By Chanaka Bandarage –
One good thing done by the present government is to grow grass at the Galle Face Green, especially during the Covid period – to fill the empty patches. Now most of the Green is a beautiful turf. True, the turf is damaged in the Aragalaya areas.Can the authorities be able to continually maintain the Green in its current pristine condition? Let’s hope so. The responsibility largely lies with the general public. It is they who use it.
One bad thing done by the present government is to build scores of new cafe/restaurant type buildings on Galle Face – from beginning of the Galle Centre Road at Galle Face Hotel end, to One Galle Face end. These new units are yet to be opened.
Due to these new structures, the Green’s width has further narrowed.
Over time, due to various modifications the Green’s width has drastically been narrowed. Say by about 25% (it has always been a very narrow strip).
The first big changes were done by the then former President Premadasa around 1992/93. He acquired large Green areas to erect the current car parks (on Galle Face Centre Road side). This car park development was warranted. He also planted the palm trees.
Around 1996, the then Colombo Mayor Ganeshlingam erected the current terraces and the many cement steps everywhere. Prior to that the Green was one flat land. Due to this, the Green was further narrowed.
It is good if the Green was left as a big flat land.
Chandrika Bandaranaike built the current suspension bridge or the ‘spectator’ bridge across the sea, near the flag pole. Such a structure is out of place for Galle Face. The authorities must be vigilant when this bridge is over-crowded on busy days like Sundays and Poya days. The last thing we want is an accident there.
Today, the Galle Face Green is managed by the Ports Authority. This is wrong. It should be handed back to the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). It is how the British ran it.
The Ports Authority has absolutely nothing to do with the Galle Face. The transition happened solely to satisfy the desire of a once powerful minister.
The infamous ‘World’s Biggest Christmas Tree’ was at Galle Face. That was in 2016.
For political and personal reasons several Presidents ‘clipped the wings’ of the CMC. Due to this the CMC’s revenue base has dwindled.
CMC does a reasonably good job under trying conditions.
The politicians gave the CMC’s power and authority to various other bodies; especially to UDA. This prominently happened during the 2007 – 2012 period. These stupid decisions were not done in the best interests of Colombians. Today, the UDA has more power and authority than the CMC. They are the beneficiaries of the CMC’s lost revenue. There are few stories about the UDA’s corrupt behavior; the writer is unable to verify their veracity.
Now back to the Galle Face:
A large up market restaurant commenced operations few years ago- located at the very beginning of the Galle Face, on Galle Face Centre Road’s Galle Face Hotel end. They have erected a very big sign, as if they own that part of the real estate. They have acquired a portion of the Green as their permanent car park. They play loud music that spreads beyond the big flag pole.
Who has given them all these privileges and power?
The government seems to be obsessed in establishing eateries on both sides of the promenade. On the coastal (sea) side, eateries now extend up to Shangri La end. Previously they stopped at the big flag pole.
Is this good? The writer states no.
Some of these newly built cafes and restaurants (numbering over 20) are sure to sell alcohol and play live or other loud music. The noise would amplify into the Green.
The Galle Face is a public space. It belongs to all of us. The governments have no right to palm off parts of it to private businesses/individuals. Surely these businesses must be owned by politicians or their henchmen.
The purpose of the British establishing the Green (in 1859) was recreation.
The 1.6 km long promenade was constructed especially with the purpose of ladies and children to saunter and take in the fresh air.
Until the turn of the last century families flocked to Galle Face to enjoy the sea under the vast open sky. There were many who used the Green for their early morning or evening strolls and physical exercise. People used to buy gram/wade from vendors. They were simple, mobile traders, not established eateries. Ice cream vans of reputed companies parked alongside the Galle Face Centre Road and sold quality ice cream.
But, now the main attraction of Galle Face is street food – it is famous for greasy/oily, meaty foods such as kotthu, roties/parata, burgers, fried potatoe chips, hotdogs, wades with small fried crabs on top and buriyani. Then, the carbonated drinks like Coke, Fanta, Sprite etc.
Areas where the eateries located are very crowded and noisy. Some shops have erected stadium type lights.
It seems there is no one to monitor the standards of the food.
Lots of Colombo’s school children especially in the ‘elite schools’ are obese. It has been reported that even some of our Children have type II diabetes. The adults’ situation is far worse. This is as a result of consuming too much junk food. People think it is fashionable to eat at McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Burger King etc. But, they do not think about the bad effects of those foods. It is reported that around 75 new patients are admitted daily to the Maharagama Cancer Hospital. These are our own citizens! Even women especially in Colombo, have taken up alcohol consumption in big way – mainly beer. Thankfully Sri Lankan women are not yet smoking in public.
There is not a single place to sell healthy foods at the Green.
It is nice if there are stalls to sell කොළ කැඳ, පොල්පලා, රණවරා, බෙලි මල්, fresh fruit juice etc in early mornings.
The new 20 odd cafes/restaurants that were built during the Covid period once opened are sure to emanate further thick greasy smoke and meaty smell into the Green. This will be offensive to the recreational users of the Green.
Those who come to the Green for quiet enjoyment/evening stroll want to enjoy the breeze, walk, jog, do exercise/mediate; basically have a quiet, tranquil time.
Galle Face should be a haven for all. The elderly should not be marginalised. Today its evenings are dominated by youngish, vocal, impatient type crowds.
Kite sellers, plastic toy sellers have forcibly acquired large swaths of the Green, people find it difficult to maneuver through and walk. At dark, children and even adults fall over after getting entangled on kite strings – as kites for sale are anchored on the floor. When such things happen, they often receive abuse from the kite vendors as if it was our fault.
One could see men in small groups secretly drinking alcohol hidden under the night’s darkness. This should be discouraged. There is a Police point located on the Green.
Again, the Galle Face is known worldwide as Colombo’s place for peaceful and serene enjoyment.
With the addition of about 20+ new cafes/restaurants and the seaside eateries now extending up to Shangri La end, the Galle Face will solidify its position as Colombo’s primary place for night life – alcohol, DJ music and street/junk food.
Sadly, the above two identities do not complement each other, they are poles apart.
True, street/junk food cannot be stopped. They are a part of Colombo culture. It is alright to indulge in them, but not too frequently. Slave Island and the Galle Road’s Colpetty, Bambalapitiya areas can be the areas for them. There is also the Marine Drive – spanning from Colpetty to Dehiwela. Colombo’s nightlife can blossom in those areas, perhaps also at Pettah’s Floating Market area. But, it should not be at the Galle Face Green. Since recently fine night street food outlets have popped up in Aluthkade area closer to Hultsdorf. This should be encouraged as foreign tourists seem to be flocking to this area. As it has a great potential to become ‘big’, CMC must intervene and ‘modernise’ the Aluthkade street food market.
A visitor to Galle Face in the early morning could see thousands of crows converged on the park to eat the previous night’s leftover food in dustbins and food scattered across the Green. In the early mornings there are many stray dogs. Large rats have formed, some are big as cats. Waste water and junk from food businesses could be seen lying stagnated in the open dilapidated drains.
These bad developments have taken place as a result of introducing large scale eateries.
There is the strong possibility that eateries of both sides of the Green could further increase and end up at Kingsbury Hotel end. The cash strapped governments are greedy for rent monies.
Opening up Galle Face for such large scale eateries is contrary to the purpose in which it was established. The Galle Face is very important and significant to Colombians. It may have qualified for World Heritage status, but, perhaps not anymore. In trying to commercialize it to the maximum, the authorities have meddled with it too much. They forgot that it is not a simple real estate; Galle Face has an important historic status and value.