Yangon Historic City Center
A hundred years ago, Yangon was one of the leading trade cities of Asia, home to people from across the globe. Today in historic downtown Yangon, alongside ancient Buddhist pagodas and monasteries are churches of various denominations, over a dozen mosques, a Hindu Parsi, a Sikh temple, a Jewish synagogue, and the country’s only Armenian church. This religious heritage is complemented by the largest collection of late-nineteenth-century and early twentieth century colonial architecture in Southeast Asia.
Following the country’s emergence from isolation under military dictatorship and new foreign investment opportunities, a rush of development now imperils Yangon’s unique landscape. Modernizing the city while protecting and promoting its tangible and intangible heritage represents a key challenge. Beautiful, century-old residential and commercial buildings, deteriorated from long neglect, are being torn down at an alarming rate. Significant heritage buildings are being replaced with poorly designed structures that fail to integrate within the historic context. Invaluable views are also being forfeited to new, high-rise developments, and government-owned buildings have fallen further into disrepair since the regime moved the administrative capital to Nay Pyi Taw in 2005.
How We Helped
The conditions in Yangon offer opportunities to frame heritage conservation in a new era of sustainability concerns and a newly emerging modern city. Heritage conservation can serve as a vital component in economic, environmental, and social policy. Yangon’s historic city center was including on the 2014 Watch to promote a thoughtful and well balanced integration of cultural resources and new development as part of Yangon’s public policy, so as to build the foundation for a dynamic urban life and landscape. In January 2015, WMF, in cooperation with the Yangon Heritage Trust hosted a forum in Yangon titled Building the Future: The Role of Heritage in the Sustainable Development of Yangon. The conference was generously supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Asian Cultural Council, and several other individual donors.
The forum resulted in policy recommendations for sustainable development that include acknowledging a downtown conservation area and a city zoning plan, encouraging the government to promote conservation and heritage investment, building infrastructure to improve quality of life, approving pilot projects, and carrying out a waterfront plan for public access and sensitive development.
Why It Matters
The dynamic between this rich built environment and the diverse population of the city has created a unique cultural melting pot. Yangon is also a place of greenery enriched by huge trees, placid lakes, and significant parkland areas composed of wide streets and tree-lined boulevards. Beyond neglected grandeur, and unlike the major cities of neighboring countries, Yangon is still a spacious, low-rise city that retains features essential to its future as a burgeoning metropolis. Continued efforts are needed to protect the historic urban landscape and traditions that make Yangon unique.