, hence a more ageing population. Nowadays more young Mauritians have settled in more urbanized countries, offering a different lifestyle and I think that this kind of project will encourage them to return to Mauritius: the quality of life that we would offer them would be much better.

Do you think that these major projects are in line with today’s environmental concerns?

It is very difficult for me to put all these projects in the same basket. I think that there are some projects which are realistic and justified. What is most interesting in my thoughts is that the typology of urban planning has evolved: we have moved from a ‘morcellement’-oriented typology (which is car-oriented) to an ecodisctrict-oriented, which is more advantageous from a social, economic, environmental and cultural point of view.

Moreover, these projects take into account the time factor: it will be more worthwhile to live in this type of residential development as each resident will save money upon his energy consumption. If the premises of the Smart Cities Scheme are complied with, we should see the emergence of new towns self-sufficient in energy, water and waste management.

However, we should take into account the existing towns. At this end, I think that the government should provide for arrangements so that the private sector can invest. I am convinced that the Metro Express project will also allow for this urban regeneration.

According to the BOI, the real estate sector is the one attracting the greatest share of FDI. Do you think that this might be dangerous?

I anticipate the following problem: regarding the current property selling price, we can speculate that only one age group will continue to invest in Mauritius. I actually refer to people who have worked during their whole lifetime to acquire a beautiful property.

On the other hand, I think that the country needs young diploma-holder investors and entrepreneurs to boost its economy. If our real estate offer does not allow this category of foreigners to invest in Mauritius, then what we are doing right now is in fact dangerous: we are relying on a short-term economic dynamism.

As an architect, what are according to you the challenges that the Smart City project has to face to be sustainable?

In the first stance, a town cannot be built on a whim! It is being built in line with an existing history, demand and local economic activity. The greatest challenge is to provide for dense area with trees in order to get rid of the misperception that a town automatically implies concrete. And let’s not forget: it is finally more ecological to live in the city center with all your commodities at arm’s reach, rather than live in the heart of Nature but travelling daily by car to reach those commodities.

This is why projects like Cap Tamarin make sense. The Black River region is the one which has experienced the highest growth since the past ten years. This is the reason why morcellements has been flourishing with a real urban planning strategy. As city planners for the Cap Tamarin project, we have tried to set up a sustainable urban planning and I am convinced that we have succeeded in doing so. It is a relevant project with regards to its objectives and human scale.

Source : LexpressProperty Mag No 40