Habitat planning for future
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
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.