In The Press

The green way to live

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Great minds build great networks. And great networks bring balance and create positive change. ArchWorld speaks to one of the UDA’s best and brightest - Chairman, Urban Development Authority, Director General, National Physical Planning Department, Archt. Dr. Jagath Munasinghe whose forward thinking certainly creates room for hope in the minds of many.

To discover or declare something obscure or in the future by prophesy certainly is a gift worth having. Architects receive a holistic training that is thorough and when they start their journey they are professionals to the core.

“Mistakes are detected only after the results are seen. However much we are experts, architects and planners, in different subject areas, one of us are divined to see ‘correct’ things in advance. The only thing that we can do is to put the best of our knowledge into practice, irrespective of the limitations, sceptics and egos, and to update our knowledge in a timely manner, and more importantly not to allow obvious mistakes,” explained Munasinghe.

Munasinghe pointed out that the Urban Development Authority’s vision is to make Colombo the most sort waterfront business, resident and leisure environment in South Asia and the Smart Garden City in Asia. To accomplish this vision, the present orientation of its physical environment has to change. Currently the city and its functions are road oriented neglecting the most potential and extensive water bodies, which are integrated part of its landscape, the drainage network and the complex ecosystems, and therefore, cannot be ignored for any valid reason.

When examining the emergence of trends in Colombo, one may reflect upon the question – where do they originate from and what term one could use for these trends?

Munasinghe points out that this is a trend with somewhat unique characteristics to Colombo and its suburbs, although we can see similar trends in many Asian and other cities.

“I do not know whether this is given any specific name, but I know many call it the ‘mall culture’. The shopping, eating and recreation facilities as well as the public spaces are being located inside shaded, air conditioned malls, deviating from the conventional streets and open market places. This may be partly because of the increasing unpleasantness, lack of timely maintenance and the issues with safety associated with the outdoor spaces, mainly in streets, of our urban areas. It may also be because of the atmospheric conditions in outdoor environments which are hot, humid and glare. Some scholars are critical with this shift of the city’s people and the activities into internal spaces of large complexes, but they need to be seen as results of the tropical climatic conditions, the question of safety and the demand created by the increasing socio-economic affluence,” pointed out Munasinghe.

Though not completed yet they say the Port City will be a something wonderful. There is so much excitement created by this idea that is taking physical form slowly and surely. A dream taking form, a worm becoming a moth. A land of dreams becoming a reality.

“I do not know whether the Port City will bring the wonders of Asia, but I’m certain and wishful of a few matters –

• It is expected to boost foreign direct investment in real estate and other businesses, which is a need of the time for the overall economic development of the nation. That will bring in both business and employment opportunities to Sri Lanka.

• The cost on the reclamation, land preparation and infrastructure provision will be much more than Rs. 1.5 billion, but it shall be organized to earn and bring back returns more than ten times of the capital that has been invested on it.

• The Port City shall not be another Las Vegas, and I do not think anyone wants it to be so. It shall also not be another Marina Bay as in Singapore. It shall be Colombo Port City, which is unique and the only one of its kind.

• Whether the move is right or wrong shall not be the question, we shall look for the most appropriate strategies to get it in the most advantageous direction,” explained Munasinghe.

Building a Green City, according to the knowledge that we already have is a challenge, but certainly not a difficult task. The new planning and building regulations introduced by the UDA have already integrated strategies to transform Colombo and the other urban areas in Sri Lanka into Green Cities. They may not directly intervene, but gradually turn our building stock into energy efficient, physically and visually comfortable and environmentally sensitive habitat, through appropriate designs and sustainable use of material.

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