Kandy City's Future: A “Smart City” with Top Down Planning or Bottom Up Consultation?

The page 01 lead news in this edition of The Kandy News is on the proposed Rs 12,200 million four-year development  project for the Kandy city and the Greater Kandy area under what is called the Strategic Cities Development Project. The other city chosen for assistance in the initial phase is Galle. Barring some totally unforeseen mishap the money from the World Bank (WB) and the matching funds from the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) will be made available to launch the project later this year.

Alongside this leader we have published a brief account of the 2014 budget of the Kandy Municipal Council (KMC). It amounts to Rs 1,909 or about 15% of the proposed expenditure in the Strategic Cities (Kandy) budget. If KMC total spending is maintained at the 2014 level adjusted for inflation it will take over six years for the KMC to spend Rs 12,200 million. More importantly the latter sum is largely for capital works and some capacity building. KMC will spend only Rs 411 million this year on capital works. For four years, adjusted for inflation, it would be Rs 1,644 million or a mere 13.5% of the Strategic Cities (Kandy) budget. This sharply underlines the potentially huge impact that this project would have on Kandy. It also clearly demonstrates the abject dependence of Sri Lanka's local government institutions (and for that matter the provincial councils) on central government funding and donor funding especially for capital investment. Financial devolution is largely an illusion in Sri Lanka.

It is true that some of the proposed project work, especially some of the road improvements, will take place outside the current boundaries of the KMC. However, in functional terms even the road improvements outside the city are largely designed to help the Kandy city by reducing traffic congestion. (This observation leads us to question the rationality of the current KMC boundaries that were drawn several decades ago and are no longer functionally relevant. But that merits a separate review). Overall, the proposed development plan to upgrade the physical infrastructure and urban quality of life appears to be reasonable and desirable.

Modern cities produce massive amounts of data.  Or if data is lacking it is relatively easy to gather data in cities and on cities through studies and surveys, be it employment, construction, land use, traffic, solid waste, water, sewerage, air quality or almost any other important feature of urban life. This data forms the basis of what is now known as the “smart city” that purportedly produces the good life for its citizenry. In principle the smart city is environmentally clean, promotes a healthy lifestyle, has no poverty to speak of and altogether is a great place to live in. Whether such cities exist in reality is a debatable issue. By some counts there are a few dozen each in Western Europe and North America and a smaller number in East Asia. Be that as it may, this is roughly how the ideal 21st century city, especially the smaller cities, is conceptualized.

Kandy city (KMC) population is less than 150,000. Even including the Greater Kandy area, no matter how it is defined, the population is unlikely to be more than 500,000 when the population of the entire Kandy district is only 1.3 million. Thus Kandy city (or Greater Kandy) with its historical and cultural importance and multi-ethnicity added to the mix is an ideal candidate to be developed as a modal smart city for Sri Lanka.

The creation of the smart city in the 21st century is a highly data driven process. There are two schools of thought about how this data should be used to create the smart city. Some believe that it is centralized city planning and control using such databases that would produce smart cities. In other words it is top-down city development. The other school believes that the data that the modern city produces should be made available to the people to take decisions on what is best for their own communities.  This newspaper believes that the choice is not between one of the two, but a balanced mix of the two that suits the individual city's culture, society, politics and environment.

From what we know the Kandy Strategic City project to date is largely based on the top-down approach. The project has been conceived at the top. Data has been gathered from the grassroots not so much in the form of back and forth dialogue but in the form of traditional surveys, counts and censuses that are tools of central planners. Thus far, except for some very limited consultation with a few stakeholder groups there has been little public awareness, let alone in-depth consultation or dialogue with the Kandy public on the proposed project. Since bureaucrats in the World Bank and the GOSL control the pursue strings this should not come as a surprise.

However, in the case of Kandy there has been an exception. The politically sensitive mayor and his other twenty three elected colleagues who are answerable to the people have been going around the city communities gathering information on what the community needs are. In a Sri Lanka that is bitterly divided politically the KMC has adopted a very bipartisan approach to this exercise. The information we have suggests that the people have welcomed this initiative and responded very positively. Of course compared to the millions of dollars that the World Bank brings to the table the KMC can offer only peanuts from its own resources to alleviate the problems of the citizens. But the principle is crucial for the World Bank funded project as well.

We will end this note with a few quotes from the website of a major global development agency that advocates, among other things, “Community Driven Development, Empowering the Voice of the Poor, (and) Participation and Civic Engagement” for the developing world. This website belongs to an institution called the World Bank. 

KMC will spend Rs 20,000 on each Kandy resident in 2014

Mayor Mahindra RatwatteMayor Mahindra RatwatteKMC Town Hall KMC Town Hall The total budget of the Kandy Municipal Council funded from its own taxes and levies for the financial year 2014 is Rs 1,909 million. An additional Rs 120 million is expected from the Provincial Government and Central Government as capital grants making a total of Rs 2,029m ($ 15m). These figures were announced when the Kandy Mayor Mahindra Ratwatte presented his 2014 budget to the Council recently.

The total expenditure of the KMC averages just under Rs 20,000 for each of the residents living within the municipal boundaries. In practice much of this money will be spent on wages for KMC workers who provide services to the residents. The KMC has approved Rs. 1,499m (79%) for recurrent spending and Rs 411m (21%) for capital (“development”) spending. It is also useful to note that a large “floating” population comes daily to the city from outside. They use city services but also generate income for Kandy businesses that pay taxes to the Council.

For comparison the Central Government's total budgeted expenditure for 2014 is about Rs 2,600 billion ($20b).  Of this amount 30% is described in the official estimates as “development” spending and the balance 70% as “operational” spending. The sum total of the two averages to about Rs 130,000 per Sri Lankan. 

 Over the last ten to twelve years KMC spending has risen significantly. In 2000 the total revenue and spending excluding loans and grants from

KMC will spend Continued ....

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