Saturday, February 2, 2008

If you build it, they will come

It’s the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, but for the Maldives it might not be true.

The tiny nation is made up of a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. As you can imagine, space in the Maldives is somewhat limited. So if you’re a nation of islands, what’s the solution to overcrowding? Build a new island of course - and so Hulhumale (pronounced Hoo-la-MA-lay') was born.

The problem is that few people actually want to live there. Designed to house 150,000 people, after five years only 5,000 people call Hulhumale home. The reasons cited are that Hulhumale lacks the hustle and bustle of the capital city Male, and Maldivians, unaccustomed to communting because their islands are typically so small, are unwilling to put up with a daily 30-minute trip to jobs in the capital.

Hulhumale is an interesting story. Urban planners can come up with all kinds of creative solutions to problems of overcrowding, transportation, etc., but these solutions are useless if people don’t want to take advantage of them.

Hulhumale faces another problem. Its average elevation is only six feet above sea level. While twice the average of other Maldivian islands, its also not high enough if the worst global warming estimates are right. By the end of the century, Hulhumale, and the rest of the Maldives, may be under water.
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