State of Sri Lankan Cities

The State of Sri Lankan Cities report has examined the nine provincial capital cities of Sri Lanka to provide key city level data and present an integrated policy analysis. In doing so, it aims to support evidence-based urban policy and planning to drive the social and economic development of the country's urban centres. In particular, the rapid urban growth occurring outside municipal council boundaries poses significant challenges in creating competitive, inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable cities. This city profile highlights key city level data that will help to achieve a better urban future for all Sri Lankans.

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Is Sri Lanka one of the Least Urbanised Countries on Earth?

Population data suggests that Sri Lanka is one of the least urbanised countries on earth.  

Recent spatial analysis challenges this representation, suggesting rapid urban expansion in peripheral areas. UN-Habitat is currently assessing the spatial dynamics of Sri Lanka’s urbanisation. The analysis is being conducted across the country’s 9 provincial capitals for the period 1995-2017. The project is on-going, with results to be published later this year in the State of Sri Lankan Cities Report, but the data generated so far suggests that Sri Lanka’s cities have expanded rapidly since the 1990s.

Preliminary spatial analysis suggest that in the capital, Colombo, the urban built-up area increased from around 41 km2 in 1995 to 281 Km2 in 2017, while non-built up areas diminished from 125 Km2 to 10 Km2 (Fig 1). This trend of urban expansion is unprecedented in the city’s history, with a far greater urban area added in the years 1995-2017 than at any other time in the settlement’s existence. 

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How do we tackle urban sprawl in Sri Lanka?

Urban sprawl is one of the key challenges facing Sri Lanka’s cities today. Sprawl development, typically defined as uncoordinated, low density urban expansion, involves rapid land consumption as cities expand and swallow up surrounding rural areas. 

Globally, urban sprawl is associated with a number of undesirable city attributes, from traffic jams to the destruction of important natural habitats on the urban fringe.

In Sri Lanka, urban sprawl is identified in the Government’s Public Investment Programme 2017-2020 as a priority issue facing urban planners. Addressing urban sprawl is also emphasised by development partners, including UN-Habitat and the World Bank, and is a component of key international agreements, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which has a specific indicator related to urban sprawl (the rate of urban land consumption), and the United Nations New Urban Agenda.

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The State of Sri Lankan Cities 2018

The State of Sri Lankan Cities 2018 presents the first comprehensive assessment of Sri Lanka’s recent urban development. 

The Report is a key output of the State of Sri Lankan Cities Project. It outlines a vision of a better urban future for all Sri Lankans, drawing on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and New Urban Agenda, as well as key Government of Sri Lanka strategic documents.

The Report provides an analysis of the spatial attributes of Sri Lanka’s urbanization, an overview of its people and functions and examines city economies, urban housing, municipal services, urban connectivity and municipal transport, climate risk and resilience, and governance.

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