Ebne Cybercity was built 15 years ago to create a modern working environment for Mauritians and bring a hi-tech hub to this island nation. So does it offer a roadmap for Africa – or a warning of problems ahead?
As the fruit bat flies, its only 300 metres from Cyber Tower 1 to the massive food court and commercial centre that was built to service Ebne Cybercity the hi-tech office community on the outskirts of Mauritiuss capital, Port Louis.
But walking from the ostentatious lobby of Cyber Tower 1 to the shops and restaurants can take 20 minutes if you dont get lost along the way. The fastest route by foot bisects car parks, traverses overgrown vacant lots, and stumbles over temporary walkways past some of the biggest businesses on the island.
Both an urban planning disaster and for many proud Mauritians the very definition of modern office life, Cybercity was first proposed by the government in 2001 as a high-tech hub, and now houses almost 25,000 mostly educated, middle-class workers during the week. While the development can be criticised for a shocking lack cohesiveness, poor public transport, limited parking or even difficult access by foot, its creation did bring many aspects of modern connected life to Mauritian workers.
Its far from perfect, but its better than we had before, says Ross Macbeth, a Scottish-trained architect based in Mauritius.
Like other local observers, Macbeth says that despite its many design flaws, the project did what it set out to do: create a modern working environment in the African island state, while ameliorating traffic conditions in the capital, Port Louis.
Built on sugar cane fields roughly 15km to the south along the M1 (one of two modern highways that bisect the country) and completely disconnected from the surrounding urban fabric, Cybercity was promoted as a leap into the future for Mauritius.