What will Yangon look like in ten years’ time? Will Shwedagon Pagoda be standing proud above a low-rise skyline or peeping between ugly tower blocks? Will the city’s crumbling colonial buildings have been refurbished or torn down? Will the streets be clean and quiet or packed with cars and filled with smog? These are the questions that the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) attempted to answer in its 152-page report released in September – and the image it paints of the Yangon of the future is rosier than you might expect.
As the YHT points out, Yangon has a number of intrinsic advantages: it is a fundamentally well-planned city, with green, attractive streets and one of the best-preserved historic city centres in Asia. All this is an excellent basis for progress, and the report proposes 24 measures to ensure that Yangon develops sensibly and sustainably, making the most of these existing assets.
Among the proposed initiatives are plans to lease disused historic buildings from the government for public use; to open up a city-wide network of parks and gardens with uninterrupted off-road pathways; to build a subway system and increase water ferry services; to set up non-politicised archives and museums (or ‘memory hubs’), and to completely overhaul Yangon’s ramshackle downtown streets. This glorious plan is to be funded via an initiative similar to London’s Community Infrastructure Levy, which would tax developments based on their floor area and use the funds for local infrastructure projects.
Yangon today is at a turning point. Though left behind by its peers for the past few decades, it now finds itself with a chance to start afresh – and to learn from the mistakes of its neighbours. Hopefully, with a new government in place and a desire to bring itself into the 21st century, the Yangon of the future looks set to be bright and beautiful.