CMRD - Projects 

The Unknown City: the (in)visibility of urban displacement


As part of the ongoing urban study, data was collected to understand the lifestyles, experiences and aspirations of people in four underserved communities in Colombo. Researchers use techniques such as oral histories, walks, migration videos, community profiles, social, historical, resource and infrastructure mapping, and graphical accounts at individual, community and city level. The approach includes application of software’s like Ushahidi, Ramblr etc. and collaborations with art and comics specialists to develop stories and drawing works.

Researchers with colleagues in the field


Photos give useful insights into the day to day life of the people and the community.

Resource maps

One of the techniques we use is mapping the resources in each of the sites. This helps understand individual and community behaviour and their relationship with the built environment.

Resource maps of two sites

Comparison maps

These help to understand how the area had developed. For example the below maps illustrates the expansion of the settlement, reshaping landscape and destruction of natural settings and how that may have contributed to the frequent floods.

Comparison maps of two sites

Historical maps, archive and city plans

Such can help understand how the city as a whole had evolved over time. By tracing and connecting them with individual and specific community perspectives and mobility histories, it can give a picture of how migration and informal housing have played and continue to play an importnat role in the life of the city, and how successive planning efforts have responded.

Maps of Colombo as the city evolved

Sources: Brohier, R. L and Paulusz, J. H. O. (1951) Land, Maps & Surveys: Descriptive catalogue of historical maps in the surveyor general’s office, Colombo, Vol. II Ceylon Government press, Colombo (maps 1 and 2); Hulugalle, H.A.J. (1965) Centenary Volume of the Colombo Municipal Council 1865 – 1965, Colombo Municipal Council (map 3).

Colombo and Pettah streets scenes in 1880

Source: Nineteenth Century Collections Online, Photo 1 and Photo 2, Accessed 8 Nov. 2017.


Workshops and community exhibitions will be conducted to share the findings followed by publications.