Re-imaging the cities | Daily News


 

Re-imaging the cities

Great and sustainable architecture and architectural solutions can only be put into practice with minimal interference from third parties. There is a saying that too many cooks spoil the broth -If too many people try to control, influence, or work on something, the final product will be worse as a result. We need a system where people stop interfering in someone else’s business. ArchWorld speaks to Chartered Architect and Director of Design Consortium D. B. Navaratne on how there needs to be a sense of order and simplicity in the process of creating a township.

“When it comes to urban designing we need to think about some of the issues that we are facing today. These urban issues are traffic, lack of quality public spaces, lack of infrastructure facilities and haphazard development. More than developing Colombo we are looking at how we can regulate it. So what we have are a set of regulations (a rule or directive made and maintained by an authority) than a set of urban development policies,” said Navaratne.

Isolated solutions

Navaratne points out that in the Mega Polis concept there is a positive side. We began to think big. Navaratne adds that our answers have tended to be very isolated. One good example is the development of these flyover bridges. When there is a traffic issue, you identify it and construct the flyover bridge. But by the time you build it, the problem is far more severe and the solution you have given is not relevant, not working or the problem has moved to another location.

D.B. Navaratne

“So where are we going? We are taking isolated answers and my thinking is that what is lacking is that all the authorities relevant to urban development are not getting together and making a cohesive plan and implementing it. You will see in the city the road gets carpeted and the next day it is dug up again. The coordination is not there. If you take the Urban Development Authority it should have control over all these developments and try to give guidelines. There is no point doing thousands of plans without having economic and financial feasibility to implement it. We have come up with many plans but not implementing any of them. My first proposal is that we should have a single authority that will look at the total economic development as well as the physical development of the city,” explained Naravatne.

He laments that the UDA is looking at a certain problem while the local government is also looking into it! Both are looking into it and neither one knows what the other one is doing! There is wastage of funds and we cannot afford to let this happen because as a country we are not that rich to do all these things. That is why Navaratne says there needs to be a single entity in control that can identify the region to develop, the power requirement, the water supply requirement, the drainage requirement.

He added that certain infrastructure development costs have to be taken by the government. The developer should be given a free hand, because at the moment our problem is that we don’t get urban development because we are so restrictive – people can’t come and invest because they have to invest on so many other things, other than their development.

“When it comes to the private developer, of course they should have an idea of what is feasible to develop at this particular site or location. That too does not work because we have only one set of regulations which is applicable to the total city. Of course there are a few areas like Beira Lake or certain areas, where they have made urban design guide plans. Now these guide plans or proposals are another way of approach against regulations. What you do is you prepare a development plan which is not only two dimensional but three dimensional. .e.g. you show where the heights and arcade should be, the eaves that should be there, the sizes of the windows – you give a basic guideline for a particular proposal. Each plot within the city within the urban context has these guidelines. When you go and take a site, you know what you can build and how high you can build and what the shape and form should be. Then you add your uniqueness and your creativity within that space. There is a cohesive continuity in the city. This we do not have. We have isolated icons or buildings where individuals are trying to compete against each other. We lack this in terms of aesthetics and in terms of design,” explained Navaratne.

Inadequate resources

Authorities may not have adequate urban designers and resources to do this. Navaratne added that the solution might be private consultancy – certain urban design consultations. Sometimes they could be done in collaboration with the UDA.

“In Urban context we do implement certain things that cannot be maintained within our means. So I think that is something that should be avoided. We add certain features and we are not maintaining them. It becomes a problem than a solution. The other issue we face in Sri Lanka is inconsistency in the investments by outsiders. Because we are expecting outsiders to come and that fluctuates with the political uncertainties or certain changes, situations and issues. One issue that I see with the infrastructure is our transport issue.

There is no comfort here. On one hand we think we should have a proper public transport system. Now several proposals have been published by the government as what to do? But none of them have seen the light at the end of the tunnel. But that is the government policy - they want to make the public transport system a primary mode of transportation. But in fact if it is not coming out, within that time period then what happens? So what I am saying is, to overcome this we should have two plans – short term answers (that can be reversed) and then the Long term answers. Some infrastructure development will take a long time. So until that time we need short terms answers,” said Navaratne.

Both need to be implemented with the support of these other agencies. In some projects within two years the plan is to give water supply, drainage and electricity, but suddenly within two years you have got none of this. So then the investor is in trouble. When an investor comes to the city, a private investor maybe, then the city should be ready to give him something. You need to look at his feasibility and land prices. You need to look at how much he is going to spend. No investor will come unless he has a return on investment. If the city is not ready to give return on investment no investor will come into it.

You can draw up nice plans but then implementation all depends on finances. The outcome depends on all of this. If you take the recent past, there has been development in Sri Lanka. We cannot only look at the negative side of it. There have been positives. Certain areas were developed in a proper manner or conducive to the general public. But some areas didn’t. So we need to see why they have failed.

There are several Urban Design approaches or theories and some of them are related to politics. Some theories maybe Marxist, Capitalist and some of them are very utopian- they think completely out of the box. Some of these theories are very mathematical and others are functional. Some of them are even historical. If so, then you need to take a historic approach. Some have an absolutely aesthetic approach. Others take people as the primary factor - there are theoreticians that talk about how you serve the public. None of them can be eliminated and all need to be taken into consideration.

“A city is a functional element of the country, so you cannot go without functionality. For people to live there needs to be certain aesthetically pleasing spaces. Of course people need to be comfortable within these spaces. All these theories are necessary to build up a city,” said Navaratne.


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