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Development Plans for the City of Colombo - Future Development Thrust

Article Index
Development Plans for the City of Colombo
Future Development Thrust
The Development of Community Housing
City Development Adjoining the South Harbour
All Pages

Future Development Thrust

Another context for these plans is the overall development agenda of Sri Lanka. The driving thrust of the medium term plan is to double, per capita income from US$2,000 to US$4,000 within a period of five years. The recent Budget Speech delivered by His Excellency the President outlined several measures needed to achieve this target, including ambitious plans to increase foreign and local investment, promote tourism, improve the national infrastructure, enhance land utilisation and encourage village centred growth.

While these plans are vital for encouraging regional development, it must be understood that cities are the driving force of economic growth today. Cities serve as a focal point for commercial activities, investment, and the provision of administrative and social services. That is why, alongside its wide-reaching plans for encouraging regional growth, the Government also has comprehensive plans for the improvement of Colombo.

These plans are centred on creating further scope for business activities, residential facilities and the provision of services. These will all cater to present and future opportunities that Colombo can exploit. This city should not simply be the focal point for localised economic activity but should also tap international opportunities. The city can easily attract more tourists as well as foreign investment in a number of areas.

With the emergence of a large middle class in India numbering roughly 500 million, there are many opportunities for Colombo to position itself as a preferred destination for business, shopping and vacations. Colombo will also be the gateway for religious pilgrimages and tours in the rest of the country for these visitors, whose culture has deep historic links with ours. Another area in which Colombo has great potential is the provision of conference and convention facilities for international events.

With the country's abundance of educated, qualified and English speaking workers, there is also potential to further develop Colombo as a destination for business process off-shoring. Yet another area in which Colombo can benefit is through the setting up of international educational institutions that will provide affordable but high quality education to foreign students.

In order to tap these opportunities and realise its true potential, there are several aspects of Colombo that need further improvement. These include increasing hotel capacity, particularly in terms of luxury accommodation for high spending tourists; developing overall IT infrastructure to encourage foreign companies to send their operations here; providing more residential facilities for high net-worth individuals and providing quality housing for middle-income segments.

Most importantly of all, Colombo needs to enhance its image as a preferred destination for international business and tourism, as well as a very comfortable city for all its residents. There is a need to create more public outdoor recreation spaces, with mini parks and community parks for residential areas and larger public parks within the city. There should also be more greenery on the side of the streets. Through these improvements, we will be able to create a clean, green, attractive city that will be the centre of a resurgent Sri Lanka. How we can achieve this must be viewed from the context of what present-day Colombo is.

Colombo Today Colombo today is a large metropolis with a population of over 650,000. On a daily basis, hundreds of thousands more commute to the city from the surrounding regions for work and education, and to obtain commercial and administrative services. In terms of the facilities and services available as well as the general infrastructure, Colombo is the most developed city in the country.

For this reason, it is the centre of a lot of economic activity. It is the axis of the Western Province, which contributes more than 50% of national Gross Domestic Product, contains about 37,000 industrial production units, employs over half a million people and generates more than half a trillion rupees in value added services. As the focal point of all this activity, Colombo is not just the most economically important city in Sri Lanka; it is the engine room of the country's economy.

And yet there are so many problems that have long beset Colombo. These problems stem from a number of factors including the lack of political will to reduce overdependence on the city, regulatory confusion, poor funding, administrative inefficiency, and short-term planning. As a result, despite all the positive things one can say about Colombo, the following is also true: the city is badly congested, has been poorly regulated, has overburdened infrastructure, lacks affordable housing, and suffers from generally poor land allocation and utilisation.

There are many symptoms of these problems. The poor application of regulations has resulted in large numbers of unauthorised buildings that congest the streets, block the waterways and disfigure the city. The recent flooding in Colombo is partly due to these structures. Underserved settlements in Colombo-slums and shanties-house some 70,000 families. This is over half the population of the metropolitan area. Due to poor land allocation and poor real estate development, there is little affordable housing for the middle class. This has pushed residential growth outwards, resulting in heavy traffic congestion at commute times.

Apart from these inherited structural issues, there are many other less complex problems that have prevented the fulfilment of Colombo's potential. These include the lack of improvements to the drainage system, which is the other cause of the recent floods; the lack of a proper waste management system; the lack of a conscious effort to beautify the city; and the general lack of discipline in the use of public spaces.

Current Development Plans

Having discussed the opportunities Colombo needs to target, and the difficulties it needs to overcome, I would like to outline the measures that have recently been taken to address them.


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