One thing is assured: People want to live in cities. And the only way to do this is go up! What is a city? What decides its specificity? The evolution of the modern-day city does not trail a linear movement while the inevitability of a city will always be vertical living. This is what emerged [...]

Business Times

Condo living in Sri Lanka should build community life


One thing is assured: People want to live in cities. And the only way to do this is go up!

What is a city? What decides its specificity? The evolution of the modern-day city does not trail a linear movement while the inevitability of a city will always be vertical living. This is what emerged at a breakfast meeting jointly hosted by John Keells Properties and DFCC Bank at the Cinnamon Grand Hotel recently.

Featuring insightful presentations by Guest Speakers, CEO and Managing Director of Malaysia’s Impetus Alliance Advisors, Michael Yam and Impetus Alliance Advisors Director, Shaun Mok, as well as a panel discussion with John Keells Properties, Sector Head, Nayana Mawilmada, the breakfast meeting provided an astute take on the high rise sector in Colombo and against other global cities.

It was noted that Sri Lanka is at 25 per cent – half of the rate of global urbanisation of 50 per cent. Mr. Yam and Mr. Mawilmada attesting to the presentation details of Mr. Mok compared Colombo to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 25 years ago. “In Colombo 9 per cent of buildings are more than four stories. This was Kuala Lumpur 25 years ago,” Mr. Mawilmada said.

A vertical city with multifunctional land use turns out to be the most practical solution for an urban condition set apart by rising density due to population expansion, topographical constraints of buildable land, economic development and the chase for collective sustainable living, he said.

Mr. Yam said that brownfield (land in any previously developed land that is not currently in use) pocket development from Canary Wharf to Millennium Dome helped solve housing crisis and create a new self-contained communities in these places. He said that £ 700 million was used to rehabilitate Millennium Dome. Growing population, shrinking space and a yearning to stay close to the main city, have led to the idea of multi-storeyed buildings, he said. Sky high construction adds to available living and working space, which eases the impact of overpopulation.

Mr. Mawilmada, in the ensuing interview with the Business Times, noted that Colombo is having a massive domestic issue. “We need to solve this. It is the most important issue to solve and tackle at this moment,” he said noting that high rises will be the ‘certainty’ of a city. Attesting to the trend worldwide, people automatically gravitate towards cities, because of the opportunities and potential it holds, he noted. This puts colossal strain on cities, to provide for housing and other needs of the people within it. “It is impossible for a city to have indefinite horizontal growth. To meet the needs of a rising population, the only viable solution, is for buildings to grow vertically,” he added.

John Keells Property Sector President Suresh Rajendra noted that TRI-ZEN, their Union Place condominium is targeting (mostly) first time homebuyers. “Now the 10 per cent home buying of condos will increase to 40 per cent in the next few decades,” he predicted.

When observed that John Keells Properties are canvassing more for the local market, Mr. Mawilmada said that it was in a conscious effort. “TRI-ZEN is really part of a much broader mission – to broaden access to high quality housing within the city, to raise awareness on how housing and related choices really impact our lives and society, and to put Colombo on a sustainable transformation/growth trajectory.” TRI-ZEN is effectively about defining a future vision of urban life in Colombo; one that is much more inclusive and that challenges the status quo on many fronts, he added. “To us and to me personally, this is the problem we need to solve. We have a massive domestic [housing] problem that needs to be solved.

We are stepping up and saying ‘you know what, we will take the first pass at this….do the best we can’, and I am sure that the others will follow.”
If we get the fundamentals right, the expats will come, he continued. “But the more interesting problem to solve is really the domestic problem.

How do you transform the next generation’s entire life experience? It’s not easy. But I think it’s a problem worth trying to tackle.” Mr. Rajendra added that Sri Lanka is the primary market for them. He said that they don’t attract the international buyer so much – only locals residing overseas and primarily Sri Lankans or foreigners in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Mawilmada said the company is not only selling apartments but building communities. Wanting to live within a 20 to 25-minute distance from your workplace in the city will cost you as the price of landed properties in these areas can soar and also basic condos are typically cheaper than landed homes and make a great entry purchase for property buyers, he said.

He added that high rises can meet the needs of housing, employment, education, recreation, healthcare and other services, thereby, enhancing the efficiency of centralised labour and consumption markets, by doing away with long, wasteful and polluting commutes between home and work.

Mr. Yam said that in his developments, 70 per cent of his investors are repeat customers. “It is easier to sell to an existing customer.” Condos and upscale apartments usually feature a range of amenities from security to swimming pools, gyms, saunas and tennis courts as well as restaurants within the building. They are equipped with good security systems access to major highways etc which will eventually entice the Gen X and Gen Y, Mr. Yam added.

Mr. Mawilmada said that this is a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka. “It is the government’s responsibility to incentivise developers,” he said.
The need of the hour, therefore, is for accurate planning that will hold up the city and aid in future development.

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