For the first time in history the majority of our population is living in urban areas. Per capita, Seychelles is the most urbanized country in Africa. This is an amazing milestone but one with far reaching consequences. For example, many professionals and businesses ranging from physical planners to building contractors from district administrators to police officers will have their work impacted.As Seychelles becomes more urban, life in these areas becomes more “vertical.” The detached houses of the past are being replaced or complemented by vertical apartment buildings. If trends continue, by the end of the century a large percentage of our population will be living “up”- in apartments.
The Seychellois dream of owning a house on a plot of land may become a distant memory for many as leaner budgets, expensive real estate and lack of “buildable” land make planning and development lean toward vertical living. This style of accommodation is nothing new in many countries but Seychellois may have been slow to accept it.
The consequences of vertical living need to be discussed urgently. It will be more than urban planning, architecture or zoning - it's going to be about the human experience and how it's going to change with so many people living in what will be a common built-environment of 21st Century Seychelles.
The social implications are profound. Seychellois social workers already know that living in close physical proximity to neighbors and sharing facilities has a tremendous impact on residents of high density apartments. Studies from other countries have found that where apartments and spaces around them are well-designed and constructed the experience can have positive influences on the health of residents. Conversely, poorly designed and constructed buildings and common areas can have poor social relations and resulting devastating effects such as health problems and crime.
Traditionally, apartments have been perceived as somewhere you’re forced to live rather than choose to live. But the future will have to be different. Perhaps it’s not so much the thought of apartment living but a lack of appropriate design that has put off many people. There may also be a perception that living in apartments is for low income families who have been forced into spaces that do match their requirements.
I think the reality is not that Seychellois have been reluctant to accept vertical living but simply poor design that overlooks the needs of different people. The urgency for the future is about rethinking concepts of how vertical living should feel and look. We must rethink development so that vertical living becomes translated into vibrant and livable communities.
Nirmal Shah.(First published by the author in “The People”)