Colombo’s facelift

  Published : 12:25 am  February 22, 2013  |  17,825 views  |  13 comments  |  Print This Post   |  E-mail to friend
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  • Urban regeneration in the metro Colombo region is beautifying the city while adding value

By Cheranka Mendis
The Colombo landscape is changing visibly. The sprucing up of Colombo with an emphasis on serving the citizens with a cleaner and greener city and an accentuation on beautification and value addition is now on in full swing.

The commercial and financial hub of the country, Colombo is also the international gateway to Sri Lanka and houses most of the country’s important institutions and service facilities. With most of Sri Lanka’s foreign trade passing through the Colombo Port, the metro Colombo region will continue to generate much of the capital, human resources, technology, and services needed for the growth of the rest of the country. The need to tap the competitive advantage of Colombo and to accelerate growth is therefore a key necessity.
Focused on developing Colombo to become a competitive and dynamic city and to be listed among the most liveable cities in the world competing for the likes of Lee Kuan Yew World City Prize in the coming years, the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project has unwrapped many of Colombo’s treasures and is on the lookout for more.
Project Director of the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project and Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Additional Secretary Engineer Rohan Seneviratne delivering a lecture on Colombo’s urban regeneration noted that with the end of civil unrest in Sri Lanka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa identified the need for rapid urban regeneration as vital for the sustainability of the economy. Speaking at a discussion organised by the British Scholars Association, Seneviratne noted that an ambitious program was launched to realise the full potential of the region and to create a highly liveable city.
The urban development work is led by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa under the purview of the President since 2010.
 Why Colombo was not so beautiful before
 Seneviratne noted that the first task undertaken by the Defence Secretary was to list out the obstacles that prevented Colombo from attaining its maximum capabilities.  “Under the key issues some of our priority concerns were poor solid waste management, frequent flooding in the metro Colombo region, and the lack of mega urban regeneration projects happening in the city,” he said.
The committee put together to identify such matters also identified the large number of pavement hawkers occupying road pavements, poor walkability on the roads, inadequate infrastructure, underserved settlements, and inadequate city spaces for public. Also noted were the insufficient institutional strengths of local authorities, less opportunity for city economy, and less environmental protection and improvement in the city.
“We wanted to carry out immediate programs for at least few of the obstacles, while planning medium and long term programs to address many of the other areas which cannot be addressed in a short time period,” Seneviratne said. The limited availability of funds in the country also posed a question mark in carrying out a number of projects during the same time frame. “We therefore categorised the issues and while starting work on immediate concerns, made plans for medium and long term projects. This enabled us to save time and organise ourselves better.”
 Immediate programs launched
nIntroducing proper solid waste management system for the city of Colombo
A few years ago, solid waste was everywhere in the city and its outskirts. No proper collection mechanism was adapted and garbage management was very poor. Seneviratne acknowledged that while garbage collection was handled by the CMC, the task was not properly managed. “We gathered the stakeholders of the exercise and wanted to smoothen out the management system. It was not a problem of money but of management. Contractors were not doing their job.”
Under this intervention, the Environmental Police was introduced to supervise the collection of garbage and maintaining the cleanliness of the city. This seems to have worked remarkably well and the city is now more or less spick-and-span. “Visitors now congratulate us on the cleanliness,” Seneviratne said, “Some say we are even better than New York.”
While this positive change is likely to continue, the issue now is handling the garbage and landfills, he said.

  • Pavement hawkers relocated to organised structures

More evident in the areas of Nugegoda and Pettah, cleaning up the pavements for pedestrians and giving the pavement hawkers a new location to settle in has not only created a better environment to walk in, but has also managed to ease the traffic flow in the areas.
“While cleaning the pavements for the benefit of the public, we also wanted to give better lending spaces for pavement hawkers. We wanted to create better opportunities for them.” Buildings for this purpose were constructed in Pettah, Hospital Square, and in Nugegoda.

  • Walkability improvement

Under the immediate interventions, work also began in reconstructing the damaged pavements with the assistance of the CMC and Road Development Authority (RDA). Seneviratne noted that a new mechanism has also been introduced to stop the digging up of roads in an ad hoc manner soon after reconstruction. If needed, the body/organisation must seek special approval from the UDA.
nRehabilitation of roads
The rehabilitation of roads also happened in parallel to walkability improvement. Roads that were in a poor state – especially Galle Road, from Bambalapitiya junction to Colpetty junction – have been rehabilitated under a ‘modern road’ concept. The Parliament Road followed suit with new landscapes being added to the improvements.
All this work and the work that continues at present (bus lanes being introduced, new street lamps installed, uni-flow traffic system, etc.) has brought local roads on par with modern roads of the region.

