Megapolis Colombo: the drive to create a new Global City

In an earlier post I looked at how Colombo was attempting to rebrand itself with the dual aims of becoming:

  1. The garden city of south Asia
  2. A world city

That was 2013 under initiatives led by the previous government. It is fair to say that a lot of good things were accomplished by the last government, and if you walk or drive around Colombo today you can see that a great deal has improved as a result. What is also noticeable, however, is that two of the keystone developments; Port City and The Lotus Tower, have ground to a halt.

Why? Well change of governments mean, quite often, a change in direction.

In 2014 a new president was elected and along with that the restoration of parliamentary, and after a year where not much has happened the Prime Minister Ranil Wickermasinghe, and the main government party the UNP have launched an ambitious new plan Megapolis which takes the concept of creating a global city much further than the original plan. Port City and the Lotus Tower project are to remain but the Megapolis plan promises much more.

But first.. what is a World City? How does a city, like Colombo, become a world city?

Well there are many links you can access to help you work that one out. I picked up this one from City Metric but there are many others; New Geography is also a good link;

The characteristics required to qualify for this label are simple enough: it’s all about (sorry, this is a horrible word) “connectedness”. To be a world city, you need

I like the Wikipedia definition because it is easy to understand and helps you evaluate a city quickly. So to be a world city, Colombo ideally needs to match the following;

  1. A variety of international financial services,notably in finance, insurance, real estate, banking, accountancy, and marketing
  2. Headquarters of several multinational corporations
  3. The existence of financial headquarters, a stock exchange and major financial institutions
  4. Domination of the trade and economy of a large surrounding area
  5. Major manufacturing centres with port and container facilities
  6. Considerable decision-making power on a daily basis and at a global level
  7. Centres of new ideas and innovation in business, economics, culture and politics
  8. Centres of media and communications for global networks
  9. Dominance of the national region with great international significance
  10. High percentage of residents employed in the services sector and information sector
  11. High-quality educational institutions, including renowned universities, international student attendance and research facilities
  12. Multi-functional infrastructure offering some of the best legal, medical and entertainment facilities in the country
How many of the above does Colombo score yes to?

1, 3, 4, 5 (yes to Port but major manufacturing?) 7 maybe, 9 partially, 10; no doubt some will argue for more but ranked against Singapore, KL, Hong Kong Colombo has a way to go.

Which is where the Megapolis plan comes in.

Setting the scene

Before the troubles Sri Lanka was set to emerge as possibly the leading player in the South Asian economic zone. Ok so 40 years on it has a lot of ground to make up BUT Sri Lanka has a lot going for it;

  • Location; look at where Sri Lanka is located; slap bang in the middle of the main trade routes around southern Asia; both maritime and airborne,and much better located than any of its Indian neighbours.

indian-ocean-sea-routes

source: chellaney.net

  • workforce; Sri Lanka has a skilled and literate workforce
  • education; the island also can boast high levels of education; the literally rate is 98%, one of the highest in Asia
  • strong entrepreneurial culture
  • key institutions in place: stock exchange, strong central bank
  • increasing political stability

The Megapolis plan aims to build on these strengths

Megapolis; the concept and plan

The plan is to create a large modern conurbation with Colombo at the core.

Within the grand plan focus is on modernization of the city and decentralization of industry to satellite towns plus zoning of activity; so creating major secondary growth poles.

In all 10 “mega projects” are planned covering transport, water supply, power supply waste management and housing together with zoning of development

Cost                             $20 billion

Time Scale                  30 years

  • Tourism hubs at Negombo and Avissawella
  • Industry Hubs at Mirigama and Homagama
  • Aero/Maritime hub; Colombo – Katanayake in the north; global transport and logistics and trading Centre
  • CBD growth which will incorporate Port City; international trade, finance commercial devt, high end residential devt and tourism
  • A science and technology hub to the east of Colombo at Malabe and further out at Homagama

images-1

source; daily news.lk

and for Colombo  the proposal includes

  • business centres in the financial districts around Pettah,
  • a cruise centre,
  • a marina and waterfront promenade, which will eventually be developed into a harbour front district.
  • The project also includes a recreation and entertainment district around Beira Lake
  • a shopping complex district around Slave Island.

