UNESCO officer sees Yangon as prime candidate for listing

With the highest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia, and its mix of historic and religious architecture, Yangon is a prime candidate to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, according to the organisation’s national project officer in Myanmar, Daw Ohnmar Myo.

The presence of century-old colonial buildings and a rare combination of sacred and cultural sites could make Yangon rival other sites of global interest such as Thailand’s historic city of Ayutthaya, Indonesia’s Borobudur temple compounds, or Cambodia’s Angkor and Preah Vihear temples, she said.

“The antique art of Shwedagon Pagoda, the colonial-era architecture and the multinational and multicultural co-existence of Chinese, Muslim and other ethnic communities deserve to be listed,” she told The Myanmar Times in an interview on the sidelines of a roundtable held as part of the Heritage Works Yangon exhibition.

However, she added, it is not clear who should apply for such a UNESCO designation, or draw up and implement the necessary plan for the maintenance and management of the site once it is listed.

“An application would first have to be made to get Yangon on the tentative list. It isn’t clear whether that move would have to be made by Yangon City Development Committee or the Yangon Regional government,” she said.

“Inclusion on the list would require adherence to rules and regulations under a comprehensive management plan, designating zones for high-rise buildings, markets and parks. But there is no such plan yet,” she said.

U Toe Aung, head of YCDC city planning, told The Myanmar Times the finalisation of the current zoning plan still needed feedback from the residents of the zones.

“Completing the plan will take some time, because we are still consulting residents on such things as the permitted height of buildings and the number of parks in their zones,” he said.

Daw Ohnmar Myo said a plan for Yangon would be particularly complex because the city was an urban development site and an economic zone.

“All these various considerations have to be balanced. But that’s no reason to give up the idea of a UNESCO listing,” she said.

U Kyaw Nyunt, director of the Department of Archaeology and National Museum, said the government was first seeking to have Bagan and Mrauk-U added to the UNESCO tentative list of World Heritage Sites.

“We will try to have Yangon listed after that, but Yangon is not totally a heritage city, though we would support the inclusion of Shwedagon Pagoda on the list,” he said.

The only sites in Myanmar currently on the UNESCO list are the ancient cities of the Pyu.

An official from the Yangon Heritage Trust yesterday said the local organisation supports consideration of World Heritage nomination for the Shwedagon Pagoda and perhaps in the future for other areas.

“Yangon certainly has international heritage value and represents a source of great pride for Myanmar,” the official said. “The diverse communities and practices which exist in the city as well as its huge number of religious sites make it an important place for many people.”

However, the official said it is also vital that any work on the World Heritage nomination list includes wide collaboration to make sure that a listing does not damage the livability or commercial health of Yangon for its local residents.

Source: Myanmar Times

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