  • Immediate solutions for flooding

Colombo’s poor drainage and flood issues are a common issue faced by all. As it was, the city was getting flooded even after medium rainfall. Even the Parliamentary complex fell victim to this issue.
Having analysed the issue after the 2010 floods, Seneviratne noted some of their key findings were high intensity of rainfall due to climate change (within half hour 70-80mm of rain), macro drainage system with insufficient storage, 30% of storage space lost during the last decade due to legal and illegal fillings in Colombo, conveyance capacity limited and solid waste everywhere, outflow capacity of the system not enough (hugely insufficient capacity in the Mutwal tunnel and north block where water passes through to the Kelani River), low capacity in the down-flow (South Block and St. Sebastian’s Canal), localised issues, and climate change.
“We wanted to develop an integrated flood management solution. We brainstormed and got the engineers to work around the analysis.”
The solutions were many. To improve upper catchments basin so the water does not come to canal system immediately and store water when it rains and release later, divert water to Kelani River before it comes to Parliament Lake from the Madiwela east and south diversion, store water by creating lakes, retention areas in the upper catchments and increase capacity of Parliament Lake, and the removal of bottlenecks in the downstream canals to maximise the conveyance and cleaning of the canals were among some of them. The Group also decided to go for micro tunnels, install pumping stations, improve the micro drainage system, and canal bank protection.
“As immediate solutions we created lakes in the upper catchments areas (new lakes created in the Parliament Lake area) using National Budget money, rehabilitated the main canal system wherever possible, and installed a proper cleaning mechanism for micro drainage system,” Seneviratne said. “All this gave very good results.”

  • Creating urban spaces

“We identified that there are no urban spaces in the city for people to enjoy as it is a highly dense place,” he said. While large areas for people to gather and enjoy is quite common in other countries, in Sri Lanka the places were few and far between. The Galle Face Green, Independence Square, Vihara Maha Devi Park, and the Parliament Grounds were some of the most popular spaces.
“We went on to demolish the walls and enhance the greenery. We wanted to get as much space for the public which is important for the mindset of the people.” A large number of spaces have now been created and there are more to come in the pipeline. (See box ‘Latest developments in the city’ for more details.)

  • Mega scale urban regeneration projects

Colombo did not have proper mega scale urban regeneration programs for many years after the construction of the Twin Towers. Therefore the UDA is promoting mega scale development projects within the city in the land that is registered under UDA. (See box ‘Latest developments in the city’ for more details.)
Medium term programs
 While these immediate programs were being implemented, the UDA under the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project started working on its medium and long term program plan. With the limited funding available within the Government, the State has encouraged PPPs and to receive assistance from lending agencies such as Asian Development Bank (ADB), World Bank (WB), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JAICA), etc.
 Metro Colombo Urban Development Project
 The first and key of such projects are the World Bank and Government funded ‘Metro Colombo Urban Development Project.’ The US$ 233 million project has received approval within a year since initial discussions from the World Bank. The usual period to receive approval is three years. This is known as one of the fastest urban regeneration projects in the world.
The project focuses on three key factors – flood and drainage management, urban development, infrastructure rehabilitation and capacity building for Metro Colombo local authorities, and implementation support. The costs estimated for the first two components are US$ 147.55 million and US$ 50.7 million respectively and is coming from the WB. The third, at an estimated US$ 10 million will be borne by the Government. The WB funding is on a concessionary loan to be paid back in 25 years.
“Land Reclamation conducted hydrological studies using latest software, latest models, and with the use of helicopters for the survey and has developed the first hydrological model for Colombo,” Seneviratne said adding that this is said to be one of the best in the world. All work has been done by local architects and engineers, expediting the work for faster implementation.
Under this, the UDA looks at improving canal system, creating more space, widening the Nawalagama flow and installing a pumping station, installing a micro tunnel in Muthuwavala, building drainage capacities and culvert improvement, micro tunnels from Thunmulla to sea, Muthuvavela to sea, and Dematagoda to Kelani River among others.
The Beira Lake and catchments will be improved and linear parks will be set up in East Beira while a biodiversity wetland park in Beddagana will also be constructed under the project.
Infrastructure improvements
 Infrastructure which also supports the local authorities of CMC, Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, and Sri Jayawardenapura will be improved under the medium term World Bank-funded project. While the CMC remains to be the biggest beneficiary, the other two areas will also received adequate attention.
The project encompassing the Galle road stretch from Wellawatte to Bambalapitiya as well as Colpetty to Galle Face will be commenced no sooner the tender process is complete. R.A. De Mel Mawatha – Duplication Road will be completely developed with modern facilities. 10km of road in the city is to be developed along with 15 public complexes.
Seneviratne asserted that plans are underway to install two overhead pedestrian bridges in Colpetty and Bambalapitiya. “We are having a competition for designs for these bridges with the Institute of Architects,” he said. Two recreational water parks will also come up in Crow Island and Marine Drive.
The Town Hall square will be developed. “Restorations are ongoing at the building site, which you can now see is not done by the CMC but by us. The plan is to develop it to a city hall complex which the public enjoys in other countries.” The garden will be designed with water sprinkler systems, biking areas, landscaped parks, and illuminations with special lighting system. This is to be open to the public soon.
A project is also underway to reinstall the overhead cables underground. Done in collaboration with Ceylon Electricity Board, this has already been initiated in Vauxhall Street and Darley Road.
Seneviratne said: “The loan agreement was signed on 10 July 2012 and by October three contracts were already awarded. By now we have awarded nine contracts worth of 2000 million which is a record. We hope to complete the entire project in three years even though the given time frame is five.”
He noted that the first seven toilet complexes can be opened in one and half months and that 80% of the work is now complete. 60% of the roads work is completed. 25km of roads in Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte can be done, while 30km in the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia road network has been done.
Another look at the strategies
 While things are changing the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project will also relook at the City Development Strategy and the Integrated Urban Master Plan which is currently outdated.
“We want to make an integrated one,” he said. “We have called an expression of interest from international reputed companies. We received a large number of it and must shortlist to six bids now for Metro Colombo.” The expectation is to go beyond Colombo to the outer circular boundaries of Ja-Ela up to Panadura and Kottawa covering 700 sqkm area.
Projects for the future
 A number of projects are also in the pipeline, Seneviratne said.

