Time lapse in Slave Island.
If you look at a map of Colombo, Slave Island is a central location, prime to be gentrified. It’s between all the star class hotels, has a rail line running through it, etc. As it is, however, Slave Island is mostly low-income and kinda slum. There’s key cutting places, pawn shops, and tiny shanty houses. I love Slave Island, especially the tiny eateries and its general character. But all that’s about to change.
Sri Lanka is set to begin work on the second stage of a housing project to relocate Colombo’s shanty dwellers in a bid to improve living standards and transform the congested Slave Island area to a modern residential and commercial zone, officials said.
The project named ‘Slave Island Station Passage Redevelopment Programme’ spans across three acres of land and is set to kick start this September, the Urban Development Authority said.
The project covers sub standard settlements along Justice Akbar Mawatha, Beira lake, Don Carolis compound and the Slave Island railway station. (LBO)
Slave Island right now is one of the most fun places in Colombo to explore, but you explore knowing that it’s an anachronism, a chronological anomaly, a skip in time. For a while actual slaves were held there, surrounded by crocodiles in the Beira Lake. Now those water ways serve to make it scenic and its location is right between the old city center (Fort) and the new (Kollupitiya). The neighborhood, however, hasn’t changed. It was woefully neglected during the war and people just ended up squatting there, to be closer to jobs. But now they’re finally moving them out.
A house in Slave Island, which will presumably disappear
In a way this is inevitable, but in a way it’s also sad. At least this time they’re building alternate housing before bulldozing peoples homes, but the fact is that peoples homes will be bulldozed.
The UDA said dwellers in the Slave Island area will get better housing in the same area of residence without them being moved to a new location hampering their livelihoods and schooling for children.
The total project is estimated to cost six billion rupees, the UDA said.
Authorities have allocated 1.5 acres of land belonging to the UDA and Sri Lanka Railways formerly known as Ceylon Government Railway for the relocation project.
Four towers comprising of hundred and seventy apartments including shops will come up at the location with two independent blocks for railway staff and residents with commercial establishments. (ibid)
It’ll be kinda sad to see, but this is also a time that has to come. Colombo has to develop and the Slave Island area has been stuck in time for years. It’s so central and so beautiful and it can be used for more than two perch houses and pawn shops. The area around the Beira and between the two cities can develop so much more. Still, it feels more poignant than anything. Perhaps there won’t be times when you can break fast in a Slave Island mosque (via YAMU, English/Sinhala), and then wander over to Burgers King to eat roast chicken in an alleyway. There’s a change coming and it’s coming soon. You’d better take a tour of the old Slave Island while you still can.