(Dis)connected Colombo: Situating the Megapolis in post-war Sri Lanka

Authors: Kanchana Ruwanpura*, University of Edinburgh, Benjamin Brown, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh, Loritta Chan, Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh
Topics: Development, Asia, Environment
Keywords: Sri Lanka, infrastructure, connectivity, ecological stress, post-war development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Sri Lanka is in the midst of a post-war infrastructure boom, with new investment directed into roads, ports and airports as part of an uneven and much contested development process. Taking the transformations unfolding in Colombo as our point of departure, we examine how the vision of Megapolis has provoked fierce debates on geographies of connectivity. The post-war Sri Lankan political landscape initially envisioned political integration for its ethnic polity, which was to be delivered through the expansion of national road networks; the political priorities in the past decade reoriented away from integrating the nation to the strategic positioning of Colombo as a financial trading hub for the South Asian region. Focusing on Colombo’s flagship Port City project, we problematise the model of development proposed by foregrounding counter-narratives that speak to concerns around debt, enclosure, residual ethnic tensions, and the degradation of coastal ecosystems. The construction of Port City, on land reclaimed from the ocean, operates outside of conventional territorial zones, and is thus distanced from the social and ecological distress it engenders. In this respect, we attend to crucial questions of uneven geographies within the country. In the quest to connect post-war Sri Lanka with regional trading infrastructures and cultivate ties with global capital, there is a simultaneous disconnect from the immediate needs of local populations, ethnic politics and ecosystems.

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