  • LT plan for solid waste management: Seneviratne expressed that the proper long term plan for solid waste management is a key need in the country. While there are many solutions, a sanitary land fill is the best, he said. However for this purpose some 150 acres of land is needed. “Finding this amount of land within metro Colombo is an issue,” he said. A location has been identified in Thavakkal, Puttalam – an abandon limestone quarry. An expression of interest for consultancy and study other options have already been called.
  • Colombo green growth program: With WB grants, this project will aim at creating an inventory of city wide green house gas emission and give solutions to reduction.
  • East Beira development: A new business model to develop the 70/80 acres of land spanning from Lake House to Gamini Hall is now underway.
  • Weras Ganga project: Started two week ago, the US$ 120 million project aims to protect the Raththanapitya, Nugegoda, Delkanda, and Boralesgamuwa areas from going under water. This is a three and a half years project.
  • Express City in the Tripoli market in Colombo: To encourage R&D institutions to set up shop here.
  • US$ 180 million water supply project.
  • US$ 175 million electricity distribution improvement.
  • JICA-funded Metro Colombo Urban transport project.
  • Sea reclamation projects: Near Galle Face and Colpetty, as well as in Mount Lavinia.
  • Kelani River development: Have not been discussed with other parties yet.
  • Formation of a National Urban Research Institute.

Pix by Upul Abayasekara


13 Responses to “Colombo’s facelift”

  1. Frederick on February 27th, 2013 10:47 am

    Great to hear about all these develoment schemes in the metro area but Iam surprised that Nugegpda has not featured in any plans( for development) even though the town is part of Sri Jayawardena Pura the administrative capital. There is quite a bottleneck especially for traffic coming in from the Old Kesbewa Road side but no steps have been taken to widen the road.There is no sidewalk or pave ment for pedestrians, they are compelled to walk on the road, it is also not possible to park a car on the road and since some of the lanes are also narrow there is nowhere for visitors to park.
    The is a crying need to develop this side of Nugegoda .WHEN WILL IT BE DONE!!

  2. A.Mendis on March 5th, 2013 3:11 am

    After we won Independence 1948, this is first time in our history by and large present Govt under Mahinda Rajpakase has put forward Grand plan to be develop Colombo Grater Area.Of cause is very essential developing nation like us to update and restructure according Master Plant Colombo initiated by UDA the supervision of Gotabaya Rajpakase.Hope and we wish such proposed progrme will implement as soon as possible.

  3. jayantha silva on March 5th, 2013 6:42 pm

    Excellent work , and we are very excited about all the development taking place to make Colombo a world class city. However, there seems to be some contradiction in your planning . Jawatte Road has been a residential area for as long as one could remember , with sprawling mansions and large trees lining the road. Lately , fast food outlets, and super markets have sprung up , and there are constant traffic jams in the area. This is counter productive to your efforts to beautify the area spending millions of rupees on asphalting , paving , and widening the road. Same seems to happening to the area opposite BRC on Havelock Road.
    There appears to be a lack of a clear policy by the UDA in granting licenses to operate commercial establisments in residential areas . This adds to local residents having to undergo severe hardship by way of food smells in their homes, loud noise disturbing lifestyles, and general traffic jams round the clock.
    Development should be sustainable , and that includes residents of the areas concerned. We must not create supermarkets, and fast food outlets in every nook and cranny of our residential areas.

