Yangon Heritage Trust – Local NGOs and their role
Started by historian Thant Myint-U in 2012, the Yangon Heritage Trust is arguably the most prolific locally started NGO, spearheading the sustainable development of Downtown Yangon. Since its inception in 2012 its aim has been to transform current Yangon into ‘one of Asia’s most liveable cities’ ¹. They been in talks with the government as part of a collaborative process that will serve as a blueprint for saving not just downtown Yangon, but the rest of the city. There many other architectural treasures in the city devastated by negligence from the previous Junta regime. Their ethos is to promote economic and infrastructural development with conservation heritage at the core. The aim is not to halt the inevitable flow of foreign investment and development, but act as a mediator between the investors, government and the city’s heritage, so as to promote sustainable development that will elevate the city’s living conditions as well as mutually benefit the two sides.
Besides just conservation work in the downtown, the YHT has also: developed comprehensive urban planning and heritage conservation strategies that encompass the whole of Yangon partaken in advocacy and public engagement affects the whole of Yangon ². As of 2016, the city maintains a list of 189 recognised heritage sites but lack the laws to protect them ³. The hope is that if NGO led heritage projects can slowly take momentum and can bee seen to the end, then the lustre of each building will convince locals and officials of the value of preservation. NGOs fill in the role to convince the Government not fall for the pressures of developers, since ‘scores of old buildings have already been razed by the flood of foreign investment that followed the end of total military rule in 2011’ ⁴. YHT have done exactly that.
To elaborate further on one of YHT’s proposals – Yangon Heritage Strategy, the aim is to revitalize and transform Yangon into a sustainable city within the coming decade. By 2030, they say the city could become ‘a top international tourist destination, a centre for arts and culture, for creative and knowledge-based economies, as well as for manufacturing and service industries’ ⁵. Along with this also comes together with improved industrial areas and intercountry cross transportation ports . All this development in turn will create new short-term jobs in the thousands.
Currently conservation projects taking place in the city, including those overseen by YHT are run on a donation basis.
Figure 1: A vision of modern downtown Yangon. Myanmar. Yangon Heritage Trust. Accessed 14 December 2017.
¹Tha, Hypo Wai. “Conservation Strategy Drafted for Historic Rangoon.” The Irrawaddy. June 6, 2012. Accessed December 14, 2017. https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/conservation-strategy-drafted-for-historic-rangoon.html.
² “Advocacy and Public Engagement.” Yangon Heritage Trust. Accessed December 14, 2017. http://www.yangonheritagetrust.org/advocacy-and-public-engagement.
³ AFP. “Rebirth of Yangon building points way for city’s crumbling heritage.” Mail Online. June 12, 2016. Accessed December 23, 2017. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3637395/Rebirth-Yangon-building-points-way-citys-crumbling-heritage.html.
⁴ AFP. “Rebirth of Yangon building points way for city’s crumbling heritage.” Mail Online. June 12, 2016. Accessed December 23, 2017. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/wires/afp/article-3637395/Rebirth-Yangon-building-points-way-citys-crumbling-heritage.html.
⁵ Schlaefli, Samuel. “Is this the future of Yangon?” The Myanmar Times. October 14, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2017. https://www.mmtimes.com/lifestyle/23103-is-this-the-future-of-yangon.html.