“What we build today must last for generations”: Defence Secretary

Saturday, 22 February 2014 08:45 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

“What we build today must last for generations, and needs to be future proof in terms of functionality, practicality, cost effectiveness and impact. These are important elements that I urge you to keep in mind in your deliberations during this Conference,” said Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa addressing the 31st National Conference on Architecture organised by the Sri Lanka Institute of Architects (SLIA) at the BMICH on Thursday. Rajapaksa attended the event as the Chief Guest. The SLIA is the professional body of the architectural professionals in the country which was originally formed as the Ceylon Institute of Architects in 1956. Over the years the SLIA has grown to be organisation with a membership of over 975 comprising of seven membership categories. Held under the theme of ‘Envisioning Futures’ the conference saw the attendance of a large number of industry professionals, experts, local and foreign guest speakers, intellectuals, SLIA officials and students. Prof. Alan Pert, Director of Melbourne School of Design was the keynote speaker. Addressing the gathering Rajapaksa further said that architects have an important role to play in the development of Sri Lanka as the nation moves swiftly to a prosperous future built on a platform of unparalleled peace, security and stability. As envisaged in the ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Idiri Dekma’ document, the Government hopes to strengthen the peace and fast track economic development. This vision centres on transforming Sri Lanka into a dynamic global hub that will make full use of the country’s unique geostrategic position and its educated and productive work force. It envisions that Sri Lanka will become a Naval, Aviation, Commercial, Energy and Knowledge Hub in the future, he said. He stressed that one of the foremost requirements in facilitating this transformation is creating an overall environment that is people friendly that will greatly uplift the living standards of the people, encouraging high net worth investors, entrepreneurs, and high calibre professionals to live and work in Sri Lanka. Islandwide projects Rajapaksa noted that the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development and its line agencies, together with the provincial and municipal authorities have initiated many programs island wide to uplift the quality of its metropolitan areas with focus on developing clean, green, people friendly cities and towns that will foster an efficient working environment and a relaxed living environment. These projects are aimed at flood retention and improvement of drainage infrastructure, proper housing for underserved settlements, improving the road network and pavements, developing public open spaces, restoring heritage buildings, and enhancing public facilities. He revealed that most of this work in already in progress and are scheduled for completion at the end of next year. Under the Beira Lake rehabilitation project its gates, tributaries and output channels will be unblocked and improved, while steps will be taken to address the pollution caused by adjacent unauthorised settlements and buildings. In addition, the Baddegana Park in the Kotte area will also be greatly improved and retention areas have been created in areas such as Rampalawatta, Pelawatte and Thalawathugoda. Under the Weras Ganga Basin Storm Water Drainage and Environment Improvement Project, the dredging of the Weras Ganga will be coupled with improvements to the drainage system connecting to Bolgoda. Under a Green Growth Program, measures will be taken to protect the marshlands in the metro Colombo region and enhance the biodiversity of the parks. This will help the city to once again claim the title of being the Garden City of the East he said. Resettlement Commenting on the resettlement of Underserved Settlements Project he said that some 70,000 families who lived in unauthorised settlements in Colombo will be given housing in high-rise buildings built in areas close to the people’s original places of dwelling. Their improved living environment will greatly enhance their social mobility. This is the greatest contribution of the relocation program to the people of Colombo he said. In addition this will make available prime Government land, once occupied by squatters for commercial development that has seen a great increase in Colombo and also the strategic reservations alongside the rail tracks will be freed, reducing the risks to the people and making the environment safer. Under the city roads and pavement development program, common conduits have been introduced for utility services along these streets and upgraded drainage facilities are a notable achievement, he said. Pavement vendors have been given with alternative places he further said Innovative approaches He highlighted the innovative approaches taken by the Urban Development Authority has been to rehabilitate derelict heritage buildings and give them a new lease on life. The Colombo Racecourse Grounds, the Dutch Hospital, the Galle Dutch Hospital, and the former Auditor General’s Department Building have been restored to their former glory and have been transformed into vibrant urban centres. He said that city garbage collection has been streamlined and solved with more attention being paid to the administration of garbage collection contracts and the introduction of innovative solutions, such as the establishment of the Environmental Protection division within the Police to monitor the streets. Underscoring the need for a sound long-term solution for garbage disposal, he said that the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development is presently working on a sustainable solution in transporting garbage via rail to a sanitary landfill being built in an abandoned quarry in Aruakkalu, Puttalam. Recreational spaces He expressed pleasure in seeing thousands of people patronising the parks and other recreational spaces including the Independence Square, Water’s Edge, the Nawala Wetland Park, the Viharamahadevi Park, and Thalawathugoda and said that it reflects extraordinarily beneficial these projects have been to the public at large. It has also opened up new avenues for entrepreneur to set up businesses. The Government has spent a great deal of money on developing infrastructure and facilities, maintaining these and ensuring they do not deteriorate through neglect or misuse is critical. While the municipal and state authorities will engage in maintenance, the public must also do its part. Unfortunately, the development of an appropriate civic consciousness may take time. It is only through changing people’s mindsets that these problems will be overcome in the long term he said. Civic consciousness we have about preserving the environment is similarly crucial. Billboards are eyesores that obscure the greenery of the city and detract from its natural beauty. Instructions have been given to the Municipal authorities to regulate billboards better, and the people who put up billboards should be advised to consider more effective and modern ways of advertising methods such as electronic billboards in permitted areas. Under the secondary city development program work is under way to develop cities including Kandy, Galle, Matara, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Kurunegala, Trincomalee, Nuwara Eliya and a few other smaller cities. The historic Galle Fort city is being renovated, and the historic Galle Fort city and the heritage city of Kandy will be developed under a project funded by a World Bank loan. Through these projects and other urban development programs, the overall quality of city life in Sri Lanka has improved greatly over the past few years and will improve considerably further in the years to come. Economic development While establishing eco-friendly and beautiful cities is critical, it must be kept in mind that economic development is a key priority and an ongoing process. This is why we need architects, engineers and professionals in related fields to be committed to creating cities that are not just eco-friendly and beautiful, but are also practical, functional and cost effective. Novel and practical solutions as to how this might be achieved are the need of the hour. There are many areas in the present urban development programs undertaken by the Government to which architects can contribute. If architects and engineers can understand the present requirements and design cost effective solutions that do not unduly burden public funds, it should be possible to provide better urban housing facilities for future beneficiaries of resettlement programs, he said. Concluding his speech, Rajapaksa called upon architects, urban designers and town planners to try to help solve the existing issues facing our urban spaces through proposing innovative solutions. A special memento was presented to Rajapaksa by SLIA President Prof. Chitra Wedikkara in appreciation of his services in ushering in an era of peace and his contribution towards the urban regeneration and development projects during the ceremony.