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DateLine Sunday, 10 February 2008

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An ideal city?
 

While walking along Navam Mawatha the other day I happened to look up at the sky and was surprised to see a small piece of blue peeping through the high rise buildings. I could not help thinking the sky had shrunk to the size of a handkerchief. Will there come a day when there will be no sky left over in the city of Colombo?


There is still hope for Colombo

"No" assures A.V.G.C Karunathilake, the President of the Institute of Town Planners, Sri Lanka. "There is still hope for Colombo. Compared with most other cities in South Asia". Karunathilake believes Colombo can be developed into an ideal city...one day... because here in Colombo urban migration amounts to a mere 1 per cent.

Everything though, has to be planned. Key urban needs such as housing, railways and roadways, water, sewerage and energy supply, open space and recreational areas should be identified. But identification alone is not enough. Each factor detected should be affordable and fit the designated sites.

Since town planning assists communities, companies and governments to integrate the environmental, economic and social aspects of development covering land-use, urban design, transport and infrastructure planning, heritage and conservation, as well as environmental monitoring, Karunathilake believes the development of townships will lead to increased productivity.

"When people live in habitable settlements, when they have a comfortable transport network, when they are happy with the surroundings they live in, their productivity will improve" says Karunathilake.

Town planning therefore needs to take into account many different issues including questions like what impact will a new development have on the local environment and how will it look, how much will it cost and how will local businesses be affected, the laws and political mechanisms that govern planning and land use and how will local people and communities be affected?

As such town planning today is seen as a multi disciplinary subject unlike in the past when architects were the only ones involved in designing new urban areas, or reforming existing ones. Today town planners draw on many disciplines like geography, sociology, economics, law and design.

Looking back at the history of the Institute of Town Planners Karunathilake recalls Oliver Weerasinghe as the first ever Sri Lankan town planner, who had obtained his qualifications as a Town Planner in 1947.

He also appreciates the services rendered by Prof. Nevil Gunarathne who initiated the Masters degree in town planning at the University of Moratuwa. "Until 1977 all town planners gottheir qualifications from Britain.

There was no Sri Lankan institute to provide the necessary knowledge but now there are around six hundred students who have studied the subject in Sri Lanka, and who will one day become professional town planners".

This is important because Karunathilake says each local authority should have at least one town planner to provide guidance in their projects. Another person he mentions with gratitude regarding the activities of the Institute of Town Planners is Prof. Willy Mendis.

Town planning undoubtedly is a practical activity based on evaluating past trends, making projects, creating visions.... the results achieved so far may not change our towns into places of space, light, clean water and adequate drainage with immediate effect, but it should cause local authorities to think about it and it is upon thought that change ultimately rests.

****


Oliver Weerasinghe

First Sri Lankan to become a Town Planner

Oliver Weerasinghe goes down in the annals of the history of Sri Lankan architecture as the first town planner. He planned the new town of Anuradhapura in which he combined ancient architecture with modernism.

Oliver Weerasinghe was also the Ambassador of Sri Lanka in the USA during the presidencies of Nixon and Johnson. He opened four Ceylonese consulates and the first Buddhist temple in Washington.

He also instigated a programme which assisted Sri Lankan students to study in the United states. He was made a fellow of the Royal Institute of British Architects and also of the Town Planning Institute.

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