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Yangon still fights to preserve its colonial architecture heritage

The Yangon Heritage Trust is Myanmar’s most vocal body to protect the old Burmese capital from investors’ greed in destroying what can be considered as Southeast Asia best preserved colonial architectural.

YANGON- Last February, the Yangon Heritage Trust gave a presentation to Myanmar President U Thein Sein about the YHT’s vision for conservation in Yangon. The Trust argued that Yangon will be competing with other cities around the region in the coming 10-20 years and making it the most liveable and beautiful city in Asia will be crucial for attracting and keeping intellectual and creative talent.

The presentation showed how Yangon could turn in the near future. “A great 21st century city is not only full of modern buildings, infrastructure and transport, but one that is also livable, walk-able, culturally diverse, proud in protecting its unique heritage, green and most importantly, a city that works for all the inhabitants”, said the Trust in a statement.

Key elements turning Yangon into one of the world’s great cities are the remaining heritage, the views over the Shwedagon Pagoda, the architecture of downtown Yangon, its green environment such as lakes and garden spaces.

The presentation then went into the reason why it is so important to act immediately, as conflict start to mount up between investors and conservationists. Yangon is at the tipping-point of potentially losing some of its remaining heritage due to the increased interest of international investors but also increased concerns from philanthropists around the world.

The YHT formulated then elements of what needs to happen next including the new proposed zoning laws, a statutory list of protected buildings, a review of governance, a realistic financial scheme, and a special plan for downtown Yangon.

According to Yangon Heritage Trust President and founder Dr Thant Myint-U, Myanmar President reaction was extremely positive. “He understood right away what was at stake and the need to rethink existing plans. He asked for a detailed and phased action plan, which we are working on. He also asked us to reach out to the public and explain our ideas in the media”, said Dr Thant Myint-U in an interview to the Myanmar Times.

First concrete actions will set conservation zones around the Shwedagon Pagoda and the old downtown area. The most difficult challenge will not be to produce new regulations or laws but to enforce them and be sure that development does not go unabated despite regulation, as it is the case in most Asian cities.

YHT will also make sure that all subsequent development will benefit as well to local communities. Meetings will also be organized with various Ministers in charge of  construction, tourism, and transport as well as with the Yangon Region Chief Minister. A concrete first improvement for tourists will be the installation of blue plaque signs highlighting historical monuments and sites throughout the city.

Action is urgent and necessary as clock ticks for Yangon colonial heritage. Many houses are due to vanish to be replaced by skyscrapers…

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