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October 23, 2019

Yangon and Its Urban Fringe

  • By Moe Moe (Architect)
  • A picture of the Elephant fountain in People’s Park recreational zone, overlooked by the Shwedagon Pagoda.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

While studying the first lecture of urbanization discipline, the professor told us to discuss about our cities’ urbanization problems, their causes and ways of solving them to write down term papers. As usual traffic jams, insufficiencies of electrical power, floods, municipal management system, housing estate shortage, and similarities were presented by every student across Asia Continent. It was in 1990 when I did lack knowledge about the problems to explain it at length like them. Being the advent of launching open-door-policy, we did not experience such problems as much as other Asian cities did annoyingly, apart from evicting squatters to outskirt areas, unemployment and poverty at the national scale. After two and half decades, Yangon’s urbanization problems reached others’ level.

The Myanmar Centre tower, complete with a plaza, business tower and the Lake Suites answers the demand of urbanization in Yangon.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

I had ever seen many urbanization projects of Bangkok circa 1990. National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB) is the major board which took responsibility for Bangkok Development Projects. It had series of master plans compiled by supporting agency groups across the world and their loads of reports. When 30-year-period went past by, Bangkok had many-times increasing road miles, webs of overlapping concrete fly-overs, nascent emergence of monorails and tube trains started some 20 years ago. These can be said to have eased help transportation system of urbanization, to some extent. In spite the fact that Bangkok reached the developed stage in development, it is still experiencing traffic jams, failing to solve loss of time, labour and energy.

The night market near 39th street extends onto the main road, hindering traffic.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

As known by all, cities play vital roles in important sectors of national economy, social and political affairs, being major driving forces of national economy. Evidently enough, we had cities of success and the ones of failure in the world. A city overcrowded with migrant workers moving to a promising area for economic or social situations cannot be said necessarily to be success. Only if it can conveniently operate its business in harmony with its current situations, can it be said to have gained success. Inconvenience of living, loss of time, money and effort are ineffectiveness which may lead to destruction.

People flocking onto a YBS bus during rush hour.  Photo: Phoe Khwar

Yangon is currently shouldering the one-tenth of the national populace, taking the one-fourth responsibility of the national production. In 2030, Yangon’s population is expected at 10 million, that is, two times the current amount. We need to prepare ourselves for the increasing population and potential necessities for the future. Likewise we are required to deal with existing problems. Undeniably, it is necessary to make preparations for Yangon’s survival, in every way.
Thus, how will we manage urbanization plans? At least, we have already had fundamental targets of development which will survive for years agreed and laid down by the global countries. These are accepted as common goals. Under the internationally agreed development programmes based on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), sustainable development of urban areas and social communities of 17 goals are leading frameworks as the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) for 2030, Post-2015. The targets for the sector conclude upgrading and creating necessities of housing estates, transportation system and parks, implementation of relation between economy, social affairs and natural environment by carrying out projects at the national and regional levels, protection of cultural and natural heritages, reduction of natural disasters and environmental pollution.
If plans are implemented in compliance with the above-said facts, it is sure for an all-round successful city to emerge. These are standards that can be designated as to whether cities will be successful in the long run, or not. Its basic principle is not to lose the capable efforts of the next generation for their necessities in their turn, like the present generation is fulfilling the current necessities. It is necessary to leave opportunities and resources for the next generation.

National-level Urbanization Policy and Strategy
In considering the urbanization project, regional future’s strategies have to be taken into consideration, beyond levels of regions and states, and thence the national level. For example, as for Yangon
(1) Non-stop developing capital (Due to its huge volume, will it exist as a major city which is struggling against the inconveniences daily with decreasing effects in economy, energy, time, money and security?) OR
(2) The capital at the manageable level, its size in which city’s advantages and resources can be applied in most effective ways, and making medium-size towns with remaining prospects and in the midst of strategy route, develop.
As regards the first fact, there are many examples. Tokyo, Paris, London, Bangkok, Manila and etc., are the incomparable capitals in their respective countries. Tokyo and Paris are mega-cities greater than Yangon Region in urban areas. They are much greater than second cities next to such mega-countries. As all are gathering in the same place, advantages and disadvantages can be found there. Though town plans of Tokyo, Paris and London in which there are urbanization policies, laws and strengthened infrastructures are very huge and broad, urban mobility is far better, so problems are rarely found. Being places which are hubs of economy, social affairs and administration, city dwellers are enjoying urban life full of urban amenities while living in those places.
But, major cities in developing countries are developing in natural ways prior to the acquisition of rights to prepare for the urbanization, that is, they will get only socio-economic life which cannot guarantee for the whole life. The poor, the low-paid people, the rich and well-paid people all cannot enjoy the benefits of urbanization’s services to the full, being in the labyrinth of traffic jam, natural disasters, social problems and crimes. As for the cities, they will have many difficulties. Will Yangon follow such a way?
In effectively managing the second fact, it needs urbanization policy which covers the whole nation. Regardless of regions and states, nationwide effectiveness must be targeted for the long term. As for the urban and regional planning department under the Ministry of Construction, it has been learnt that law for urban and regional development planning are being prepared along with those policies. In consultation with scholars and professionals, regional development and urbanization plans need to be launched systematically nationwide.

Yangon Urbanization Project
Starting from 2010, when civilian government elected under the democratic elections took office, influx of international aids under myriads of programmes entered the country. They included advices and monetary aids for urban development sector. The Mc Kinsey Global Institute (MGI) pointed out in its term named, “Myanmar’s timely extraordinary advantages and its major challenges” in June 2013. In it, there is a chapter named, “Transforming into the urban area and management in advance,” included. It points out investment for modernized urbanization’s infrastructure, reforming urban management system and importance of urban heritage.
Starting from 2012, in Yangon, Nippon Koei started to draw up a plan for strategic urban development plan and multi-plan for transportation with the assistance of JICA, in close contact with YCDC, presenting it in December 2013.
Yangon strategy plan mainly includes setting up other development centres and channels as its backbone to reduce the development in downtown area, creating green lands and waterways, hindering spreading development routes with green belt around the city, internal and external circular ways which can combine the various parts of the city. In the pattern of land utilization, expansion of Thilawa in Thanlyin was included in the built-up area, where Future Yangon will be built, but exclusion of southern part—way to Dala was a thing to be questioned.
(To be continued)
Translated by Khin Maung Oo (Tada-U)

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