Public housing in I think Maradana, done kinda wrong. Photo by Woonder
My landlord often gazes wistfully out of his gate and tells me that this all used to be cadjan huts, selling for Rs. 500 a perch. Not anymore. The neighborhood outside our garden is all tight concrete houses, now piling on top of each other. This isn’t a shanty, but it’s how most people in Colombo live. Our neighbors, at any opportunity, live in the street.
Every day, mothers are nursing on the street, kids are playing there, clothes are drying, men are hanging out. On Poya or other holidays they actually put poles on the ground and set up a tent for dansal. I don’t mind cause it’s usually an ice cream dansal, with gelatin sprinkles. It’s like this on any side road. If you drive through, you’re often driving through someone’s living room. Hell, it’s even like this on the Galle Road down south.
I rent in Dehiwela and there’s still kinda room for this sprawl. In central Colombo, however, it’s a hugely inefficient use of space and both parties in the Municipal Council race are talking about people ‘moving on up’, into highrise flats. I’ve wandered around low income flats in Maradana and they’re interesting, but it’s obviously not the same feel. Most Sri Lankans (myself included) like being on the street and having a bit of land to tool around in. For many urban dwellers, that bit of street front is also their livelihood, where they do business as well as live.
These Colombians, however, are going to be moved anyways because it’s not in the hands of the parties, it’s under the Urban Development Authority. The question is how.
If you simply build crappy houses vertically it doesn’t work. In the past they’ve built apartments for people and the people have just rented them out and moved back to where they were in the first place. First off, the places have to be near where they were before, because commuting is difficult for everyone, especially people who have to wake up at 4, get their families together and then work all day for someone else. I think everyone is pretty much agreed on that.
The problem that remains is high-rise living. This isn’t Royal Park and apartments can get claustrophobically crappy real fast. People have serious issues. Where can my huge family hang out? So there need to be public areas and parks. Where can I do business? There need to be dedicated commercial spaces, on the ground level, because most second floors on markets simply go unused. How do you maintain elevators properly, how do you get people to use them properly? How do old and young people get around?
These are all still issues that need to be architected with professional, creative support. Perhaps apartments with common spaces on each floor. Parks within two kilometers. Dedicated circulator buses to make commuting time-efficient and safe. Flat is going to become flats soon, but we have a chance to do something actually cool if we involve both good architects and the end users in the ultimate design.
Thanks to Shammi for her comment on a previous post. It’s a good point