Why NGOs are committed to Downtown Yangon and their Impact
The following set of blogposts will focus onto the role of NGOs in Downtown Yangon from 2007 onwards, why they are so invested in their location’s urban development and their impact.
During the period of 2007 to 2017, Yangon located at 320 kilometers south of Naypidaw, is considered to be Myanmar’s most important urban economic centre. Its inhabitants are multi-ethnic and religiously diverse, particularly within the region of Downtown Yangon ¹. Geographically, the region is divided by a grid system and surrounded by two rivers – the great Hlaing River from the west down to south and Pazundaung Creek to the east. Also officially known as the Yangon Central Business District, the downtown is considered to be the financial and metropolitan heart of the city, where a majority of the banks, both historic and current are situated. The district boasts the largest concentration of colonial buildings within a region in the world. However the current state of the downtown area is due to decades negligence and nonchalance by the Government has left the formerly illustrious location to be less than desired.
The definition of civil society accumulates to the body of non-government organizations, institutions and charities that focus their efforts solely to the betterment of society. In the case of Myanmar, civil society is derived from a local level within religious groups – mainly Buddhist and Christian-centric social welfare organizations that caters towards poverty, health, and the community’s well being.
To elaborate further on non-government organizations, there are typically three categories of NGOs: locally bred and run NGOs, international NGOs and community-based organizations ².There are many NGOs in Yangon – as the city hosts the headquarters of many NGOs at both a local and international level that in turn branch out to partake in humanitarian services all over the country. Within the context of the city, there are plenty of NGOs that touch upon all aspects of civil society: from education to reducing poverty to urban development. There is a big emphasis on the latter with regards to Downtown Yangon.
With the rapid inevitable pace of development that will take place in the city, Downtown Yangon is seen as a particular place of interest for development. With the government keen on securing foreign investments for development, tt is the NGOs who are active in pushing for conservation and sustainable urban planning alongside development. They urge government to start protection early or fear permanently losing Rangoon’s former heritage within a few short years due to reckless development.
To shed another light on the importance of NGOs focusing on the downtown is so important is because they fundamentally raise awareness on the importance of conservation, providing education for the local citizens of Yangon. In general, the public are unaware or do not understand the plight of heritage buildings, not understanding them beyond face value as as old beaten buildings sitting upon valuable land. But by recognizing and actively seeing NGOs as well as government putting effort into to revitalizing the colonial structures, hopefully a culture of conservation will arise within the local community.
Figure 1: Figure 1: Gacad, Romeo. Merchant Street. Daily Mail AFP, England. Accessed 14 December 2017.
¹ AFP. “Rebirth of Yangon building points way for city’s crumbling heritage.” Mail Online. June 12, 2016. Accessed December 23, 2017.
² “Civil Society Briefs Myanmar.” The Myanmar Information Management Unit. February 2015. Accessed December 13, 2017. http://themimu.info/sites/themimu.info/files/documents/Ref_Doc_Brief_on_CSO_and_NGOs_ADB_Feb2015_0.pdf.