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Development Plans for the City of Colombo

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"All of us desire a better Colombo; a city that is clean, green, attractive and dynamic. Let us work together and work hard to achieve this. Together, we can transform Colombo into a world-class city, globally recognized as a thriving, dynamic and attractive regional hub that is the centrepiece of 21st Century Sri Lanka: the Miracle of Asia", stated Secretary Defence Mr Gotabaya Rajapaksa on Thursday (Dec 01).

Delivering the Sujata Jayawardena memorial speech at the Sri Lankan Foundation Institute in Colombo, Mr. Rajapaksa further asserted that, 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.

"With the country's abundance of educated, qualified and English speaking workers, there is potential to further develop Colombo as a destination for business process off-shoring. 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" , he said.

Full text of the Sujata Jayawardena memorial speech delivered by Secretary Defence Mr. Gotabaya Rajapaksa at the Sri Lankan Foundation Institute.

I am grateful to the Alumni Association of the University of Colombo for having invited me to deliver this year's Sujata Jayawardena Memorial Oration. I am well aware of the service rendered to the University by Mrs. Jayawardena. In addition to her many contributions to the arts and her outstanding work on behalf of many charities, she is warmly remembered for her efforts to develop a closer relationship between the University, its undergraduates and its alumni.

Mrs. Jayawardena's successful campaign to build a hostel for women undergraduates at Bullers Lane was her crowning achievement as past President of the Alumni Association. This complex, which houses over five hundred women from all around Sri Lanka while they study at Colombo University, stands as a proud memorial to this distinguished and generous alumna. I am deeply conscious, as I begin today's oration, of its similar significance.

I am also deeply conscious that the topic of this oration is of deep interest to most of us here today. Colombo is a city we are deeply connected to. It has most of the best educational institutions, hospitals, residential facilities and tourist facilities. The central administrative units of the Government are also located within the Greater Colombo Area. For these reasons it is safe to say that nearly every Sri Lankan has had or someday will have a link to this city. That is why I approach this oration on the Development Plans for the City of Colombo with a great sense of responsibility.

Historical Context

Colombo is a historic city, known in the ancient world for being a gateway to Sri Lanka. It was visited by Fa-hsien, who came to Sri Lanka in the fourth century, and it is mentioned in the fourteenth century writings of Ibn-Batuta.

From the sixteenth century onwards it was one of the centres of colonial activity. The Portuguese established a trading post in 1505 and built the Fort in 1518. For almost a century and a half it was their stronghold, until the Dutch captured it in 1656. A hundred and forty years later, the British took over Colombo. After the fall of Kandy in 1815, they made it the capital of the crown colony of Ceylon.

The development of Colombo as a commercial and residential hub owes a lot to the British. Unlike the Portuguese and the Dutch, who viewed it mostly as a military fort and trading post, the British set about making Colombo a proper city. They set up the Colombo Municipal Council in 1865 and undertook the developments that turned the harbour into one of the great ports in the region. The first formal development plans for the city were also made during British rule.

The 1921 city plan by Sir Patrick Geddes provided for expansions to the port, the setting up of parks and the zoological garden. It paved the way for the further development of internal roads, including present day R. A. de Mel Mawatha (Duplication Road), which was created as a relief road to Galle road. Although the 1921 plan was not fully carried out, it contained important proposals that have helped shape the city's present identity.

The 1940 Development Plan and Town Planning Ordinance established outline plans for the municipal area and regulations for its development. However, due to financial constraints, the plan was not fully implemented. This non-implementation of plans for the city is a recurring theme in its history.

After independence, the 1949 plan by Patrick Abercrombie outlined the development of Ragama, Homagama and Ratmalana as satellite towns that would help decentralise urban activities in the region. The plan included a ring road to link these towns and the shifting of central administrative functions to Ratmalana. This principle of decentralisation has been one of the driving thrusts of Colombo's development plans ever since. Unfortunately, it has not yet been properly realised.

Several other plans followed, in 1978, 1985, 1998, and during the last decade. None of these were fully implemented. These half-implemented plans for Colombo contributed to creating the large, improperly organised city we know today. Future plans for the city's development must be viewed within the context of this history.


 

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