The need to engage in ‘Urban Research’ | Daily News


The need to engage in ‘Urban Research’

Today we all are experiencing the growth of cities worldwide. In a way, we can say that we are beneficiaries of the developments under rapid urbanization, we being so connected to the structured urban services and meeting with the other needful facilities in living. However, it is a question whether such facilities are there for all irrespective of social and administrative boundaries such as the neighbourhood, village, township, city, country and then the region. Currently, 50% of the global population is at the fringe of these so-called urban areas and their standards of living are much below the appropriate levels.

According to the United Nations (2018), more than 60% of world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2030 and the rate will touch the 70% by 2050 creating more densified cities around us. This is a serious situation that will be faced in the near future and the worst scenario, as forecasted by United Nations is over 90% of this urban growth by 2050 will occur in cities and towns of the developing world, mostly in Africa and Asia delivering huge social, economic and environmental transformations.

Although cities evolved into ever bigger ones through spontaneous developments in the past against which the planners lamented, today the desire is to make cities larger and larger. On the one hand, the modern luxuries, culture, education and health-care are available and can be provided more effectively only in cities. On the other, more rewarding employment and leisure are also available where people conglomerate; the cities. This is the wrong turn that the world has taken and proceeds on.

Under this pressure, urban sustainability has become more challenging due to a lack of resources. Again there are two paths here that can be understood. The ‘developed countries’ who have money will not get affected by the negative impacts of any development or loss of resources as they can spend adequately to retrieve their needs. But the developing countries cannot afford it and they always become the victims.

Unplanned expansions of cities

Generally, the rapid and often unplanned expansions of cities expose more people and other economic assets to the risks of disasters, many types of vulnerabilities and the adverse effects of the climate change, etc. and exerts pressure on freshwater supplies, sewage, the living environment and public health.

zTherefore, it is our duty to consume resources without compromising future generations’ luxury to consume them.

When we look at our own context, the Sri Lankan government has now embarked on a programme to create more functional and sustainable cities ranging from small to mega. Colombo’s Megapolis may not be a built-from-scratch but aspires to ‘stitch together’ the places that already exist and re-make them. Undeniably, present places will be transformed and it is here that the ideas of ‘place-making’, and ‘place-enabling’ have real relevance. The historic preservation and smart city concepts are also a concern in this regard. Recently, Sri Lankan cities experience a number of disasters in settlements and mitigation from them is a task. Therefore, importance has to be given on these aspects in the proposed Mega City planning and ongoing urban development policies in Sri Lanka. It is also seen that in recent times, the government planning and development institutions have been unable to engage in such areas of needs in urban management and their involvements are mostly limited into top-down planning interventions, also mostly implemented by introducing with feeble or rather unpractical planning and development control mechanisms. Further to this, it shows that there are no proper strategies worked out so that the local authorities would be strengthened with technical and professional capacities to improve the local public service.

Considering the above, the need to engage in urban researches in a more scientific and practical way has been highlighted and accordingly, a unique centre for researches on cities called ‘UOM Urban Lab’ – ‘Centre for Cities’ has been initiated by the University of Moratuwa to fill this gap.

The urban lab is one of the leading research centres in Sri Lanka which plays a major role in aforementioned grey areas in the national level of development as newfangled research, advisory and guiding centre.

‘UOM Urban Lab’ – ‘Centre for Cities’ is an interdisciplinary research arm of the University of Moratuwa. It draws together the research and outreach energies of scholars of architecture, urban design, planning, conservation, environmental management, transportation, construction and facilities management, housing, landscape, real estate, land use surveying, urban economics, statistical modelling and urban studies.

National and international research

The ‘UOM Urban Lab’- Centre for Cities is anchored by the researchers in the University of Moratuwa in the Departments of Architecture, Planning, Building Economics, Integrated design, IT, Transportation and Logistics, Civil Engineering and provides a focus for urban researchers across the university with the international collaborative university partners.

Particularly, this urban lab has a strong intention to promote awareness and knowledge on different aspects of cities, strengthen the national and international research collaborations with government, industry and community organisations to share knowledge and research experience on the issues facing in future cities, facilitate the inter-university and inter-institutional activities among related academic and professional institutions as a central coordinating body, create platform for research, debate and dissemination of information and information exchange, pioneer the development of a more diverse and creative approach to the reinterpretation, reuse and manage the existing tangible and intangible urban resources and serve the public, its connections and interdisciplinary relations to serve the public through research on high density and megacities.

As part of this research work, our research lab has created a platform for research scholars to present their research articles in annual international research conferences such as ‘Cities, People, Places’ (ICCPP) and I3SC. Along with that, the bi-annual international research journal called ‘Cities, People, Places’ is also committed to developing social media as the means of informing contemporary urban conditions.

In addition to the research articles, the UOM Urban Lab wishes to engage in public awareness activities and conduct training programmes and workshops on the related subject areas.

The ‘UOM Urban Lab- Centre for Cities’ has merged its plans with the current tangible and intangible urban issues, grey areas of planning, urban management and regulations etc. at the hands of policymakers and practitioners in order to strengthen the alternative futures of our cities.


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