Dutch urban design expert pronounces Colombo rich with potential

Saturday, 25 February 2012 01:16 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Eminent Danish architect and urban design consultant, Prof. Jan Gehl, described Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo, as a city with several assets that work towards its advantage. Prof. Gehl is in Colombo attending the Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects as an international delegate. He was one of the keynote speakers at the National Conference of ‘Architect 2012’.

“There are so many strong points about Colombo. It is a waterfront city; it is a green city; it has an interesting history. It has so many benefits and aspects on the plus side. It is rich with potential,” said Prof. Gehl. He added that these advantages could certainly be capitalised on and be used as a foundation to build a city that provides a high quality of urban life for pedestrians. Prof. Gehl is renowned the world over for his work focused on converting congested, car-dominated cities into pedestrian-oriented cities.

Copenhagen, Denmark – Gehl’s home-city – was transformed by him over a 40-year period from a city, predominantly commanded by cars and vehicular traffic, into a public space that is now a safe, pleasing environment for pedestrians. Over his illustrious career Prof. Gehl has worked as a consultant in the transformation of several cities around the world, including Melbourne, New York City and London. Speaking about the improvements that can be made in the Colombo City, Prof. Gehl said, “Most of the things on the negative side in Colombo have to do with the way the traffic is organised and how the various groups of people in the traffic are treated.”

As a solution to the challenging situation of traffic on Colombo’s streets, Prof. Gehl stressed on the importance of planning with a strong focus on human – or pedestrian – requirements, rather than concentrating solely on the necessities of vehicular traffic. Prof. Gehl also suggested the creation of a separate lane for buses to enable the speedy movement of traffic and thereby alleviate congestion. He also proposed week-long seminars that local city planners can take from international experts, so that they can learn the humane dimensions that need to be considered in the planning of roads and buildings.

In addition to his thoughts on the urban design of Colombo City, Prof. Gehl also expressed his appreciation of the Annual Sessions of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. “This is my first time in Sri Lanka and it was a pleasure to meet the members of the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects. I was impressed with the sophistication, ceremony and tradition with which the Annual Sessions were conducted. The Members’ Work and Trade Exhibition was organised wonderfully, and on the whole it was a fantastic effort.”

Detailed in Prof. Gehl’s collection of publications, including ‘Life Between Buildings’ and ‘Public Spaces, Public Life’, is a wealth of knowledge, advice and expertise on improving the quality of urban life by re-orienting city designs towards the pedestrian and cyclist. Within the pages of his books are undoubtedly an abundance of ideas and concepts that can be applied to not only Colombo but all the cities of Sri Lanka, especially during this era of development and regeneration.