It was when Lawrence Gonzi was prime minister and Austin Gatt his most forceful minister that we started hearing about Smart City.
In hindsight, there was something strange about it. We had just joined the EU and its single market and should have expected that to deliver growth. And here was the new government opening up to getting help from a non-EU source – Dubai.
They took us (the media) there to be amazed at all those sleek skyscrapers rising out of the desert. Then they presented us with the Smart City template for Malta. It would put Malta at the forefront of ICT, an area devoted to ICT development, just like the Tecom Smart City they had built in Dubai.
The Gonzi government was utterly sold on the idea. The appropriate legislation was hurriedly passed through parliament, and excavation and construction of the first blocks began.
Many expressed doubts, especially the Labour Opposition, who said this would only be a speculative real estate venture.
So many years later, we have to admit the doubters were right. Smart City has failed, like other projects its ‘investors’ promised in other countries. Smart City has not turned out to be the driver of a new economy as it was portrayed. It is nothing more than a speculative real estate venture with some office buildings and soon residential complexes like so many others.
The Labour Party that had so opposed it, now in office, has jumped on it and made it its own. It has even neglected to do what the previous government had committed itself to and then did not do – construct a wide road leading to it.
Maybe this is the destiny of any ODZ area left untouched. First come the noble intentions, then comes confusion and lo and behold, the area gets turned into real estate speculation.
Once again, it has to be said that there is growth in real estate speculation, but sustainable growth comes from elsewhere. Perhaps when all of Malta is entirely covered by buildings, and we run out of space, we will understand growth comes from manufacturing, agriculture, and new sectors such as ICT development, but not so much from real estate speculation or the sale of passports.