Pros and cons of urbanization | Daily News

Pros and cons of urbanization

The move by the Government to set up 100 new townships and urban centres in the country is going to have its fair share of advocates and critics. Those in favour of the move will argue that it is only through a transformation of the neglected rural areas that true development would visit these locales while those against such a course would express fears of urbanization causing untold damage to hitherto unspoiled and pristine rural settings.

Environmentalists and naturalists will be in the forefront agitating against the move to urbanise rural areas on the premise that this will cause untold damage to the environment since any attempt at urbanisation will necessitate the clearing of forest land and the felling of trees.

There will also be a school of thought that urbanisation and modernisation will bring undesirable influences particularly on the rural youth such as the invasion of drugs and other vices into the hitherto unspoilt domains that would bring about the ruin of the rural young.

Of course, one cannot have the cake and eat it. It is only through a positive facelift to the hitherto neglected areas that progress could be achieved not only in terms of development but also a shift in the attitudes of hitherto cloistered communities. It would mean the opening of a new world to the rural population with all the facilities and trappings of the towns and cities with equal opportunities for all which will also make redundant the oft repeated slogan kolambata kiri apita kekiri coined by the JVP in 1988-89.

It would also be pertinent to note here that politicians in the past had deliberately let rural areas languish in their pitiable states with the sole intention of cashing in on their ignorance and backwardness to harvest votes at elections. The urbanization of rural areas no doubt would bring with it modern amenities, state-of-the-art health facilities, education to the youth in modern school buildings and a host of other benefits taken for granted in the cities and urban sprawls.

While the move to convert neglected rural areas to fully functional townships with modern amenities and infrastructure is to be commended, care should be exercised to spare or at least minimize any environmental damage, failing which this well-meant project will have negative consequences, defeating its very purpose and rationale. It needs no elaboration that any urbanisation plan should be carefully drawn up by hand-picked renowned experts with politicians kept out of the equation. There is bound to be political pressure by Government Ministers and MPs to give preference to their electorates in this respect, never mind the possible environmental damage that will be caused in electorates that will not be conducive to such urbanisation.

Of particular concern are urbanisation projects planned for areas prone to floods and earthslips. We have already seen the havoc wrought by the recent floods and landslides in certain areas of the country. Needless to say, such areas should be No Go Zones in the current plans for urbanisation unless deep research is carried out and safe options devised.

The consequences of unplanned urbanisation and construction were revealed by the collapse of a multi-storeyed hotel some time ago in Dangolla, Kandy, on to another residence below killing its occupants. It was revealed that the hotel had been constructed without the necessary approval(s) of the relevant local authority and also that many residents in that locality were asked to vacate their homes due to the risk posed by rapid soil erosion, to no avail. Such localities should not be in the plans of township developers nor should any new structure be added to the areas that witnessed massive floods last week. We say this because there were accusations by villagers that floods which were hitherto alien to their areas occurred due to the poor planning in the construction of expressways and roads which has prompted Highways Minister Johnston Fernando to appoint a Special Committee to study the construction of a certain stretch of the Central Expressway to ensure that no flood damage would be caused by this much-needed development project.

Not just expressways, there are other facets too that should engage the attention of the authorities before drawing plans for the urbanisation programme. Prime consideration should be given to local businesses and the livelihoods of the local communities.

All measures should be taken to ensure that urbanisation of rural areas would not impinge on the interests of the local communities. Care should also be taken not to harm any cultural objects or sites of historical importance in the rush towards urbanisation. No room should be left for a particular community or religion to point fingers at the authorities in this regard.

Ideally, while the urbanisation of the neglected rural areas is admittedly long overdue giving an opportunity of the rural community to catch up with the city life of their more sophisticated counterparts, all efforts should be made to retain the character and ambience of these areas earmarked for urbanisation so that the community would not drift far apart from their traditional roots.

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