Designing a livable city | Daily News

Designing a livable city

When we talk about a city being ‘livable’ we speak about the aesthetic aspect (the appreciation of beauty) and we talk about being practical - creating spaces that contribute to our well- being. And our well-being rests on the relationship we have with our environment.

ArchWorld speaks to Chartered Architect and Chartered Landscape Architect, Senior Consultant, University of Moratuwa, Shereen Amendra, on the many factors in play in a city.

Shereen Amendra

She points out that a city must be livable, and it should have the possibility for its citizens to generate a livable income. Also a city could have an identity but definitely it should have a flavor. Colombo should revert to regaining its open spaces lost to ad hoc or persuasive development. Connectivity at selected multi-levels is advocated. Skywalks can occur in high-rise neighborhoods. Also attitudes need to change. Regulations should be respected rather than stretched or flouted. The regulations must have integrity, stem from a broad vision, changing over time phases. A comfortable urban morphology should flow from this.


“Policy, both short-term and long-term should be clear. Mixed signals will give confused and garbled results. However, Colombo City development has been directed by planning for many years - the Colombo Metropolitan Regional Structure Plan, followed by the Megalopolis concept. The most recent is the two-pronged approach for 2019-2030 with the Colombo Commercial City Development Plan and the Capital City Development Plan, both which recognize the wetland nature of the cities. Each of these is based on expected development trends such as growth of tourism. However, Colombo, as the rest of the world cities, is‘re-set’ by the pandemic. Colombo may have a better chance to recover given the balance of currently available residential to office space, with less redundancy of office space. This would support a ‘work-from-home’ concept. My view is that a city requires to be designed rather than planned. The data and trends required for planning to be applied to an overall design. The types of malls or shop-houses would depend on the expected lifestyle and residential / hospitality concentrations,” explained Amendra.


When speaking of Port City, she adds that she would have preferred a mangrove forest edge with a tree canopied park as an extension to the open grassland Galle Face Green as a buffer zone. This would absorb storm surge better than sea walls which may become more severe with climate change. Some well-managed city utilities could have been embedded within, taking the pressure off overloaded facilities. Low-rise development would have been more sustainable with flexibility to adapt to changed economic conditions. With the development of the harbor, sedimentation of this area was likely to occur anyway. The provision of employment could have been addressed elsewhere. If such a workforce is to service the Port City, the commute and congestion caused is similar to deciding on the coastal railway, serving one side only.

“I doubt that such income generation as expected by the present plan would occur, if so, it is unlikely to swell Sri Lanka’s coffers. A green waterfront park will raise investor confidence and raise property values,” said Amendra.

Colombo was a Green City long before the term became fashionable she says. Of course energy conservation and resource conservation with healthy social interactions and aesthetic spatial morphologies of built and more extensive vegetated spaces is preferred to cosmetic greening. Vertical living in clusters must be supported by larger parks and gardens with connectivity.

Common borders

“Sri Lanka consists of population concentrations and dispersed populations. There is generally a gradient from a city centre to its periphery. Movement occurs with employment opportunity. This is where wise planning comes in. Well placed industrial centers with value-added manufacturing rather than raw resource extraction should wean people away from encroachment into protected areas. These cannot be stand-alone but supported by livable compact cities. Importantly, green open spaces must separate concentrated population areas in a contiguous (sharing a common border) manner. The connected green spaces serve important functions such as disaster mitigation for floods, wildlife habitats and movement corridors. Encroachment to these spaces requires constant monitoring and positive actions,” pointed out Amendra.

It is common knowledge that pedestrianizing usually aims to provide better accessibility and mobility for pedestrians, to enhance the amount of shopping and other business activities in the area and to improve the attractiveness of the local environment in terms of aesthetics, air pollution, noise and crashes involving motor vehicle with pedestrians.

Work from home

“Just as the pandemic has introduced a ‘new normal’, the attitude to pedestrianizing streets and provision of parking requires attitudinal changes. The school bus and company transport, along with ‘work from home’ ethics and goods deliveries may alleviate this issue allowing for recreational pedestrian pathways and separation of vehicular roadways,” stated Amendra.

It is well known that sleep is essential but it is not the length of your sleep that is really important. It is the quality of your sleep. However, this does not mean that a spin on the dance floor in the night is wrong

“Being a living city could support a healthy nightlife. However, circadian rhythms (A circadian rhythm is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats on each rotation of the Earth roughly every 24 hours) must be respected with lively entertainment zones not impacting on residential areas. Many cities encourage healthy citizens, with regular sleep habits. The home is fast becoming both day and night capsules. Regulations already exist for shutdown times and permitted sound levels,”

When asked what main impediments there are to the evolution of Architecture in Sri Lanka she posed a question - Does architecture evolve? Rather, architecture would adapt and respond to changed conditions and functions. If this is considered evolution, then well and good. However, Colombo has a variety of architectural styles all of which are due to temporal change rather than spatial context. The Dutch buildings, colonial styles, 1950’s art deco houses and traditional Walauwas have given way to sleek modernist architecture, Colombo is fortunate thus far to have avoided garish or unacceptable forms and facades to some extent. It is not only technology that drives change. Social and cultural norms, politics and economics play a large part as well. Change due to spatial context is an imperative change impacting on the urban morphology.If you take places like recently built shopping malls, these are huge buildings which require air conditioning and also the places consume a lot of energy as the lights have to be kept on. Some of them have movie theatres as well so for that you consume a lot of energy.

“Architects take into account the energy consumption and energy conservation aspects of a project. The economics of a project are discussed, with probably a business plan providing a basis for the design. Whether these are followed depends on the investor, client and design team,” said Amendra.