Colonial Yangon/ The Colonial Urban Design and Street Hierarchy

Yangon had long been serving as a port in centuries before 1852, however, it was not regarded as a prominent regional port due to its natural limitation like flooding (Pearn 1939). Even though it has become the trading port in Konbaung Dynasty (which was the last kingdom of Burma) in the 18th century, the city was not prosperously developed as because of the lack of planning and occasional fire in the city. As a result, Yangon remained as a small city with irregular urban layout and low density before the colonial era.

The British government believed that a well-designed city with clear functionality would allow the city to grow prosperously. Therefore, they paid a lot of attention on the civility of the citizens at that time, including Burmese and foreign inhabitants.

“The local commissioner, Phayre, and his superior Governor-General Lord Dalhousie undertook the task of transforming the loosely organized Burmese port into a proper city befitting the British Empire.”

(Pearn 1939, 41)

They started to promote the concept of Western urban planning into Yangon, where “a grid of major and minor streets covered with a hierarchy of land lots” (Roberts 2011)  was introduced for the city.

Figure 1: The officially adopted plan of Rangoon at that time showed the clear grid pattern of major and minor streets.

“This city of approximately 1.5 by 1 mile was designed to: 1) preserve the asset deemed most valuable by the British, the riverfront, with a strand that would prohibit the building of any structures except government-related institutions such as the customs house; 2) to present a grand modern fagade to the European guests arriving by sea; 3) establishan orderly and hierarchical grid of streets emanating from the strand that would mitigate the problems of periodic floods and fires; 4) overcome the problems of disease common in a marshy tropical climate; 5) facilitate the sale of property and collection of taxes to generate income for the British government and support the empire; and 6) create a highly regular and urban environment in which British law could be enforced at the lowest cost possible and international trade could prosper.”

(Roberts 2011, 22)

Figure 2: This map shows the street hierarchy of Yangon. Some of the streets are 50 feet wide while some are 100 feet.

The idea was that if the hygiene, safety and order of streets within the city were well maintained, it would gain a more positive city image, thus a better progression. Therefore, the city order and street hierarchy of Yangon were of upmost importance for British government during the colonial period.



Pearn, Bertie Reginald. 1939. History of Rongoon. Rangoon: American Baptist Mission Press.

Roberts, Jayde Lin. 2011. Tracing the Ethos of the Sino-Burmese in the Urban Fabric of Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). University of Washington.

1 Comment on “Colonial Yangon/ The Colonial Urban Design and Street Hierarchy

  1. Considering urban planning that would allow a city to grow, it was noted that Fraser anticipated for a city of 36,000 inhabitants, however, the population grew to be 46,000 in 1856 and over 60,000 in 1860 (Pearn, 1939, p.206) It was said that road constructions and introduction of buses in 1913 contributed to the development of suburbs (Pearn, 1939, p.280).

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