August 19, 2016

A Viable Town Plan is Necessary

During my Bangkok trips, I had noticed the villages and small towns along the routes are neat and tidy with the roads running through them are wide and spacious. In Thailand, the roads passing through the towns are wide enough to afford ample room for the smooth flow of traffics, there are diversions or by-passes for those who want to avoid the traffic lights inside the towns.
Over the years since my first visit in 2012 to this area, many industrial estates had sprung up along the route. In the wake of the emergence of the industrial zones followed the property developments. Many new hotels, housing projects, shop-houses, restaurants, cafes and shopping malls are appearing everywhere in the area. What impressed me most was the disciplined and well planned appearances they displayed, which are visible to even the casual observers. Undoubtedly, these are the results of systematic town planning. I’m mentioning these to depict a picture that town planning plays an important role in developing a country and I don’t want the readers to think I’m unnecessarily admiring Thailand.
Here, I would like to recall how China went about developing Beijing over thirty years ago. The Chinese government commissioned an American architect of Chinese origin, to come up with a town plan to develop and modernize their capital. Their idea was to create a modern city without affecting their cultural heritage by hiring someone who had roots in China. If we go further backwards in time, we would find how Indonesia rebuild Jakarta. From what I learned from my mentor, who had been to Jakarta before and after it was developed, the way the Indonesians developed Jakarta was quite impressive and praiseworthy.
What they did was to plot the positions of all the historic and heritage monuments and buildings on a template before laying out the town plan. Then the town plan was drawn on that template, the way they wanted to rebuild. The template was superimposed on the existing map and the reconstruction of the road systems and other necessary building works were done according to the plan. Any building obstructing the constructions were removed to give way to the new town plan. According to my mentor the results were overwhelming. He said the first time he was there, Jakarta was unclean and congested. However, on the second time, that was after the reconstructions, Jakarta was totally changed beyond recognition. The boulevards and avenues were more wider and systematic than before. The clogged and smelly canals in the city were properly maintained, making them cleaner and devoid of foul smells, with the water flowing freely. The whole city was majestic.
Yangon too had seen many developments during the past decades, under different regimes. Although there were significant changes, such as the increases in the number of high rise buildings, widening of the roads and constructions of many flyovers or overpasses at congested road junctions, they are nothing remarkable in the sense of the word “developments”. The reason, in my opinion, is because there was no proper overall or master town plan laid down for those developments and were done un-systematicly on piece meal basis. To validate my statements, I will cite a few instances, which lacked proper planning.
The first instance is the constructions of many buildings in the Mingalarzay compound. In most developing countries, they would definitely utilize that whole compound to build a single modern shopping mall, complete with enough parking lots incorporated in it, instead of building so many small buildings piece meal. That place was a prime piece of land and it was a waste and ugly sight with so many buildings crammed into the place without adequate provision for car parkings or recreational areas for the public. Also the interiors of those market buildings are too congested. The mentality of our people is, we want to utilize every inch of space to generate income without giving any consideration for the convenience of the public..
The second instance is the constructions of some overpasses. As I understand, the overpasses are built to facilitate the easy flow of traffic to ease congestions. However, most drivers complained that the overpass at the Hledan junction is causing more pile-ups at the Hanthawady round about than before its construction. Similarly, the same is happening at the U Htaung Bo round about due to the overpass at the Shwe Gon Daing junction. Thus they are creating problems instead of serving their purposes.

“The overpasses are built to facilitate the easy flow of traffic to ease congestions.”

Another instance was allowing to build eight-storied buildings without facilities for car parkings within. That was the main cause of congestions inside the residential blocks that led to the residents to park their cars by the roadsides around the clock. In Thailand, even in the remote provinces, such sights are nowhere to be seen.
The worst instances are the controversial construction projects. The stoppage of the construction of the Dagon City Project was one example and there are some more projects that are facing oppositions and eventual shutdowns. That project should not have been given the green light in the first place, because even a layman like me knew that  construction of tall buildings that would obstruct the view of the Shwe Dagon Pagoda is prohibited. There are many more such indiscriminate undertakings, without having regards for rules and regulations, but I will not go into detail as I hope I had made my point about the lack of proper town plans.
A few days ago, I came across a very interesting piece of news, online. It was about the out-spoken member of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) threatening to bring about the stoppage of another two building projects that do not agree with the rules and regulations. If what was mentioned in the news are true, it further confirmed my opinion about the lack of proper town planning. The news of the YCDC member opposing the decision of the Yangon Region government, which granted permission for the constructions based on the recommendations of the YCDC engineering department, was very interesting indeed. These controversies indicate the lack of proper coordination in the same department, which is the YCDC and again I presume this stemmed from the lack of a master town plan. If such a plan should have existed, these controversies would not have emerged.
I admire the actions of the YCDC member, if what was mentioned in the news about him being the driving force that brought about the stoppage of the Dagon City Project were true. We need more people like him in building our nation. It is very refreshing to know such a person with high moral standards and principles is on the board of the YCDC. Such voices were unheard of in the past.
I understand that there are a few successful Myanmar national town planners and architects working abroad. If there is no one at home who can do the proper town planning, the services of those who can do it should be sought after, instead of doing randomly at the whims and fancies of some individuals in positions of authority, without any expertise. As Yangon is the point of entry for most foreign visitors, its image should be uplifted. To do so would need a proper town planning done by accomplished architects and town planners of international standards and outlooks with Myanmar cultural background, like in the case of China.


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