Colombo Telegraph

Metamorphosing Galle Face To An Iconic Landmark

By Nishthar Idroos

Nishthar Idroos

Many are the beautiful and most recognizable places of the world. Some of them breathtaking. awe-inspiring, spine-tingling, hair-raising, heart-stopping, list goes on. These sentiments and expressions not exaggerations but genuine and often spontaneous responses of people upon sighting a supreme natural wonder or seminal piece of living art constructed and erected for the viewing pleasure of the world’s public in major cities. Whether it’s the Eifel tower in Paris, Opera House in Sydney or the Taj Mahal in India, man’s genius at play. Bringing into fruition monumentally iconic symbols recognizable, recallable and permanently entrenched in the in the global psyche of humanity.

In most cases landmarks are skyscrapers, bridges, rivers, waterfalls of great historical and cultural value. Niagara Falls a city in Ontario, Canada blessed with the most breathtaking waterfall in the world. One of the world’s major tourist attractions. A spectacular site that attracts millions of tourists every year. The Golden Gate Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning the Golden Gate strait. The structure links the American city of San Francisco. The bridge is one of the most internationally recognized symbols.

The Galle Face is a five hectare ocean-side urban park, which stretches for a half kilometer along the coast, in the heart of the financial and business district of Colombo, Sri Lanka. The promenade initially laid out in 1859 by Governor Sir Henry George Ward. The original Galle Face Green extended over a much larger area than is seen today. It was initially used for horse racing and as a golf course. We are told that it was also used for cricket, polo, football, tennis and rugby. Very interesting indeed.

A popular destination for children, adults, vendors, teenagers, lovers, kite flyers and merrymakers, indulging in their favorite pastime next to the soothing sea under the open sky. On weekends land is busy with numerous activities. Day trippers, picnickers and food vendors. The quaint Galle Face Hotel Sri Lanka’s oldest, well patronized and popular hotel stands tall. Recent refurbishments with a distinctive façade has given the hotel a lot of character.

Sri Lanka is at crossroads. She is getting ready for a major economic take off. The feeling is palpable barring some political insanity. The emerging city skyline bears ample testimony to this phenomenon. The most important point in developing a concept for any public space agenda should be to identify and harness the talents and resources of the country. This is indeed key.

Public space development such as the Galle face is certainly not the exclusive domain of politicians or municipalities. It’s the discerning members of the general public who could meaningfully collaborate and contribute to transform a given public space to something truly quintessential and futuristic. A gigantic yet non-religious permanent structure reflecting the pristine culture of this blessed land would be something appropriate to explore. A piece of architectural marvel that would eventually become poignantly synonymous with Colombo. This is not something that can be accomplished overnight. It’s a time-consuming process but near immortality in the end.
In the west, it’s communities with its perceptive and insightful members that get involved and deliberate based on a strategic vision. It’s the community that can engender a historical perspective and acumen into how the area could function.

Transforming communities by collaborating with residents and other stakeholders to create high-impact built environments that improve daily lives is something either perpetually conceptual and systemic in the west. This writer was involved in the Strategic Planning process of a Public Space Project in Toronto Ontario. Regent Park Community revitalization program was to create a vibrant neighborhood. An ambitious project with public and private sector collaboration. It did achieve a lot. It was deliberated upon the following key values,

  • Extensive Planning and Community engagement
  • Multi-stakeholder process.
  • Resident associations to play lead role.
  • Focus on economic Development and Youth
  • Growing interest in Culture and Arts
  • Respond to existing and future needs of Residents.

Sound planning practices is of paramount importance for City Planning. Such a process ensures that a city is enriched with vitality and becomes a thriving urban center. The Galle Face Green has tremendous potential to be converted to a stunning urban renewal program provided right brains go into it, understanding well strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the site. In the backdrop of the mammoth Port City and colossal skyscrapers racing to the heavens it behooves that city planners are in control, concurring with right people to shape the city to something magnificent.

Urban planning guides orderly development in urban, suburban areas. Public spaces obviously are complex, organic matters usually with a veneer of ambiguity and perplexity. The best spaces evolve by experimenting with short-term improvements that can be tested and refined over a specific period of time. Places to sit, places to run and invigorate, a sidewalk café, a community event, a national event, an international event, a garden, a row of bustling boutiques, a row of super-clean eateries whose collective aroma piercing one’s nostrils to the point of a mild inebriation. These are examples  of  changes that capitalize on the creative energy of the community to efficiently generate new uses, experiences and revenue for places in transition.

Cities need to find ways to modernize and adapt to the growing world. Change taking place though slowly and organically. Cities also take a more proactive approach by doing anything and everything from eliminating cars to exploring underwater options. Even these kinds of activities are rapidly changing collective landscapes of cities. Creating colonies to ease over-population is something explored in the west.

Underwater habitation is not a bad idea. Unique ways nations are trying to position themselves.

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