Urban regeneration programmes modelled after Western developmental paradigms and furthering political objectives have accelerated in the post-war decade, transforming the multi-ethnic minority neighbourhoods of Sri Lanka’s commercial capital, Colombo. Forced evictions, the removal of informal settlements and militarised urban management has produced an environment of social inequity, particularly troubling due to the city’s reception of large influxes of Internally Displaced Persons during the years of civil war. In this chapter, we consider the transformation of Pettah, an intensely diverse commercial neighbourhood in Colombo as revealing these above-mentioned concerns. Embedded in its physical genealogy lie colonial premises and racialised policies that have accumulated to frame a contemporary condition of marginal and informal temporalities.

This chapter reflects on a set of socio-spatial markers activated and performed across time in the laneways of Pettah through which a sense of “neighbourhood” is created despite shifting and tenuous conditions. These socio-spatial markers are borne of the complex mechanisms and tactical ways in which marginalised communities use informality and mobility to navigate a public sphere in which they lack social, cultural, and economic tenure. They establish a dialogic relationship between the builtscape and the social, seeing them perpetually co-produced across time. While a sense of “community” in a traditional sense is diminished in these conditions, it becomes evident that relationships cultivated across and within boundaries of class and culture, mediated by the built morphology of place, give rise to complex social networks in which collectives re-emerge and recover at least a sense of camaraderie. Insight into these mechanisms and complexities could inform a socio-spatial reconceiving of archetypal architectural concepts such as “threshold” and “programme” allowing for the development of models of urbanity that are socially sustainable and specific to place.