Dubai is widely regarded the most luxurious city in the world. With money from oil, Arabs have successfully transformed Dubai from a dessert, to a city where you have the tallest skyscraper in the world. Burj Khalifa proudly stands at Dubai, as the most significant proof that the city is just pure luxury.
Now, China wants to change all that. The Chinese government is determined to build a “New Dubai”, or a city as luxurious as Dubai. And they’ve chosen the destination for that, Sri Lanka. At the moment, the area called Port City is just a flax expanse of blank land jutting out into the ocean. But when it is all said and done, the city will have 65 million cubic meters of sand. The goal is to make Port city the site of glass skyscrapers, busy financial district, hotels, theme park, and everything else.
How will the city look?
The Port City is part of Chinese President Xi Jimping’s Belt and Road initiative. The goal is to build new roads, ports, and bridges, as Chinese companies are taking over the world. But in Sri Lanka, they’ve gone a step further. They are building a whole new metropolis.
The city will be built on 665 acres of land being reclaimed from the Indian Ocean. It is designed to be a smaller Singapore, and have its own business-friendly tax regime and regulations. There is also a possibility of the city having a different legal system to the rest of Sri Lanka.
But unlike Dubai, Port City will not be a city where more than 2 million people live on a daily basis. The city is expected to be home to 80,000 regular residents, and 250,000 commuting in every day. As such, Port City is the largest single foreign direct investment in Sri Lankan history. The projected value of the investment is more than $1.5 billion, and is a project by the state owned Chinese engineering firm, China Communications Construction Company.
In addition to skyscrapers, the city will feature 1.5 million square meters of office space for private investment that can reach more than $13 billion. The city will take inspiration from the colonial era, which is easily visible in the nearby Colombo city, where you can find fading bungalows, modest temples, and low-slung towers of Colombo.
The ecological aspect of Port City
Ecologist in Sri Lanka expressed their concern regarding the ecological aspect of building a new city. For starters, building the new city will require more natural resources than the country can sustainably provide. The sand alone will quickly exceed 100 million cubic meters, and that can be dangerous for a fragile marine habitat and the livelihoods of more than 15,000 fishermen who work in the mining area.
Environmental activists also warn that the new financial district will add more than 300,000 daily car journeys, increase airborne pollution, and much more. Another important aspect is the power China Harbour will wield in the territory it leases in Port City, where it will effectively act as the landlord.
But the Chinese company has tried to resolve some of the questions and concerns. For starters, they say they will create patches of green space in Port City that will provide views of Colombo. They will also encourage the government to regenerate the western edge of the old city, which will create a frontage looking out on the new one.
The idea of the project is to use green space as a way to mediate between the old and the new. Nobody wants the new project to suck the life out of the existing city.
A long battle
Colombo is a key port for anyone traveling through the Indian Ocean. It has been that for more than 2,000 years. And it works as a trade center. The idea to expand the business part of the city first came to life in 2004. However, a 25 year civil war that started in 1983 postponed the realization of the project.
When the war ended in 2009, China offered to finance the reconstruction of Sri Lanka. The idea was to give the country loans, which then president Mahinda Rajapaksa happily accepted. However, he lost the elections in 2014 due corruption concerns. The Port City project was put in a shelf, where it remained up to 2016. Now, the project is again live, and the first buildings should come to live by the end of 2018.