Welcome to the January Edition of the Best Practices Monthly Feature. Having concluded the Dubai International Award winners series in December 2018, we aim to highlight Best Practices from UN-Habitat and other stakeholders in the month's ahead. In this months' edition, we focus on the State of Sri Lankan Cities Report (SoSLC) 2018, which illustrates an integrated policy matrix methodology as a best practice to promote a better urban future for all Sri Lankans.

The report has examined the 9 provincial cities of Sri Lanka to provide key city level data and present an integrated policy analysis. In doing so, it aims to support evidence-based urban policy and planning to drive the social and economic development of the country’s urban centres. The State of Sri Lankan Cities project has developed an integrated policy matrix tool to aid policy makers identify policies that work across all sectors. The integrated policy matrix links 32 Key Messages identified through the sectoral assessments (Sectoral Constraints) to 5 key tenets of a better urban future for all Sri Lankans (City Outcomes).


1. Urbanization

The report examines the spatial attributes of the country’s urbanization. It shows the scale of Sri Lanka’s urbanization is far greater than official statistics suggest. The use of satellite imagery has revealed that the country’s 9 Provincial Capitals expanded at an average rate of 6.42% per year in the period 1995 – 2017 and accounted for an estimated population of 7.39 million in 2017. Urban expansion has occurred as low-density urban sprawl outside official municipal boundaries and is therefore hidden from official urban population statistics.

2. People and Functions

The report also provides a detailed land use mapping from very-high resolution satellite imagery of the 9 provincial Capitals in 2017. It finds that the capitals perform a range of functions that are crucial to the country’s social and economic development, although a greater range of urban services are located in cities in western areas and/or in cities well-connected to the capital, Colombo. In contrast, the populations of cities in the east and north, and more remote central areas have less access to urban services.

3. Urban Economies;

In the report, the cities are seen as integral to Sri Lanka’s economic development. The Western Region Megapolis and the 8 other provincial capital districts account for 71% of Sri Lanka’s GDP; the Western Region Megapolis alone accounts for around 40% of the GDP. The State of Sri Lankan Cities assessment of urban economies draws on a Location Quotient (LQ) analysis and labour productivity assessment to identify a number of emerging sectors that can drive future growth and spread economic development to less developed regional cities.

4. Housing;

The analysis from the report identifies a range of housing policy challenges related to tenure systems, the supply of affordable, high-quality housing, and difficulties accessing housing finance. The analysis also explores Sri Lanka's long tradition of people-centred approaches to housing, including the globally replicated People's Process, that have incorporated the diverse and changing needs of urban residents in urban housing policy.

5. Municipal Services;

Linked to the issue of housing is access to municipal services and utilities. A key issue is related to rapid sprawl expansion in many cities, which means much of the demand for municipal services comes from the population living outside the municipal boundary. Kandy's municipal area, for example, has an estimated population of 113,000 but also serves an additional urban fringe population of 117,00. This trend is common across the 9 Provincial Capitals, and creates financing and coordination challenges to the provision and maintenance of a range of public services from public space to sidewalks to health and education.

6. Connectivity;

Intercity and rural-urban connectivity is highlighted as key to driving and re-balancing development across Sri Lanka’s cities and the entire country. In particular, while there has been much progress on upgrading roads and rail infrastructure, challenges remain in logistics and emerging technologies.

7. Risk and resilience;

Sri Lankan Cities like many in the Asia region are increasingly vulnerable to climate change and associated risks. The report finds that the 9 provincial capitals are exposed to a variety of climate risks with landslides, floods and associated disease outbreaks being the most severe.

8. Governance.

The report’s last sectoral analysis focuses on urban governance. A City Governance Index (CGI) is developed to measure the performance of local authorities in Sri Lanka’s 9 Provincial Capitals. It finds that municipal authorities face significant financial pressures to raise revenue to fund the development of infrastructure and deliver basic urban services.



Urban competitiveness refers to the capacity of cities to attract flows of trade and investment, which in turn drives growth, creates job opportunities, raises incomes and enables cities to move up the value chain into higher-value goods and services. The competitiveness of a city is related to numerous attributes, including the skills of its workforce, its connectivity to national, regional and international markets and supply chains. A competitive city attracts high levels of investment, from both foreign and domestic sources, and is a hub of national, regional and international trade.


Inclusive cites extend the opportunities of urban life across urban population subgroups. They provide equitable access to economic opportunities, such as jobs or affordable credit for business investments. They also provide equitable access to urban services and infrastructure, such as adequate housing, public transport, water, drainage and sewerage infrastructure, hospitals and education facilities, parks and public spaces. In inclusive cities residents enjoy equal access to opportunities and services regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender and other differentiating factors.


Urban resilience refers to the capacity of cities to adapt, recover and overcome shocks and stresses. Shocks refer to sudden-onset events that significantly disrupt urban processes, including natural disasters or economic crises. Stresses refer to slow on-set processes, such as those related to long-term changes in climate or unplanned urban development.


Safe cities refer primarily to personal safety and the health of urban residents. Personal safety can refer to issues that arise from living in cities, such as crime, sexual harassment and death or injury from traffic. A safe city also limits health risks for its citizens, such as those related to pollution, contaminated water and other urban-related hazards.


Sustainability in the urban context is a broad concept that encompasses all the above city characteristics. A sustainable urban system is one that can sustain and/or develop over time without causing adverse effects to other urban processes and systems.

According to this matrix a successful integrated urban policy intervention will address multiple Sectoral Constraints and contribute to multiple City Outcomes. In this way the matrix provides a tool for identifying high-impact, cross-sectoral policy that addresses key constraints and contributes to the 5 tenets of a better urban future for all Sri Lankans.

To achieve a better urban future for all Sri Lankans embodying the 5 key tenets, the State of Sri Lankan Cities Report draws on the New Urban Agenda to present a roadmap, which promotes cross-sectoral and holistic interventions that recognize those cities as interrelated urban systems. This approach yields 5 key policy recommendations that work across sectors to achieve a better urban future for all Sri Lankans.


The Roadmap for Sri Lankan cities details possible future policy and programme directions to promote social and economic development in the country’s urban centres. The SoSLC analysis has identified key messages across the range of urban sectors, which will aid policy makers to achieve a better urban future for all Sri Lankans. Building on these messages, the Roadmap offers an integrated policy assessment, to identify integrated interventions that work across urban sectors. In this sense, the SoSLC report’s analysis recognizes the integrated nature of urban systems: to centre policy making on cities as holistic entities rather than on individual urban sectors in silos. This model of policy making is rooted in the United Nations New Urban Agenda, which highlights cross-sectoral policies as a crucial component to improving interrelated urban systems (United Nations, 2016)




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