Shwedagon and Yangon cannot be divided, says forum speaker

Shwedagon Pagoda is the historical and cultural centre of Yangon, and if its character should fade, the character of Yangon will also fade away, said Daw Hlaing Maw Oo, assistant director of the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development’s Urban and Regional Planning Division. If modern high-rise buildings are built close to the pagoda, their lights could diminish its character, she said at the Save Shwedagon Forum, hosted by the Association of Myanmar Architects at the DHSHD meeting hall in Yangon on May 17.

“We are worried that we won’t be able to see Shwedagon from other places in the city, because of new high-rise buildings,” said Daw Hlaing Maw Oo. “We need a city development law to protect the historical site, and to protect downtown Yangon. Shwedagon and Yangon can’t be divided.”

She said there are nine places from which it is possible to see the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. These viewpoints should not disappear, as all Myanmar citizens should have the chance to see Shwedagon from afar, Daw Hlaing Maw Oo added.

The Association of Myanmar Architects has sent an advisory letter to the president, state government members and related ministries and organisations, requesting them to help save Shwedagon and its surroundings, said U San Oo, chair of the association.

“We sent letters asking them to carry out technical research on the local ecosystem, the level of ground water, construction heights, volume and capacity, as well as the viewpoints from which it is possible to see the pagoda, before any new projects are built,” he said.

“We are trying to save Shwedagon and will protest against anyone who tries to diminish Shwedagon’s viewpoints and its environment,” said U San Oo.

In February, five large construction projects were suspended by government authorities due to concerns over their proximity to the site.

The projects by Thu Kha Yadanar Co, Shwe Taung Hyday Development, Marga Landmark, Shwe Taung Development, and Adventure Myanmar Tour and Incentives projects all sit on former military-owned land in Dagon township.

Last week, Marga Landmark issued a statement, clarifying facts about its mixed-use Dagon City One project, stating it was in strict compliance with approved plans, and warning against what it called critics spreading wrong information and engaging in groundless speculation.

Yesterday, a spokesperson for the company declined to comment directly on the Save Shwedagon Forum.
One of the main problems is that there is no legally enacted city development plan, according to speakers at the forum. The most recent set of guidelines is the 2013 draft of the JICA-backed Yangon 2040 master plan, formally known as the Strategic Urban Development Plan of the Greater Yangon.

“All the Yangon city development drafts have followed the same code – not to approve high- rise
buildings near to downtown and Shwedagon,” said U Than Moe, senior adviser to Myanmar’s Urban Research and Development Institute.
“High-rise buildings should be built uptown, in townships such as North Okkalapa, South Okkalapa and Thaketa. We need to enact a city development law, from the 2012 and 2013 drafts,” he added.

New construction projects beside the Shwedagon are still legal until the draft law is enacted. However, as there has been no study into the condition of the ground beneath the pagoda and the resistance of its foundations, nearby projects should not be approved, said experts at the forum.

One of the main concerns is that the foundations may be impacted, causing the pagoda to slope in the future, said Daw Khin Ni Ni Thein, secretary of the Water Advisory Group at the National Water Resources Committee.

“With advanced technical assistance, projects could be built near to Shwedagon Pagoda. But at the moment, we have no guarantee that nothing will go wrong in the future, and then who will take responsibility? The value of the pagoda cannot be measured in money,” she said.

A downtown conservation area and a specially protected area around the Shwedagon are essential elements in a dynamic and imaginative vision for a 21st-Century Yangon, said U Thant Myint-U, founder of the Yangon Heritage Trust, a non-government organisation.

“I believe there can and should be medium and high-rise developments in Yangon, but in their proper place. There is more than enough room for the kind of growth and modernisation we all want,” he said.

Source: Myanmar Times

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