  4. Chandima Mendis on March 5th, 2013 9:55 pm

    It is great to see the ongoing and planned improvements to the infrastructure of Colombo.
    One point which is not addressed above is a comprehensive plan to improve public transportation within Colombo city and suburbs. A modern electric train based transportation system is highly relevant.
    Any such plans?

  5. Manjula K on March 7th, 2013 11:35 am

    The work carried out to beautify and to reorganize the City to match international standards should be acknowledged and appreciated.Well done Ministry of Defense and UDA for your dedication and hard work whose direction has come from non other than Mr.Gotabaya Rajapaksha, Thank You Sir for spearheading structural changes in re-branding Metro Colombo.I have traveled to many developed cities in East Asia and what I noticed there was that they have effectively overcome the pedestrian traffic with many underground walkways (Just Like what is at Borella Colombo 8) my suggestion is that UDA should design such walk ways in front of WTC Colombo 1,Galle Face Centre Road,Galle Face Hotel Entrance connecting Mohamed Marcan Marker Road,Certain Areas in Colombo Fort, Kollupitiya (colpity) and other areas where pedestrian traffic is high.Please be futuristic and plan accordingly,let’s build a city for future needs as well because the local population and tourist arrivals both are increasing rapidly.

  6. john on March 16th, 2013 2:23 pm

    before you development the country stop all the EXTREMIST GROUPS in sri lanka. Bodu Bala Sena, Sinhala Ravaya Org and Jathika Hela Urumaya. how many sinhalese radical groups to be form in sri lanka with the help of the government. if the governemnt will not support them there wont be any group in will form. this rascits groups will take this island nation to hell.

    the country will face many violents and problems and international peace keeping forces will come to sri lanka to solve this problem. NOW THE TIME TO STOP BY THE GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA if the government wanted a peaceful.

    first JHU,then BODU BALA SENA , NOW SINHALA RAVAYA ORG later who know what.

  7. saman on March 16th, 2013 2:27 pm

    we dont need radical groups and disharmony in our country. we wanted to develop our small country and live peacefully with our children and neighbours. who wants these extremist groups. they are thugs in monks robes see the way they behave with other religions. see what happened in nawala discriminating of human rights. POLICE FORCE ARE FEAR OF THESE GROUPS THEN WE DONT NEED A POLICE IF THEY CANT STOP AND TAKE ACTION AGAINST THE OUTLAWS.

  8. Ranjan Karunratne on March 19th, 2013 3:22 pm

    Giving Hitler a facelift would not have made him a Mother Theresa.

  9. Gonawala Sunil on March 20th, 2013 6:43 am

    Hi John and Saman

    Some “radical” groups’ modus operandi is highly transparent while others very secret. The former is fine while the other is very dangerous. BBS, JHU and Sinhala Ravaya clearly stated their stand-PROTECT SRI LANKA AND BUDDHISM from extremist Muslims and Evanjelical Christian. It has been buddhist monks and sinhalese protect this country for 2500 years and not you and invasive muslims or any other movement for that matter.

    For Ranjan Karu:
    Sri Lankan cannot be tamed by a stick we need a hitler to stop Wickamabahu, Tilvin, Ranil and Mano Ganeshan

  10. Mahason Balakaya on March 21st, 2013 12:48 pm

     Now some racists and extremists like John, Saman, Ranjan karu are talking about JHU and Bodu Bala sena. When they attacked 2500 years old Sinhala Buddhist culture, heritage and our values are you guys ask us to shut our mouths and let what ever game you want to play on our soil? It will never happen. Once we have shown the world what will append if anybody try to destroy our nation. I think some racist still need to be teach. about the past lessons. Last week Tamil Nadu terrorists attacked our Buddhists monks and no human right organisation, America, UK, Canada or so called human rights champions utter a word condemning it. This is not called human rights this is called western duplicity and cruelty. also those incidents shows us we need to teach Tamil Nadu how to keep their dogs within their limits otherwise we may need to teach them how to do it, as we done in 2009 on our soil.

  11. Ron123 on March 22nd, 2013 5:36 pm

    Very commendable amount of work is on the cards to beautify Colombo and bring it back to glory as the Garden City of the East. Congratulations & all the Good Wishes to Secretary Defense & Urban Development and Add. Secretary for spearheading this vast array of work.
    After all we can feel a new vibe and a fresh breeze blowing all across the City these days. I am looking forward to see these developments unfolding quickly in the near future.

  12. Rosaura on September 22nd, 2013 9:17 pm

    Excellent article. I definitely appreciate this site.
    Keep writing!

  13. thalapathpitiye hemananda on September 30th, 2013 11:10 pm

    Well done Rajapakshas. I never thought in my life time these will happen. I live close to Jayewardanepura Hospital. What a beautiful place it has turned out to be. Pl do your work in Kesbewa, Kaduwela, Homagama areas where graet majority voted for you!!

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