Sensible urban planning according to Gabrielle Brun

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Gabrielle Brun’s contribution to the Moka Smart City cuts across the social and spatial dimensions of the development. The urban architect assists ENL in organising and managing spaces in a coherent way to achieve a harmonious interaction between man and nature.

Gabrielle, can you tell us a bit about your background as an urban planner?

I have been practising as an architect and urban planner for almost 20 years. I initially worked for about ten years in France in the parapublic sector as a researcher for a leading urban planning firm providing consultancy services to cities, and then for a territorial authority as head of housing. In these roles, I have had the opportunity to work on large-scale projects such as the Grand Paris development. I moved to Mauritius in 2008 for personal reasons. I worked as COO for a private developer before setting up my own agency in 2012. L’Atelier Gabrielle Brun is an architecture and urban planning firm.

What does an urban planner do?

The first thing to know is that urban planning is a speciality on its own. There are urban planners who are not architects and architects who are not urban planners. It is a multidisciplinary profession that requires various skills. Urban planning draws upon the fields of geography, architecture, economics, technology, sociology and political science. It is as much a passion as an occupation! I help decision-makers scope out what the city of the future might look like. It is both a rewarding position which allows you to improve people’s living conditions and a very demanding, and even frustrating one when measuring the effort required to achieve your goal.

My role in the Moka Smart City development is to assist ENL in implementing construction work in compliance with applicable regulations and ensuring risk management. In some cases, I also take responsibility for the overall planning of activities, including operations and the selection of materials with the engineers. You must bring together all the stakeholders and this is no easy thing! It requires a lot of orchestration.

Where do citizens fit into this city of the future?

Putting citizens first is at the heart of the Moka Smart City strategy, starting with including them in a participatory policy. The smart city approach combines responsible natural resource management with participatory governance to better address the needs of citizens, businesses and institutions. To be worthy of this designation, the development model must be guided by respect for people and the environment. At least, such is the case for ENL. Apart from the technological aspect, local engagement must be a central concern in view of the importance of cultural and social parameters in smart city development. The goal is to improve the quality of life of each citizen.

How does sensible urban planning help people live together better?

It is clear that urban planning was long overdue in Mauritius. A critical mass and a well-designed housing system are required to deliver consistent services. The people of the island are not very mobile. For example, there are still many people living in the South who work in the North or in the capital. Urban planning must take this essential point into account in order to bring people as close as possible to services, their workplace, schools, transport networks, etc.

What are the main challenges in sustainable urban planning?

The concept of sustainability reminds us of the need to balance well-being, equity, social cohesion and economic development with respect for the natural environment. This requires developing efficient and ecological buildings, meeting travel needs, managing waste, rainwater and noise, providing quality public and private spaces, considering the proximity to services, etc. It also means raising awareness among residents about urban choices. We must therefore think differently and take a longer-term view. On another note, unlike in Europe or France, a big difference with the Moka Smart City is that it is a privately-funded private sector development. This means carrying out phased development while keeping in mind the need for profitability. Fortunately, ENL has a long-term vision and wants to create sustainable value.

How is the Moka Smart City faring on this front?

This smart city encourages its citizens, businesses and public authorities to develop urban dynamism through innovative approaches to organisation, sharing, communication and production. There is already a real mix of people with a philanthropic spirit in Moka who want to share the project with the largest number of people possible. Finally, in terms of infrastructure, the development also includes various environmentally-friendly means of travel such as a bike path, a 4-km-long promenade and walking paths. The Moka Smart City is therefore off to a pretty good start. I would even say that it is best-in-class in the field in Mauritius!

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