LIVING WITH FLOODS: PROFESSIONAL ADVOCACY vis-à-vis TRADITIONAL WISDOM IN RATHNAPURA CITY, SRI LANKA
Rathnapura city is located in a deep valley where two rivers converge. It experiences serious flooding during the monsoon period. The city center and most of the suburbs succumb to flooding at least twice a year. During early 1980s, the new town of Rathnapura was established 5 km away from the old city center in an attempt to relocate the city at a safer place. People were advised to relocate their houses and businesses in the new town. Although most of the government establishments were relocated there during the last 40 years, the new town lacks life and character due to the lack of a residential population. People prefer to live in their traditional homelands in the old city instead of relocating in the new town. They do not mind the recurrent flooding problem due to several reasons. The most prominent among them is the cultural practices and livelihoods that are deep rooted in specific places of the old city. They do not like to abandon these customary places and relocate in new places for the sake of safety. Due to the social resistance, the local government has reluctantly adapted the “living with floods” policy for development planning in Rathnapura. This paper inquires the tussle between traditional wisdom and professional advocacy when dealing with the urban development agenda of Rathnapura City. It also examines the traditionally practiced and professionally advocated building construction methods in the study area. Stakeholder consultation survey and a field survey were conducted by the first authour’s team as a prelude to develop an urban design scheme and building construction strategy for the core areas of the city. This scheme recognizes people’s place making process and adapts an enabling role despite shortcomings on the safety front. This stance may go well with the local people but not necessarily with the project proponents, financiers and urban managers.
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