The ambitious Urban Regeneration Project (URP) launched by the Ministry of Defense and Urban Development aims to transform Colombo into a world-class destination for tourism and investment. Central to this eliminating “shanties, slums and other dilapidated housing from the city of Colombo by resettlement of the families presently living under unhygienic and poor environmental conditions in such housing in new housing schemes of internationally recognized standards and in doing so to make the City of Colombo the most attractive city in South Asia”. Underlying this apparently laudable goal are however many myths and following are some of the key ones.
- Myth 1:All houses in Colombo’s low-incomes communities are slums or shanties
A 2001 survey carried out by the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) and Sevanatha Urban Resource Center identified a total of 77,612 families living in 1,614 low-income settlements in the city but found it “difficult to categorise all the identified low-income settlements as being slums.” Furthermore, according to the Census of Population and Housing 2011 of the Department of Census and Statistics, out of the 555,926 housing units in the Colombo District, only 7979 housing units fall under the category of “hut/shanty”. Of this, 3691 housing units come under the Colombo DS Division.In Slave Island for instance, many households that were evicted had homes that were more than 2 floors, tiled, painted and fully furnished and had improved over time, with water and electricity. When we visited the low-income community on the northern side of Castle Street (Borella) before its recent demolition, there were a number of homes that were well-built—many with more than one floor—neatly painted and furnished with well appointed kitchens, bathrooms and toilets. Over nearly four decades many residents have painstakingly invested in improving their homes.