Many people have their favourite computer games. My mother now crossing to her 70s is quite happy playing “The Card Game” in the computer. As an early computer user in our generation the only computer game that manged to hook me for hours and hours of game play “Simcity”. How we could shape series of “Random” events by establishing and controlling set of parameters does fascinate me. This has lead to many hours of video tutorials videos, internet searches and to a great extend peer reviewed publication based research on urban planing, physical planing and community development.
National Policy Development
I believe that physical environment planing and development has to be handled in a three layered perspective. different disciplines such as Transportation, Public utilities, social development would have to operate within these three layers. following is an example of how such strategies could be organised in multiple layers.
Sri Lanka National Physical Plan 2007
In the year 2007 Sri Lanka has introduced the first version of its “National Physical Planing Policy”. This was a great first step in a the right direction. While we see that actual implementation of various initiatives have little alignment to the NPPP, I believe the process of preparation such strategy it self can help the nation.
2007 Sri Lanka National plan was rather simplistic consolidated view of number of national level projects and programmes. While it lacked the level of sophistication and the radical changes, it was more practical in implementation and ability to demonstrate the results of such national policy. However following the footsteps of the bad government practices of the past the Yahapalana government completely ignored the initial national policy and started developing another national physical planing policy.
Second NPPP of Sri Lanka (NPPP 2017 -2050)
National Physical Planing Department of Sri Lanka its seems have undertook a new and sophisticated process to develop a new National Physical Plan. Unfortunately (or fortunately) this was only completed in the year 2019 and the government had just few months to take any action on this proposal.
Following is the consolidated view of Sri lanka NPPP thats was published in 2019. Interestingly either this plan or variation of this plan was published during the election season as the “MCC plan”. While we can easily dismiss this plan as an driven by the “American Agenda” it will be grossly discounting the amount information and expertise that was used in preparation of this plan.
If we remove the assumption that this work was directed by the American Intervention. Does this plan make sense. In the next section I am identifying number of features in this plan and provide my commentary
Ability to deliver objectives of NPPP-17/50
NPPP 19/50 has identified a specific areas in the country that we should be zoning to specific functions. NPPP assume that by establishing the correct set of infrastructure development the countries population will migrate to the specific areas and build population centers, industry sectors and social structure. This is an ambitious plan. While the success is not guaranteed having an ambition to make such changes itself can help to drive towards such an ambition.
This is plan is easy to visualize. For example, when we state that “Dambulla” will become a major metro in the future, that can be easily visualized. However this discounts the hard reality that Sri Lanka has a thriving democracy and the country and its political direction will have soft turn every 5 years and a hard turn every 10-12 years. This enable plans such as NPPP to become irrelevant overnight. In my opinion using a definitive spatial plan itself is mistake. The policy should not be driving to choose winners and loosers. Why Dambulla? why not Matale, Polonnaruwa or Elahera.
in my openion the spartial plan should stipulate that
- Sri Lanka should develop “X” number of agricultural hubs.
- These hubs would have to establish “A”, “B”. “C” facilities.
- Parameters to identify an agricultural hub is follows (provide the guidelines on selection of the location),
Once such guidelines are provided the executive at the time of implementation can identify a specific location (Most likely based on political drivers) and develop 5-7 year plan. Such would ensure that such policy will get implemented by consecutive political leadership. Creating such prescriptive plans that has to be implemented over such long duration would simply result in stonewalling and discrediting policy it self.
Rationale of Zoning Strategy
The NPPP take:
NPPP 17/50 is essentially devising a mechanism to build a zoning strategy to build the industries and population centers across the country ( the MCC corridor). In addition to this it continue to build small centers and corridors in other parts of the country.
- One of the key problems identified by this policy developers is that country is not able to deliver services to majority of the population is the current scattered nature of the population distribution
- Also it considers cost of degradation of resources as a another key problem that needs to be addressed
- Third important aspect is Sri Lanka not taking the advantage of its strategic location
Considering these aspects the NPPP 17/50 propose several strategies. these are trying to consolidate population to a specific corridor. It assumes that moving population to concentrate into suburbs will help reduce the degradation of resources in the country. finally, it assumes that Kolomba-Thirikunamalaya corridor would help to take advantage of Sri Lankas location.
In addition to this the process of rationalizing specific areas chooses for urbanization seems to be extremely algorithmic. Some parameters such as density of the road network, current density of the population, and the environmental sensitivity is used as reason to establish this pattern.
