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Sustainable Development of Yangon City Requires a Holistic Vision


Workers on a platform at a low-cost housing construction site on the outskirts of Yangon. Photo: Ye Aung Thu/AFP

“The idea of sustainable urban development is all about seeking economic, social and environmental returns on investment and that should be the aim of the government, private sector and all other interested stakeholders”. This was the central message of a seminar held at Sule-Shangrila yesterday, 19 June, on Sustainable Urban Development of Yangon, organized by B+H architects in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada in Yangon.

Bringing together more than 100 stakeholders that included real estate industry leaders, officials of government departments, Yangon Heritage Trust, CSOs/NGOs and other stakeholders, the seminar identified critical challenges of urban development and how government agencies and private sector can work together to address urban renewal of Yangon city.

Marshalling his vast experience of working in this sector in countries like Viet Nam and other Asian countries, Mr Robert Marshall, Global Director, Planning & Landscape, Principal of B+H Architects pointed out in his key note address that Yangon city development need to take into consideration the future generations while conserving the past heritage. Challenges of traffic, basic urban services, and public spaces are to be addressed through a sustainable and holistic approach, and piece-meal solutions are not answers.  Colonial architecture, the cultural uniqueness of the city needs to be seen as an asset, and there should be adaptive reuse, recycle and rethinking in the development of urban spaces and communities. Underlying the criticality of people living in urban locations particularly in the heritage spaces as key stakeholders, he pointed out that there should be a holistic vision which can enable participation of all stakeholders. Heritage is to be seen not as apiece of real estate for commercial use, but as a cultural repository that can shape and guide the future.  As part of the holistic vision, developing street scape and pedestrian walk-ways of heritage quarters of downtown of Yangon, low cost water-bus transport system supplementing the other modes of rapid transport and upgradation and modernization of circular rail-road are few solutions identified to ensure sustainable development of the city. These would ease infrastructure challenges and at the same time ensures conservation and redevelopment of the cultural heritage. A panel discussion with industry captains reinforced these ideas with an emphasis on the role of the government in easing the policy restrictions for the healthy growth of real estate sector. The need for regulation, financial and banking sector reforms, clarity in industrial and tax policies are identified as critical for unlocking the potential of local capital for the development of the city. De-congestion and developing satellite business hubs across the city are identified as potential ways of sustainable development. A process of participatory decision making and stakeholder consultations are also identified as vital for regeneration of the city; particularly in preserving the social and cultural diversity of the heritage areas.

In her opening remarks, the Ambassador of Canada pointed out that the motivation to organize the seminar is to contribute to the conversations on sustainable development and harness the potential of the city for its people. Pointing out the importance of Yangon as an economic hub, she identified the need to contextualize architecture within the diversity that the city presents. Affordable housing, preserving heritage, safe and secure public spaces, and easy transport systems need to be part of the vision of urban planning for sustainable communities. Emphasizing the successes of collaborative approaches like public, private partnerships in Canada, she pointed out the need for the private sector, particularly local industry to contribute to the sustainable development of the city.

Upendranadh Choragudi is a development economist and regular contributor to Mizzima.

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