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Tuesday, 6 October 2009

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Habitat planning for future

The United Nations has designated the first Monday in October each year as World Habitat Day. The idea is to reflect on the state of our towns and cities and the basic right to adequate shelter. The dedication of a special day in the annual calendar towards the topic shows the growing concern shown by the world towards the challenges posed by rapid urbanization and the corresponding depletion of habitable space. Population explosion too hasn’t helped.

The world is also beset by new challenges such as climate change which is intertwined with rampant urbanization. Runaway industrialization too has today turned cities into teeming hubs with mass migration of populations to enjoy economic benefits. As a result, most cities have been turned into virtual ghettos to accommodate these economic migrants bringing with its own problems such as rising crime and even terrorism.

Today, urban migration has assumed alarming proportions with major cities in the world bursting at the seams. This of course is a natural phenomenon with all avenues of progress and advancement centred in the cities not to mention the cities being the fount of all employment, being as they are the economic and commercial hubs.

Thus migration to cities and the metropolitan cannot be avoided. But what is the alternative? Haven’t those who matter failed to foresee this phenomenon and put in place a proper action plan to cope with the situation? Very soon entire cities would be gobbled up by mass migration adding to the ghettos and shanties that already dot the landscape of many capitals. In this scenario, mere dedication of a day in the calendar year is not going to help. The UN should play a more pro-active role to address the issue and support initiatives that stem the flow of mass migration to the cities.

The main cities have also being the convenient retreat to those caught up in the war and conflict as the Sri Lankan experience has shown. As much as 54 percent of the Northern populace had sought shelter outside the theatre of conflict and a vast majority of them had settled down in the Colombo metropolitan. There is also the tendency to seek the proverbial pot of gold in the cities by backward communities not to mention all the new attractions and modern amenities among the new generation which only the cities can provide.

No doubt the concentration of economic and commercial activity in the cities has also contributed to this mass inflow. With urban migration comes the problem of accommodation which too has posed a major problem for city planners. Sri Lanka is one of the countries which has been affected by large scale urban migration where its capital city is finding it difficult to cope with a fast shrinking landmass due to new constructions and economic expansion.

The UN has chosen the theme ‘Planning our Urban Future’ to raise awareness of the need to improve Urban Planning to deal with new major challenges of the 21st Century. The Government for its part has decided to implement an islandwide development program centralizing on the Negombo Town and its surrounding areas to coincide with ‘World Habitat Day’.

This hopefully would prove a model for a burgeoning metropolitan city which provides all the facilities and amenities obtained in the city capital thus containing to a some degree the heavy inflow into Colombo. Ideally there should be more and more developments on these lines where an atmosphere akin to the major cities will be created in urban and semi urban areas. This will necessarily mean a shift in the commercial and economic emphasis from its entrenched roots in the capital city.

With the North and East now open to the rest of the country there is also bound to be a heavy inflow from these areas into Colombo in time to come further taxing the dwindling resources of the city capital as has already been pointed out by the Chief Commissioner of the Colombo Municipal Council. Should this occur, Colombo would be unable to cope with the demand resulting in dire consequences. Thus planning has to be undertaken right now to spare Colombo from further inundation by implementing sound strategies that would maintain the right balance.

Making education a happy experience

In recent times, education in Sri Lanka has been severely criticised. Criticism has been directed by the print and electronic media, as well as by speakers at seminars and workshops. Such criticism encompassed the full gamut of education, from teaching of students, to teaching of teachers; what subjects must be taught, how learning can be made meaningful to the future development of the individual, for securing employment, and also the relevance to the development of the country. The standards needed for primary, secondary, and tertiary education are being discussed and analyzed. In other words, the education policy is being scrutinized and questioned.

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“Children’s films” disturb me

Years ago I took my daughter to see her first film. She was about three then. ‘Suriya Arana’, was advertised on television as a children’s film. The visuals were pretty and the song, ‘iren handen’, was melodious and lyrical. She liked the song and the images. She didn’t know what ‘film’ was so I told her ‘it is like a beeeeeg tv’. Half an hour into the film she said, ‘appachchi, meka sera chitrapatiyak’ and started crying.

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Tracing footprints of a great historian

The 117th Birth Anniversary of Dr. R.L. Brohier was yesterday. His deep and abiding love for Sri Lanka is reflected in the incomparable legacy he has bequeathed to future generations. His valuable and unrivalled works on historical sites, ancient irrigation systems, Dutch influences to name a few, reveal to aspects of our country and heritage which if not for him we would never have known.

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