YANGON, Myanmar – A Yangon historic-preservation group says Myanmar's largest city and commercial capital is facing its "last best chance" to save many crumbling architectural treasures dating back to the days when Myanmar was the British colony of Burma.
The Yangon Heritage Trust recently proposed a heritage strategy for Yangon, outlining a vision for making the Southeast Asian city more livable, modern and affordable while preserving its unique landmarks and neglected green spaces.
Yangon, the former capital, has been razing old buildings as it widens roads and builds flyovers to help ease massive traffic congestion. Property developers are rushing in. A few of the many colonial structures in the downtown area have been restored to their past glory, but most are crumbling, paint blackened or peeling, turrets topped with emerald tufts of grass and bushes. Others are moldering away behind walls, engulfed by jungle.
"The city is at a tipping point and, without action, Yangon may become another of the region's urban disaster zones," the Yangon Heritage Trust said in its report, alluding to cities like Singapore that have lost most of their beautiful older buildings. It argues that making the city more livable is crucial to its future competitiveness.
Here are five takeaways from the blueprint:
STOP DEMOLITIONS: The Heritage Trust calls for a moratorium on demolishing old buildings until basic, long-term plans are drawn up.
ENSURE GOOD QUALITY PRESERVATION: Both interiors and exteriors of old buildings need to be protected, to prevent landmark structures from being mere "facades."
MAKE A MASTER PLAN: Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, risks losing its rich colonial and traditional Burmese heritage due to ill-coordinated property development and other construction. For example, pedestrian access to the waterfront from the riverside Strand Road is mostly blocked by a busy toll road.
SHWEDAGON PAGODA: The gleaming golden spire of Shwedagon, an oasis of calm in an increasingly noisy and chaotic city, is surrounded by lush parklands that could be connected by walkways to make Yangon more welcoming to pedestrians and create more leisure space.
REUSE, RECYCLE, REPURPOSE: One top priority is to reuse government buildings that were abandoned when Myanmar's political capital was moved to Naypyitaw, a new city to the north. The trust proposes using the decrepit former Ministry of Hotels and Tourism, built in 1905 and originally a department store, as a visitor information center and civic hall. These days, it looks more like a giant haunted house.