Heritage Group Reveals Rangoon Conservation Plan

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 27 September 2016

RANGOON — Burma’s prominent heritage conservation body, the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), revealed its conservation strategy for the country’s former capital as it said Rangoon is “at a tipping point” and that without action there will be a terrible loss of cultural and natural heritage.

The “Yangon Heritage Strategy” is a 150-page report that outlines YHT’s vision and strategy to combine heritage conservation and sustainable development. Meant for all relevant stakeholders—from national leaders to street vendors, city residents and businesses—it includes 24 “Action Plans” on issues ranging from the expansion of green space to improved streetscapes to transforming downtown Yangon into a future international hub for arts and culture.

“For the city’s civic and business leaders, it [the strategy] can provide new ideas that might not have been considered before as well as a sense of the huge longer-term economic potential Yangon has to become a regional hub that combines heritage conservation with sustainable development,” the report says.

“For the general public, this document can provide a sense of how special their home city is and how, together, we can make Yangon Asia’s most livable city,” it added.

Thant Myint-U, YHT chairman and founder, said the strategy was not a master plan.  It is a collection of YHT ideas, based on four years of work on these issues and meant as a contribution to government and public debate at this critical moment in Rangoon’s development.

The plan comes at a time when the city of 5.16 million people is now under stress from traffic congestion, little to no urban planning, and poor infrastructure—while the city’s century-old architecture faces a threat from unregulated development.

The YHT strategy includes interim, awareness and long-term regulation measures to protect the city’s unique heritage. YHT proposes the creation of a coordinating body to oversee urban planning, promote public awareness of the importance of heritage conservation, and tailor a mix of immediate actions with a comprehensive urban plan within a solid regulatory framework based on a revised heritage law—which would include mandatory height control regulations across the city to protect heritage areas and free up space for high-rises.

In the Action Plans, YHS suggestions encircling Shwedagon Pagoda with a series of public parks; reusing government buildings as public libraries, hotels and retail outlets; and upgrading the circle-line train and bus system and utilizing the city’s waterway to address transportation challenges. It also recommends using the waterfront for public recreation and opening a view of heritage buildings along Strand Road for tourism purposes. It states that the point where Shwedagon Pagoda Road meets the waterfront could be designated as a public park, forming a river gateway to the pagoda as it did for Burmese royalty hundreds of years ago.

Thant Myint-U told The Irrawaddy that YHT provided an advanced copy and discussed many aspects of its plan with the Rangoon chief minister and members of the regional government over recent months.“We have been extremely pleased with the chief minister and government’s support for Yangon conservation and urban planning and believe we have a very close working relationship across a range of issues—from the revitalization of the downtown area to the reuse of the waterfront to the protection of the city’s green and other public spaces,” he said.

When asked to what extent the recommendations could materialize, the historian said, “The YHS plan is extremely realistic and what we have suggested over the next 4-5 years is doable.”

“It’s not a cookie-cutter plan that can only be implemented in Sydney or Seattle.  It’s a plan for Yangon, based on all we’ve learned these past few years about Yangon’s political, legal, economic, and social environment,” he said.

“It’s based on hundreds of conversations not just with experts, government and business people, but also with people who live and work in the historic city.  It will make all the difference in setting Yangon on the right path for the rest of the 21st century.”