To me this specific methodology is just a means to an end that someone wanted. Other than the much drummed-up reason of American / Indian influence I am not able to understand a vision behind this approach.
- The whole idea that Sri Lanka (such small nation) not able to deliver services across the island demonstrate the Kolamba Centric mindset that plagues the nation for decades. Sri Lanka is such a small geographic area in modern standards. Delivering services across the nation should not be a major concern. At the same time, we already have significant infrastructure in many aspects such as Electricity, Education and Healthcare that covers the complete geographic areas. I think this is a lame excuse to centralize and bring all the development to a one area of the country and create another era of social segregation
- I am not able to find any merit in the concept that cost of resource degradation can be prevented by centralizing and marginalizing part of the nation. Unless the national plan is expected to convert all the areas that are earmarked as environmentally sensitive as “Strictly protected natural reserves” we will not be able to achieve such as objective. On the other hand experiences in other nations with such zoning regulations have demonstrated that old restrictive zoning regulations are not the most conductive way to preserve natural resources. modern land use theories advocate more mixed used developments that interlace with strict nature reserves to be more effective that strong single purpose zoning strategies
- If we consider Sri Lanka as a green field the best way to gain strategic advantage is focusing on marine services and building modern cities. This proposed spatial plan does not demonstrate our obvious advantage of location at the sea is being considered.
In addition to above points, the NPP 17/50 identify several more issues such as government deficiencies and lack of compliance as major concerns that needed to be addressed. I am in agreement that those are the major issues that we would need to address even before we get to implement even the worse possible spatial planing strategy.
My take on NPPP
Since I came across this document, I’ve spend significant time studying the subject of land use policies, physical planing strategies and Land zoning Regulations.
Lets learn from pioneers
American local governments are the champions of Zoning regulations. USA has developed the zoning regulation and various combinations of zoning regulations with complex multi layered zoning systems that seem to fit every possible combination. However, most modern city planers and land use experts seem to agree that extensive specialized zoning regulations are counter productive.
Modern take on zoning regulations are more inclusive, scattered and multipurpose zones with more focus on specific building regulation and land use proportions. Hence industrial zones brings in natural reserves in to the middle of them, multi-purpose zones that combine commercial and residential seem to gain popularity and acceptance in those countries that has experience in zoning regulations.
Three layered approach to developing physical plan
In my opinion any National Physical Planing strategies should move away from prescriptive approaches as proposed in NPPP. It should focus more guideline based system that focus reaching specific objectives rather than building stuff.
At the top of the layer we should only focus on developing the strategic direction on physical planing objectives. Those would be more in the tune of increasing forest coverage by X percentage or increasing agricultural land to y percentage type simplified objectives.
Based on these policies each district in Sri lanka should be given guidelines specific to district. Those guidelines must represent national interests. once such guideline are in place each districts must plan whats best for each district based on some type of public representation bodies (possibly with District Development Committee).
Physical planing guidelines should be something like following
- Forest coverage targets per each district (based on the sensitivity of the district)
- Green coverage percentage in a city
- Water utilization targets (ex: gallons per person)
- Other social indicators such as time to reach emergency services, travel time to work place/school etc
Fore example, Nuwaraeliya district would have to maintain 80% forest cover where as Colombo District would have to maintain 30% forest cover. Monaragala district would have to focus building its urban centers to improve accessibility to services. Colombo city would have to build more high-rises to release land to improve its green coverage.
Once such second level objectives are identified,we can start building strategic projects around those parameters. For example. we can start programms to re-introduce forest covered vally coridors within plantation companies in Nuwaraeliya. Or We can start industrial city in pothuwil. or Start high-density housing development in Monaragala. These initiatives will be specifically to support the physical plan. We can launch land acquisition projects to rebuild the wildlife corridors in Hambanthota.
Finally in the implementation layer we will start establishing strong set of land-use and building regulations. For example we should bring regulations to prevent building in slopes that exceed specific angle. We can bring in regulations that would prevent new buildings that does not meet the national strategy. Such regulation framework will ensure that physical planing strategies will not derail in the long term.
In my opinion such three layered approach more focused on guidelines and objectives must be the underlying basis of a National Physical Planing Strategy. This will be supported by series of integrated programs such as National Transit Programme. Such approach will ensure that National Physical Planning Policy remains at the policy level while respective government bodies continue to develop the required strategies, initiatives and programmes to implement the policy