“Haphazard urban growth” or the expansion of physical and nonphysical elements in a city without a clear guideline, is a common phenomenon in many developing countries. Rapid increase in urban population, increase in urban poverty, formation of squatter settlements, and degradation of the urban environment are the main characteristics of haphazard urban growth. Urban planning in developing countries should be focussed towards planning and management of haphazard urban growth. However, in many situations urban planners find it difficult to acquire adequate data on urban problems. This situation results from a lack of an effective mechanism for collecting, storing and updating of data required for planning.
The Geographical Information Systems (GIS), is a powerful set of tools for collecting, storing, retrieving, transforming, and displaying spatial data from the real world for a particular set of purposes. It is useful in almost all phases of the planning process. This thesis develops a GIS to monitor and manage haphazard urban growth, as well as to assist urban planning in the developing countries.
Clear identification of the functions or tasks that the GIS is expected to support, is the first step in the process of developing a GIS. The other components of the system such as data base content, institutional structure, software and hardware, personnel and financial resources, should be formed subsequently, based on the functions of the GIS.
Though the GIS has potential to support many development efforts and activities carried out in developing countries, it has not been used to its maximum potential due to reasons such as: financial constraints; non availability/ low-quality of data; low computer literacy/ lack of interest in modem tools among professionals including planners; linguistic problems; difficulties in maintenance of GIS; administrative difficulties; and shortage of trained personnel. Of 3.9 million urban dwellers in Sri Lanka, approximately 54% live in “Colombo Urban Area” (CUA). Like many other urban areas in the developing world, the CUA too is experiencing unguided expansion. Thus, establishing a GIS which is capable of monitoring and managing urban growth, and assisting the urban planning process, is timely and appropriate in order to uplift the quality of urban life in Sri Lanka.
Due to limited availability of data as well as other resources such as adequate funds, personnel and equipment for data conversion, attempting to establish a large GIS, with a huge database covering all local authorities in CUA at one instance, is not very practical in the Sri Lankan context. Hence, the establishment of complete GIS covering all local authorities in CUA, should be carried out under a number of stages, over an extended period of time, rather than at one instance. In establishing the GIS for urban planning in Colombo, the priority should be given to installing a GIS in Kesbewa where the population growth is highest in 1991 -2001. This may also acts as the pilot project.
Since the future generation of Sri Lankan planners are already being trained in GIS technology, the establishment of GIS, may improve the quality of urban planning in the country. However, improving the GIS knowledge among practising planners, is essential in order to acquire the full benefit of introducing GIS. Sri Lanka may be able to acquire necessary financial resources, and any other technical resources, for initial establishment of GIS from foreign aid, and the country might be able to finance the subsequent maintenance of the system. Nevertheless, execution of activities such as: surveys for investigation of data availability; preparation of a plan for phasing -in the implementation of GIS, as well as to improve the knowledge of GIS among practising planners; improving capabilities and co-ordination among institutions; and investigating the financial feasibility of the GIS, are important, prior to establishment o f a full scale GIS for CUA.