Changing face of Colombo | Daily News

Changing face of Colombo

Colombo is in the news again and for all the right reasons. The county’s commercial capital is seeing rapid development in a variety of sectors, that has made it the fastest growing city in South Asia. The Megapolis initiative has been a blessing for the City, which has its fair share of problems that have to be addressed without delay.

Colombo is changing so much that the Survey Department recently released a new map for Colombo that includes the biggest investment project ever in Sri Lanka – the US$ 1.4 billion Port City, also known as the Colombo International Financial Centre. The Port City will add an extra two square kilometres to Colombo’s land area, with which it will be connected by an underpass and other roads. The project will be fully completed by 2040, but the first few buildings are likely to come up by 2020.

Colombo’s lifeline is the internationally renowned Port, which recently achieved a significant milestone of becoming the second fastest growing port worldwide after Singapore. The Port of Colombo recorded a 16.2% growth for the 1st quarter 2018 over same quarter last year in container handling. With this growth, the Port of Colombo has leaped ahead of many other Asian Ports, Major European Ports and Dubai as well. The Colombo Port expects to handle 7.0 million containers in 2018, up 12.9 percent from the 6.2 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) handled in 2017. Colombo Port was also ranked the 13th best connected port in the world in 2017, moving up five places from 18, a year earlier, according to an index compiled by Drewry, a UK based shipping and maritime consultancy.

Colombo will also be getting several world class chain hotels soon. The Shangri La is already open and Sheraton, Grand Hyatt, Ritz Carlton, J W Marriott and several others are in the pipeline. In fact, the towers housing the Ritz Carlton in Fort will be the tallest in Colombo at 92 floors. Add the many high-rise residential complexes to the mix and Colombo’s skyline will look vastly different just five years from now. Commendably, several housing schemes have also been planned for low income families in Colombo.

The authorities must also ensure that the Lotus Tower, another grandiose project from the Rajapaksa era, does not end up becoming a white elephant like so many other projects initiated by that Government. The Lotus Tower is already being mentioned in foreign tourist brochures, so the onus is on the telecom and tourist authorities to properly market and manage it profitably.

However, being euphoric about these developments cannot hide the fact that the City does have many problems. For one, its ancient drainage system cannot cope with the pace of development, which leads to flash floods in Colombo and other health hazards. A solution has already been proposed in the form of two underground mega drains which will cost Rs. 5,800 million to build. The entire city drainage system has to be overhauled, considering the number of new developments in the offing.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing Colombo is traffic. With around 100,000 vehicles entering Colombo per day, not to mention the addition of around 1,000 newly registered vehicles per day to city roads, all the ingredients for chaos are complete. Most roads cannot be widened or expanded anymore, which leads to gridlock. Idling in traffic leads to a huge loss of man-hours, energy and fuel (remember, Sri Lanka is a net oil importer). Given that the Government cannot restrict the purchase of automobiles, the next best thing is to develop public transport that has the potential of keeping some of the private vehicles away from the roads. This is why there is much hope over the proposed Light Rail Transit (LRT) for Colombo and environs. Unlike the jam-packed normal buses and trains, the LRT will be a cleaner, faster and more comfortable means of transport that can entice at least some of the motorists. One can consider the LRT a victory even if just 500 cars are taken off the road per day.

One can also look forward to the fading away of that other menace to all road users in the City – the ubiquitous three wheeler, as that market segment is moving to the four-wheeled Qaudricycles. It is time that laws are brought into phase out the three wheelers by around 2030 at least in the Western Province. The ride hailing industry should be further encouraged – many people in Colombo already ditch their cars for short journeys and opt for these services as it takes away the stress of driving and having to find a parking spot.

Much has already been said about the garbage problem in Colombo, but the time has also come to focus on doing our part. Minimising the use of plastics has become the number one priority, in line with the 3R mantra – Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle. Colombo is still one of the greenest cities in South Asia – residents and visitors alike must do everything possible to keep it that way.


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