The Irrawaddy

The New Yangon City Project: An Urban Planner’s View

Shwedagon pagoda seen among the building in Yangon city September 23, 2015. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun - GF10000218509

In 1988, Yangon measured about 80 sq. miles (around 207 sq. km). The city has grown in the three decades since then and now covers more than 300 sq. miles (777 sq. km). The author of this article has been in the urban planning field for around 50 years and has never come across another city that has more than tripled in size within such a short period. However, the authorities in Yangon are planning to expand the city further by building the “New Yangon City project.” A few questions regarding the project are justified, such as:

Obviously, these major issues confronting Yangon should be addressed when planning the new city. The following are some relevant facts and figures:

Fig. 1. Land prices in Yangon since 1994

Fig. 2. Modes of transportation among Yangon commuters

Of all the arguments made for or against the city expansion project, the most important is “to promote national harmony and unity.” Yangon had a population of 5.2 million in 2014, four times larger than Myanmar’s second-largest city, Mandalay. Yangon Region has the highest per capita GDP in the Union, and in terms of health care, employment and education facilities, the population of Yangon enjoys the best the Union has to offer. But what are the ramifications of this disparity and inequality between regions for national unity and the Union’s long-term future?

Authorities expect about 2 million people to work in New Yangon City, implying a total population of around 8 million. Including Yangon’s existing population of around 5 million and accounting for natural growth, this would create a gigantic urban conglomeration with a population of around 14-15 million.

Since World War II, planned towns and extension schemes have appeared worldwide, including Chandigarh in India (present population around 1 million), Brasilia in Brazil (2.5 million), Islamabad in Pakistan 1 million, and Putrajaya in Malaysia (designed for a population of around 200,000). The present plan for New Yangon City exceeds all of these in terms of population size and targeted employment. This is an issue of national concern and requires more thorough and comprehensive investigation and the conducting of feasibility studies. Above all, this scheme requires approval by parliamentary and executive authorities at multiple levels. After this approval phase, cooperation and assistance from Union ministries with specialized knowledge and experience in this field will be necessary from the planning stage.

Dr. Kyaw Lat is an architect and urban planner with work experience in the Department of Human Settlements and Housing Development, Ministry of Construction, United Nations Center for Human Settlements (Habitat), as a professor at Yangon and Mandalay Technological universities, as a professor at Cologne University of Applied Sciences, Germany, and finally before his retirement, as the adviser to the Yangon City and Development Council from 2011 until 2016.