Narrative I. Yangon: Urbanization Under Constant of Regimes

Existing squatter areas and clearance locations
Squatter locations and resettlement programs in Yangon

Yangon (Rangoon)’s Urban Sprawl In Different Stages

After the Second Anglo-Burmese War and the annexation of Lower Burma in 1852, Rangoon (Yangon) became the capital and major port of the colony, integrating it within a network of other large port cities of the British Empire (Pearn 1939). The appearance, function and character of Yangon has changed several times during the city’s long history. While the colonial period is reasonably well documented, later phases are rarely discussed in the literature (Kraas/Gaese/Mi Mi Kyi 2006, Kraas/Yin May/Zin Nwe Myint 2010, Kraas/Yin May/Spohner/Zin Nwe Myint 2014). However, this blog will, instead, focus on the later phases when the shift of regimes in Yangon is constantly at play and narrating most carefully the resettlement program took place around the year of 1988, after giving a general view of the urban formation in the different stages ahead.

After Independence

Immediately after independence, Rangoon faced a massive population increase through the influx of rural refugees due to political instability, insurrection, and insurgency in the countryside. A driving force behind the migration was the so-called multicolored insurrection, i.e. armed resistance groups of various political persuasions that opposed the newly formed government of Burma (Than Than Nwe 1998, 95). By 1951 its population increased to about 650,000 from 450,000 at the beginning of world war II, one-third of which were refugees and about 50,000 were squatters. The conditions of the squatters had been one of the major driving factor behind the resettlement policies of the various stages following, as the squatters were located mainly on vacant land in the central part of the city, in bombed-out areas and on the pavement of the main roads. (Yin May 1962, 56-58, as cited by Frauke Kraas, Hlaing Maw Oo, Zin Nwe Myint, Regine Spohner, 2005)

In order to provide adequate shelter, new housing complexes were built under the Pyitawthar Project on vacant plots throughout the city, slum clearance was intensified, and three new towns were established in the late 1950s and early 1960s: North Okkalapa (about 75,600 inhabitants at that time), South Okkalapa (about 64,400 inhabitants), and Thaketa (55,000 inhabitants) (Yin May 1962, 61-63). These new towns were constructed with the primary purpose of resettling the squatters and fire victims from the central part of the city. Due to their remoteness, a relative lack of infrastructure and job opportunities, as well as limited public and private services, the development of these new towns into integrated urban units of Yangon occurred very slowly. These post-war urban developments contributed significantly to the growth and stabilization of the capital. While the first new towns only slowly and gradually consolidated and added public functions (e.g. schools, hospitals, shopping areas), new towns established later for government employees were more fully equipped with public infrastructure and facilities.


Urban growth during the period after a military coup in 1962 and until the movement in 1988, was mainly a result of naturally rising birth rates and boundary expansion. Although the city limits were extended, Thuwanna New Town was built in 1964, and Rangoon’s area increased to 164.57 square kilometers in 1965. No significant population changes were recorded during the intercensal years between 1973 and 1983 (Naing Oo 1989, 242-252).


In 1988, with the protests across the country, SLORC (the State Law and Order Restoration Council)  was established as the reconstituted government. The SLORC significantly increased the rate of squatter eviction and resettlement post 1988 and continued with the relocation of hundreds of thousands of civil servants to plots in new outlying townships. By mid-1990, an estimated
580,000–590,000 people in Rangoon alone – approximately 20 per cent of the city’s population – had been relocated by the SLORC, primarily to the new townships of Hlaing Thayar, Dagon Myo Thit and Shwe Pyi Thar. The manifold processes and consequences of the incisive paradigm shift towards a market-oriented economy resulted in a number of changes. The newly instituted Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC, founded in 1990) was given the authority to carry out city development through contacts with local and foreign organizations and enterprises. With the development of industrial zones around Yangon and thus new labor opportunities, urban migration led to constant growth of the capital, causing substantial densification and territorial expansion. New infrastructure (including several new bridges), commercial complexes, shopping centers and housing estates were established. With the emerging land market, urban redevelopment gained momentum and colonial buildings downtown were gradually replaced by high-rise buildings, condominiums, and office towers. These trends reflected the rising demand of the private sector and urban middle classes for improved services. With the relocation of traditional markets to the urban fringe, a certain de-concentration process started, resulting in emerging nodes at major junctions.

New Towns, Satellite Towns, and Industrial Zones in Yangon


Elizabeth Rhoads. “Forced Evictions as Urban Planning? Traces of Colonial Land Control Practices in Yangon, Myanmar.” State Crime Journal 7, no. 2 (2018): 278-305. Accessed December 14, 2020.

Frauke Kraas, Hlaing Maw Oo, Zin Nwe Myint, Regine Spohner. “Yangon’s Urban Heritage: Reassessing the Historic Stages of Development.” In: Erica Avrami (ed.): Building the Future: The Role of Heritage in the Sustainable Development of Yangon. New York, World Monuments Fund. : 24-31. 2015.

Huang, Roger Lee. “The Paradox of Myanmar’s Regime Change.” Routledge/City University of Hong Kong Southeast Asia Series. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2020.

Japan International Cooperation Agency, “The Project for Updating the Strategic Urban Development Plan of the Greater Yangon: FINAL REPORT I”, February 2018, 1000038957_01.pdf (

Kraas, F., Mi Mi Kyi, H. “Megacity Yangon: Transformation processes and modern developments.” Southeast Asian Modernities. Münster: Lit-Verlag. Gaese, eds. 2006.

Kraas, F., Yin May, Zin Nwe Myint. “Yangon/Myanmar: Transformation Processes and Mega-Urban Developments.” Geographische Rundschau International 6 (2): 26-37. 2010.

 Kraas, F., Yin May, R. Spohner, Zin Nwe Myint. “Yangon: Phases of Urban Development and Expansion.” Journal of the Myanmar Academy of Arts and Science (MAAS), Vol. XII (6) (Geology and Geography): 125-137. 2014. 

Pearn, Bertie Reginald. “A History of Rangoon.” Farnborough, Hants.: Gregg, 1971.

Terry Standley, David Etherton. “Human Settlements Sector Review: Union of Myanmar.” The United Nations Centre for Human Settlements. Nairobi, 1991.

Yin May. “Greater Rangoon: A Study in Urban Geography.” Unpublished Master Thesis, Department of Geography, University of Rangoon. 1962.


1 Comment on “Narrative I. Yangon: Urbanization Under Constant of Regimes

  1. The narrative is clear and precise, I can follow clearly the development, urbanization and growth of the Yangon City. It seems that Yangon city changed from a remote cityscape to different industrial zones with the help of advancement of transportation system. I am curious to know whether there is western influence during the change of urban form? IS the urban zoning inspired from the West?

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