They look like neglected sleeping beauties: the colonial buildings in Downtown Yangon. Their facade shows cracks, the paint is peeling and windows are broken. For years you could hear the warning: “Visit Yangon before it changes forever.”
New investments shift the architecture of the urban landscape quickly. Due to high land prices and their state of disrepair, many of the century-old buildings are being demolished.
Yangon is on the brink of losing part of its heritage.
But this week, Italian Ambassador Pier Giorgio Aliberti displayed an optimistic attitude, when he spoke at a press conference held at the Strand Hotel.
“It’s not too late,” he told the media and invited guests.
The Italian Embassy, Italian Agency for Development Cooperation (AICS) and the Yangon Region Government launched a programme entitled: “Technical Assistance Services to the Yangon Region Chief Minister Office and Support for the Requalification of Yangon Heritage.”
It is part of the first phase of a pilot project “Tourism and Cultural Heritage”.
Ambassador Aliberti underlined how Yangon is still maintaining its outstanding historical, cultural and religious values despite the challenges of modernisation and urbanization.
“The Italian Government believes, in line with the Regional Government, that these values shall be preserved to ensure that Yangon keeps the uniqueness which made the city famous in the region.”
He referred to the cultural heritage of Italy and said his country wants to share its experiences with Myanmar. Italy is particularly well known for its heritage preservation in Rome, Florence and Venice.
The historical buildings in Yangon should be preserved, he said.
This is also the main goal of the Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT). The organization, founded in 2012, wants to protect the country’s architectural history. For the implement within the "Technical Assistance Services" YHT in charge. The main duties are to compose and document the historical properties of Downtown Yangon. The YHT has furthermore to propose valuable public buildings that could be restored and re-used for socio-cultural purposes within the framework of the same Italian-funded projects. Another task will be the support to the Yangon Region in identifying suitable legal frameworks to proceed in safeguarding the heritage values of the city.
The founder and chairman of the YHT Dr. Thant Myint-U describes the project as a “unique window of opportunity.”
As other developing cities Yangon would have a lot of unsolved problems like drainage, sanitation or transportation, Myint-U said.
Regarding the expression, to throw the baby out with the bath water, he clarified: “In Yangon we have a lot of bathwater, but we have to make sure, we protect the baby as well.”
Myint-U described Downtown Yangon as an area of special importance. Not just because of the buildings, but also because its home to people with different religions and cultural backgrounds. As showed on the interfaith ceremony this week, the city demonstrates, that people from all over the world peacefully live together, Myint-U said.
Within this project an inventory of more than 450 historical assets will be created. Thereby their value of heritage will be documented. Six to eight state-owned buildings will be proposed to the government, which will select in the end two for renovation.
The AICS will contribute 670, 000 Euros for the pilot project "Tourism and Cultural Heritage". Within this 180,000 Euros is budgeted for the technical assistance services and support to the requalification of Yangon heritage.