Back to the Future: How Heritage Is Key to Yangon’s Prosperity

14 Jun 2019 by Admin

Burmese people proudly call Yangon, the largest city and also the main entrance gate to Myanmar, the “City of the Future”. However, people who have had the opportunity to visit the city might feel shocked as those words are not really matchable to the name. To be honest, Yangon city is somewhat messy, but it can potentially transform into a developed metropolis with its valuable heritages. In this article, we will find out how heritage is key to Yangon’s prosperity.

The Yangon Secretariat

After enduring several decades of gradual economic decadence due to the isolation policy of Myanmar, Yangon city’s authorities have implemented the massive construction of modern buildings in recent years. Nevertheless, the decrepit appearance of this busy city has barely changed and most of the buildings are still covered in lush shrub and green moss.

Similar to such city as Calcutta and Hanoi, most of the antique attractions that Yangon possesses are derived from the precious values and qualities of glorious eras in the past which survive until present days. Unwittingly, the stagnancy of Burmese economy has helped conserve the legacy of British colonial era in Yangon city, turning them into chances and opportunities for the years to come.

The Old Buildings Have Been Suffering Decadence

In the mind of people who have lived and worked there, the fact that Yangon city is not well-functioned can barely be compensated by the dreamy evocation of the receded majesty and showiness of the British Raj. The city’s infrastructure is deteriorating quickly, the traffic is usually in a terrible state and the majority of imposing antique buildings from colonial era are left eyesores, under the threat of destruction or gradual degradation in the harsh tropical climate of Myanmar.

The attributes mentioned above all contribute to highlighting the significance and devotion of the Yangon Heritage Strategy, a 150-page publication composed by the Yangon Heritage Trust in 2016. This work is considered one of the most crucial and insightful documents published in Myanmar in the past years. Unlike many city strategies which the government just merely wastes time drafting and consulting on them but never seem to actually implement, this document is written in a beautiful style with not many specific terms and it also visualizes the potentiality of Yangon city in the future. According to which, the magnificent heritages from the 19th and 20th century can be utilized to compensate for the years of economic stagnancy and turn Yangon city into one of the most unique, hustling and live-worthy Asian cities.

The High Court of Yangon

Given the fact that Yangon city is the face of Myanmar and is an equivalent to such hustling trading city as Shanghai and Liverpool of China and the U.K respectively, there are still many antique buildings in this city that are under great threats. If, accordingly to what this document proposes, Yangon city can be transformed by the implementation of international cooperation, efficient distribution and wise policy making, then there is a likelihood that these strategies will somehow be spread gradually over this developing country.

Yangon Railway Office in Colonial Era

The leaders of the Yangon Heritage Trust are Thant Myint-U, a Burmese historian who graduated from Harvard and Cambridge and has a good international relation with the UN (where his grandfather, U Thant, once held the position of secretary) together with Daw Moe Moe Lin, an expert in architecture and planning. They have made a persuasive proposition:

“We don’t need to turn Yangon city into a chronologically frozen museum or a bleak forest formed by steel and concrete; There is another way that can make it one of the most wealthy, dynamic and competitive cities in the region. The citizens of Yangon are beneficial from the modern infrastructure of the city while the economic benefits derived from unique and extraordinary heritages are maintained”.

“Possessing a variety of well-preserved heritage sites can lead to the interpretation that Yangon city is an exceptionally elegant green city. The citizens of the Yangon city can also be beneficial from the efficient urban planning. All these constitute the potentiality to turn Yangon city into a live-worthy centre attracting talent, business, and investment.”

Although these objectives are very convincing, realizing them is a great challenge. The old buildings in Yangon city belong to different owners and many of these owners see no reason to spend money on the preservation projects.

We will take the case of such conspicuous structures like the magnificent Secretariat (also known as the Minister’s Building) for example. Built in 1902, this is previously the working place of British authorities in Myanmar and later of the independent government of Myanmar, and also the place where the assassination of the independence leader Aung San and associates took place in 1947. However, despite the enthusiastic support of the owners and a comprehensive conservation plan prepared by Dr. James Simpson (one of the best conservation architects in the world), this building still struggles to find a firm stance in the modern world that would ensure its conservation.

Waziya - The Oldest Cinema in Yangon

Besides, the shortage in economic viability of the buildings and the lack of necessary skillful artisans to help restore the antique structures create another problem that these preservation projects need to overcome. Even when the government officials and politicians make light of the economic benefits from revamping heritage constructions in Yangon, it is a must to find skillful and experienced artisans to save the attractive grandeur of architecture from the destruction of tropical climate.

In the course of training an adequate number of skillful people to save the architectural works that constitute the Old Yangon, we still receive the support from Turquoise Mountain Myanmar, a charity fund sponsored by the Prince of Wales, Prince Charles. This fund not only collaborates in preserving crafts of Myanmar, but also provides support for Yangon Heritage Trust in the promotion of training necessary skills to protect historic areas of Yangon from decadence.

An Abandoned Gandhi Hall

At the same time, Yangon Heritage Trust has determined their vision to transform Yangon city into “one of the most inhabitable and competitive cities in Asia by 2030” which attract a great number of residents, investors, and businessmen. This is also considered a pilot project for the optimal urban planning in the 21st century, especially in the circumstance that its nature has provided the outline for something quite unique and extraordinary.

Many of the Yangon Heritage Trust’s publications imply an alert that people should take action now and draft a feasible comprehensive plan or face oblivion by hideous and dull developments.Here are some critical lines in the strategy document:

“If Yangon does not take immediate measures to preserve valuable heritages, the city authorities and its citizens will feel sorry for their decision. Many other cities in Asia have experienced the same period of uncontrolled urban development to pursuit modernity and prosperity. Such development results in a stronger economy but accompanied by negative outcomes like intense traffic jam, noise and air pollution, the lack of consolidated communities and cohesion within society. Therefore, Yangon city must draw a lesson from the mistakes of the preceding neighbor cities and make heritage preservation the upmost priority.”

No matter what a person thinks about the impact of British colonization on Myanmar and other countries, we have no reason to leave the intangible heritages of the past perish away due to our indifference and procrastination. We sincerely support the objectives of the Yangon Heritage Trust and wish that passengers who have visited Yangon, either via road or a Myanmar River Cruise, and fell in love with the city would help propagate its vision and draw international attention so that Yangon city could come closer to the realization of its plan.

If you wish to take a tour around Yangon to contemplate the beauty of the city in general and explore its magnificent colonial buildings in particular, you can visit to find the best tours with the most reasonable prices.

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