Issuu on Google+

Courtesy of stebox78

Courtesy of stebox78

The Beautification of Postwar Colombo

18 The City and South Asia

Harini Amarasuriya and Jonathan Spencer

The long war between the government of Sri Lanka and the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam came to an end in 2009 with the comprehensive defeat of the rebels, who by then had retreated to a small strip of beach on the island’s northeast coast. Five years later, visitors to the island’s capital, Colombo, notice that there is a lot of construction work going on in the city. Unlike the past, when there was a certain randomness to the city’s roadwork and disruption, this roadwork has a new, uniform quality. Old pavements are dug up and pale pink bricks are laid in newly constructed pavements. Roads have been widened and a bewildering one-way system has been established. Old and not-so-old walls that surrounded government buildings have been pulled down, making spaces suddenly larger than before. Trees that had lined the streets for hundreds of years, and grown somewhat chaotically—proving hazardous for unwary walkers or causing sudden disruptions during thundershowers because of falling branches—have been chopped down or pruned. New trees are being planted at regular intervals. Observant visitors would also note that those working on the construction, clearing, and cleaning of spaces are not typical workers. Many of them are dressed alike, sport the same haircuts, and carry themselves with precision. Many of the construction workers in Colombo, it turns out, are military personnel. This is a feature of postwar Sri Lanka, where the military has been gradually involving itself in assuredly nonmilitary activities, ranging from farming to construction to the hospitality trade. When vegetable prices skyrocketed in Colombo, the military sold vegetables. In the Jaffna Peninsula, they have opened a luxury hotel. In Colombo, military involvement followed the takeover of the Urban Development Authority (UDA) by the Ministry of Harvard South Asia Institute 19


The City and South Asia