Unknown

source: Sunday Times.lk

Why

  1. Megapolis is envisaged as a focus for economic growth for the country: a growth pole if you like, with the benefits of growth trickling down to the rest of the country
  2. To deal with major problems eg congestion, movement, waste management, power supply,
  3. It will provide the wholesale modernization of infrastructure needed to create a “global” city;

The key goal is to transform the entire Western Province by:

  1. improving/developing essential infrastructure, such as ICT, transportation, communication, power and energy
  2. creating “the most exciting and liveable cosmopolitan modern city with an all inclusive development plan spanning more than three decades.”

According to the project details, the proposal also includes a comprehensive plan to address the shelter needs for Colombo’s shanty-dwellers. A multi-storied housing complex for both low and middle-income families has been proposed with the assistance of experienced architects and town planners of a Singaporean firm named CESMA. ( sounds a lot like the Singaporean HDB developments ) This is Bukit Batok public housing in Singapore. Is this the future for the urban middle/lower income groups in Colombo?

Bukit Batok Public Housing Singapore; credit Wikipedia
photo credit Wikipedia

 

The initial plan maps out a detailed long-term development project estimated for a population of two million.

The Smart City

The WRMP does not end with improvements of conventional physical connectivity but will encompass making the cities within the region, Smart – Digitally Smart.

The aim is to  bring Colombo into the 21st century; big time by providing business and the community with;

  • Smart parking,
  • an integrated transport system,
  • real-time traffic information and management,
  • smart power grids to provide the necessary amount of electricity depending on the demand, which will increase the efficiency of utilization,
  • smart street lighting,
  • smart city maintenance and many other modern technology-related characteristics will be incorporated by primarily the enterprises, which will operate or provide services within the WRMP area.

Obstacles

But there are significant obstacles to overcome

  • Funding; it is easy to say it will be funded by Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) but harder to pull it in, and at what cost both in terms of economic and political independence?
  • Planning framework strikes me as still being quite weak on skills and expertise; there is a major need for investment in training the next generation of town planners
  • Much of construction technology will have to be imported along with the hardware and possibly skilled labour
  • Political stability is not guaranteed: there is a strong opposition which still attracts significant support and which could  get back into power: so all of this could change. If so would this be discouraging for potential FDI?
  • Culture/attitudes maybe will need working on; corruption and a grindingly slow bureaucracy  at all levels are still an issue.. will put off potential investors?
  • Education and skills levels in the country need to be upgraded especially in IT, finance and so on
  • The country has lost significant numbers of skilled and educated  people to Canada, Australia, UK and Europe; can they be persuaded to return?
Implementation

The implementation of this flagship project is to be entrusted to a newly formed ministry backed by a  professional team of Sri Lankan advisers and supported by government legislation.

The Colombo Port City Project,  The Lotus Tower and the commercial developments along the Galle Face frontage (Colombo One) are already in place. (see earlier blog) and it is hoped that this will attract a large number of foreign investors to buy, lease or rent the business and residential facilities to be created under this Colombo Port City Development.

So many of the original developments proposed by the previous government have been assimilated into this plan and will give the project a useful “kick start”.

There is no doubt that Sri Lanka has the potential to become a major transport hub and financial centre but questions remain:

Final Questions
  1. Will it ever happen, or is it as one newspaper put it, just another pipe dream? A sure sign of intent would be for the Port City development to recommence but as yet that isn’t happening.
  2. Exactly who will benefit; will the 50% of Colombo’s population even notice any real difference apart from being relocated to high rise apartments. Or is this a development scheme to benefit the wealthy and well placed?
  3. And what about the rest of the country; exactly how will it benefit? How will the benefits of economic growth pan out for the other provinces? In the UK we have seen how damaging the dominance of London is to the rest of the country. Will Colombo just become another primate city dwarfing the rest of the country and will that lead to another round of migration to the city region? If so how will Colombo cope?
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