Colombo – Sri Lanka

A city of approximately 750,000 people, Colombo is characterized by great social and economic inequality. In spite of major efforts in the 1980s by the government to upgrade housing and urban services in the disadvantaged areas in the city, over 50 per cent of the city population is still living in disadvantaged settlements, popularly known as slums and shanties. Although improvements have been made to some individual households, the wider environment remains largely neglected and polluted due to poor drainage, inadequate waste disposal and general congestion. Colombo only became the pre-eminent city after Britain became the first colonial power to take control of the whole island in 1815. Before then, the political capital for the majority Sinhalese population had shifted from one location to another while Jaffna became the pre-eminent centre for the Tamil population clustered primarily in the north and east.

Urbanization over the past few decades has led to the rapid expansion of population in the Colombo metropolitan region, largely resulting from migration from rural areas into the city. There is a growing number of people who reside outside the city and commute from their residences to Colombo on a daily basis. Furthermore, a large number travel to Colombo to make use of health and other services available in the city. It has been estimated that the daytime population in Colombo is more than twice the number of permanent residents. This becomes clear on public holidays, when the streets are relatively empty. The gap between the affluent part of the city and the more congested low-income settlements has widened over the last three decades. This becomes quite obvious if one travels from the western end of the city across to the north and the northeast: large commercial buildings, luxury housing complexes, shopping malls and so forth are all located in the western suburbs. The settlements in the eastern half of the city display a multitude of small businesses, low-income housing, and poorer social infrastructure. Roads and settlements here are more crowded, with many more informal roadside business enterprises.

A remarkable feature of Colombo is its multicultural character. It has attracted people of diverse cultural backgrounds as well as social classes, so the city is characterized by great social inequality as well as cultural diversity. In spite of ethnic violence that raged in the country over the last three decades, Colombo’s multi-ethnic character has become even more pronounced today. This is perhaps due to the sense of security that minorities feel in a large metropolis.

Although Colombo has emerged as the largest urban centre in Sri Lanka its growth has not paralleled most of the large metropolises in the developing world. Urbanization in the country has not been rapid, in large part because of social and economic policies adopted by post-independence governments, which favoured rural development.

The work of the Global Cities Institute in Sri Lanka is led by Martin Mulligan. Here the work centres on the resilience and adaptation of communities to crises such as the tsunami and the violence of civil war. Research is conducted in partnership with the University of Colombo, the Foundation for Goodness, and Global Reconciliation. Recent work has concentrated on reconciliation. In 2012, the Institute in collaboration with Global Reconciliation successfully held the first national civil society reconciliation forum in Sri Lanka since the civil war ended.

Ancient cultures: new futures

Sri Lankan society has for many years been beset by conflict, the most destructive experience of which occurred during the war from 1983 to 2009 in which many tens of thousands of people died. Despite the formal end of hostilities the legacy of division, hostility and suspicion continues, in many areas compounded by poverty and economic and political disadvantage. This project, which builds upon work begun in 2009, is done in collaboration with Global Reconciliation, an international foundation based in Australia. In 2010 and 2011 the project involved AFL indigenous and other players in reconciliation tours of critical areas in the country. In August 2012 the project ran the first globally connected, national civil-society reconciliation conference in Sri Lanka since the war.

City and community: Melbourne to Delhi

This book aims to detail new theoretical and methodological approaches for the study of communities in cities. It complements the study of the city in terms of the built environment, design and planning, financial and knowledge networks by emphasizing the ‘soft’ side of the concept of ‘urbanization’ within the framework of globalization. Urbanization has been traditionally understood using the frameworks of demography, urban planning, urban infrastructure, transportation, affordable housing, and urban development. We bring to the study of cities, the sociological and anthropological imagination.

Negotiating the local-global

Investigating localities around the globe to determine how communities are negotiating transformations across complex layers of social life from local to global.