The Beira Lake. Oh man.
I wouldn’t poop in the Beira Lake for fear of getting my poop dirty. Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person who has this reaction, as everyone else just walks on by. Today I was looking at the lake from the World Trade Center (NO PHOTOGRAPHS ALLOWED) and it’s damn beautiful, from above. Could be a fanta family lake, with paddle-boats and ducks and stuff. But it isn’t, and nobody care. Early I wrote something on Broken Window Theory, how urban leads to social decay. How a polluted and dirty environment can actually lead to crime. Read another interesting piece on the architecture in Afghanistan and how it effects life there, called Archipelago Of Fear. I think our environment, especially the urban, has a real effect on crime and productivity and general citizenship. I do think that an investment in cleaning up and making Colombo more user-friendly would actually yield significant ROI.
I was talking to some World Bank guy once and he told me some crazy figure I can’t recall. Something like, it would have cost something like $100,000 to do proper, legal drainage for the Beira (such that sewage wouldn’t flow into it). Now it’ll cost something like $10 million to clean it up. I’m making those numbers up, I don’t remember. But it’s fucking crazy. And that’s just one part of the city. There’s garbage everywhere, including huge open dumps, maintained sans rhyme or reason. There’s mangy, diseased and sometimes aggressive wild dogs roaming the streets.
To paraphase both cited articles, a dirty city fucks up your mind. I know it does. There’s garbage on the streets, so we throw more garbage on the streets. The roads are narrow and potholed and one-way, left-way, right-way so we drive the wrong way and cut people off and get honking mad. Read another thing on ‘horning’ btw, and how pointless it is (Slate.
But back to the urban decay, in Sri Lanka the pollution is compounded by the security barriers and general warzone feel. And no I don’t advocate dying or letting terrorists (ooooh, spooky) in, but I do think there should be some intelligence applied, and some thought to the quality of life and usability of the city. For example, what happened to Galle Face Green? That lynchpin of Colombo culture, where the first RoyTho was played, was closed for regreening and never opened again. That was where people hung out, from every class and culture. And it’s gone without a peep. And there may actually be a security cost to such over-zealous security. As per the Archipelago Of Fear article from, uh, Walrus:
During the Soviet occupation, the Russians were despised for situating their bases in urban areas, effectively using locals as shields and shutting down parts of the city. It had occurred to many Afghans I spoke to over the next two weeks that the West was essentially doing the same thing. â€œWe expected the international forces not to follow the same mistakes as the Soviets,â€ said Ahmad Fahim Hakim, an architect and deputy chair of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, when I dropped in for tea the next day. â€œThese compounds and roadblocks have a disastrous psychological impact on Afghans. They make everyone feel as though we live in a war zone. Well, the city is not a war zone.â€
This was more than an aesthetic critique. Those who look at the intersection of psychology and urban form suggest that the short-term gains from fortification might be overshadowed by the hostile response it fuels. Aggressive architectures â€” such as high, bare, cement walls â€” have been found to produce a backlash of vandalism and incivility in peaceful cities.
Which is all to say, I don’t think making Colombo a livable city is a luxury. I think it’s actually part of our security and safety, and our city planners (?) might want to give it some thought.