RANGOON — After nearly a year-long discussion and preparation, a proposed regulation to restrict land-use and protect heritage buildings in Burma’s former capital will have a public hearing on Tuesday, according to an architect involved in developing the plan.
The zoning and land use strategy would govern the height of new buildings and delineate where development will be allowed and where it will not. It is hoped the strategy, which will be presented and suggestions invited during a public meeting at City Hall, will help to preserve the century-old architecture of Burma’s biggest city.
“This is the first time for Rangoon to have systematic urban planning that could help us to keep what makes our city unique, and develop it,” said Moe Moe Lwin, one of the members of a working committee that has been preparing the plan.
Initiated by Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC), Rangoon’s municipal body, the Yangon City Comprehensive Land Use, Zoning and Urban Design Review Working Committee has been discussing and planning a draft of the plan for a year.
The working committee was approved by the city mayor and has ten experts from the YCDC, the Ministry of Construction’s department of human settlements and housing development, the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), Mandalay Technological University, the Association of Myanmar Architects (AMA) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
Moe Moe Lwin, who is also the general secretary of AMA and a director at YHT, told The Irrawaddy that the plan has four categories, including that are areas off-limits to development to protect heritage buildings and zones designated for modern development.
“We will disclose it to the public as we want transparency and feedback,” she said.
She explained that YCDC took the leading role in developing the strategy as it has been under pressure with high-rise building proposals coming in nearly every day and “to decide those proposals, they need a framework.”
The general secretary of AMA said that after the public hearing, the committee will submit the plan to Rangoon Divisional government for approval to be enforced it as an Act or a municipal by-law.
“It needs our decision makers’ political will to make it happen, with a long-term vision for the interests of the country,” she added.
While other Asian cities have been transformed in recent decades into modern metropolises, thanks to nearly five decades of isolation under military rule, downtown Rangoon boasts a unique blend of century-old architecture.
The ex-capital is considered to be the last surviving “colonial core” left in Asia. But as the country opens up under President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government that took power in 2011, this unique heritage is under threat. Once neglected grand old buildings are now in danger of being torn down to make way for hastily built office towers and condominiums.
“Developers should clearly know that a zoning plan doesn’t mean saying ‘no’ to development,” said Dr. Pwint, an associate professor from the architecture department at Yangon Technological University.
She said collaboration between urban planners and developers is important to decide where development should go and where it shouldn’t to prevent Rangoon from becoming another Asian city, like Singapore, which lost the vast majority of old heritage buildings to development.
“Luckily, we still have a cluster of intact and impressive buildings that make our city outstanding,” she said, adding, “But do we let them be demolished in our times?
“We should consider this.”