Colombo’s Urban Development Plan.

Colombo has changed dramatically post-war, largely due to the post-war attentions of the Ministry Of Defense. It began with the walls falling around the Cinnamon Gardens police station and continued to the rejuvenation of Independence Square, construction of sidewalks, and the opening of parks in Battaramulla and Nugegoda.

We were able to hear Additional Secretary Rohan Seneviratne speak at the behest of the British Scholars Association. This is what we heard, as best I remember.

What New Stuff Are We Getting?

Construction on the new Town Hall Square

Town Hall Square (PDF): They’re revamping the area around Town Hall, including Viharamahadevi Park. You can see the construction now. Given the obvious speed, should be done this year.

Promenade on Marine Drive: Marine Drive is our favorite road, but it’s not kind to pedestrians. They’re making a promenade area in Wellawatte which looks like it may reclaim some land from the sea. That’s just judging from a five second glance at a drawing. Either way, it’s a welcome addition to a great stretch.

Sidewalks on Duplication Road: Basically like Galle Road, to make the sister road more walkable.

Plans for the Beira Lake
Beira Lake Park architectural drawings

Beira Lake Park: Finally, they’re making a walking and leisure area around the central Beira Lake. During war years this became a stinking pond full of dead fish. It’s only just recovered. They finally have plans to rejuvenate the area, including connecting the East and West parts of the Beira.

Pedestrian Overhead Bridges in Kollupitiya/Bambalapitiya: Mr. Seneviratne showed pictures of overhead bridges in China and said ours would be better. He said they could be covered and may have escalators. Sounds amazing.

Seaplane Landing and Reggata Course in Battaramulla: He also showed scenes from the Diyatha Uyana (Battaramulla Wetland Park) and mentioned that they’re extending the waterway such that you can land seaplanes on it and host international regattas.

Proposed sites for wetlands parks in Kotte. You can see Parliament at lower right.

Beddagana Wetlands Park in Kotte (PDF): In Battaramulla, they’re proposing preservation of more wetlands, both to ease flooding and to teach kids that wetlands are awesome. Which they are.

Protection of the Kotte Ramparts: We’ve explored the and been appalled at how badly things are being reserved. There used to be a proper fort there. It’s good to hear that it will be saved.

Waterfront Park in Crow’s Island (Colombo North): Crow’s Island is in north Colombo (near Mattakuliya) and has an amazing beach front which is sadly polluted. We’re quite thankfully that this will be cleaned up and restored, especially for the people who live up there.

You can cross-check these against this Sunday Observer article.

What Stuff Are We Getting That We May Not Notice Until It’s Really Important (?)

Drainage

A lot of the $223 million USD in the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project seems to be going towards drainage and reducing flooding. This is very good because Colombo’s ancient drainage and canal system clogs up and has killed people in the past. Recently a young woman was actually swept down a drain and drowned in Colombo 7.

Improvements include retaining more land to store water – so preserving wetlands and creating and expanding lakes. They’re also cleaning up the canals and the smaller drains that lead to the canals. They’re also building tunnels and actual pumping stations as well. It used to be that 30 minutes of rain flooded Colombo completely, shutting the city down. Now it takes an hour or two. Hopefully in the future rain won’t destroy homes, vehicles or traffic at all.

Sorta Public Housing

A lot of Colombo (especially Colombo North, and around the Beira) is full of illegal settlements which, illegality aside, have been peoples homes for decades. The government has started building high rise apartments for them which take up less land, so that’s land that can be redeveloped.

Another case is around Slave Island where a lot of people are living on one or two perches. They, however, legally own that land, so they government is negotiating with them to buy it. They’d get space in new developments and then that urban space can be used for higher density commercial and residential.

Public Toilets

We’re getting 14 new ones which are supposed to be of a high standard.

What We’re Not Getting

Public transit

Though we are getting new buses and stuff, public transit doesn’t seem to be a major priority. As Mr. Seneviratne said, we don’t have the economic clout or numbers to support something like a metro as of yet. However, in the next ten years he talked about extending the idea of Colombo out to Ja-Ela, Kottawa and Panadura. Then we get to a metro area of 2.5-3 million which, I hope, could sustain better public transit.

Right now the main improvements seem to be making Colombo more walkable, which is a plus.

In Sum

Good work and good luck. Mr. Seneviratne mentioned that the Urban Development Authority’s plan was to do visible things fast to get people’s support for more medium and long-term development. We at YAMU are quite excited about the resurgence of Colombo and hope that we all will work to ensure that changes are both awesome and equitable.

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