YCDC planner targets 30 percent parkland

It isn’t easy keeping Yangon green, what with the heat, developers’ voracious appetite for empty land, and the council’s lack of resources. But municipal officials say they are hopeful they can more than double the amount of green space in Yangon under a new zoning plan, taking the figure up to 30 percent.

U Toe Aung, a planning expert with Yangon City Development Committee’s Urban Planning and Land Management Department, said on March 11 that local and foreign experts had recommended that 30pc of Yangon’s land area should be kept green, based on likely population growth.

Currently green space accounts for just 12pc of the city. But U Toe Aung said the long-delayed zoning plan, which was proposed as far back as 2012 but stalled by the regional government amid opposition from developers, could help YCDC hit the 30pc figure.

Elected YCDC member U Khin Maung Tin said that in the absence of a zoning plan green space was continually shrinking, as undeveloped lots were turned into condominimums. He also identified “mismanagement” as a major issue, with private companies given the green light to develop shopping malls and entertainment centres on existing parkland.

For now, city workers do what they can with the existing space. Every rainy season, more than 600,000 trees are planted in the 33 townships under YCDC jurisdiction. And every dry season, staff struggle to keep the city’s stock of green stuff watered and thriving.

Staff shortages and a lack of modern equipment bedevil attempts by YCDC Playgrounds, Parks and Gardens Department to stop the wilt.

“We plant more than 600,000 shelter trees every year for the entire Yangon Region, not to mention the plants we hand out for free to other departments and organisations. We do the planting in June and July. But the hard part is keeping them alive during the dry season,” said U Myo Thein, who runs the northern district of the parks and gardens department.

With just over 100 permanent staff, reinforced with about 800 daily workers, the city has to maintain the landscaping of all its traffic islands, roundabouts, roadsides, groves, forests, cultivated areas, parks and playgrounds.

Yangon is still recovering from the devastation wrought by Cyclone Nargis, which felled thousands of trees in May 2008. On top of that is the searing drought expected this year as a result of the El Niño phenomenon. Trees are also at threat from the extension of electrical cables.

“We’re doing our best to avoid felling trees in the downtown townships. It isn’t easy to plant in the downtown roadsides, and we have to prune and shape the trees. New planting is a priority in new city townships where there is still room amid the electrical cables,” he said.

Spurred by the scarcity of green spaces in Yangon, officials launched a plan to upgrade city parks in 2010. There are 112 playground parks and 63 gardens in the city, and uptown playgrounds are being extended with help from local elders and neighbourhood organisations.

The redevelopment program has been welcomed by residents, particularly in high-density areas. Formerly unkempt parkland has been rehabilitated and landscaped, providing new public spaces for land-starved communities. Entrance fees – and in many cases gates and fences – have been removed to improve access.

“Every Sunday I see many people go to play and rest in Thuwunna Park,” said c a resident of the Thuwunna area of Thingangyun township. “Until one year ago Thuwunna Park was very dirty – it was more like a jungle. Now YCDC has cleaned it up and there’s no need to pay an entrance fee.”

While YCDC has won praise for opening up some parkland, in other cases its management has come in for criticism. Deals cut with private companies to develop land and collect entrance fees at Karaweik garden, People’s Park and Mya Kyun Thar Park have been particularly controversial.

Another elected YCDC member, U Khin Hlaing, has led opposition to some of these projects. Earlier this month he issued a letter instructing four of eight companies granted land in Mya Kyun Thar to halt their projects on the grounds they had broken municipal rules. In one case, a company was developing a 3.5-storey shopping mall, he said.

The eight companies were granted a total of more than 40 acres at the park, opposite Sedona Hotel, at a rental fee of just K12 million a year per acre.

In December, Yangon Region auditor general U Myint Aung also revealed that YCDC had leased 25 acres in the park to Zaykabar Company for K30 million a year under a 10-year contract signed in 2010.

He was deeply critical of the deal, pointing out that Dolphin restaurant in Kandawgyi Garden was paying Zaykabar K1.085 billion a year in rent under a sub-leasing agreement.

“The government and YCDC should be aware of the gap between the current rate and contract price, and they need to amend to a reasonable price for the next five-year contract,” he said.

However, last year YCDC quietly agreed a new contract with Zaykabar in which the rent was set at just K60 million a year.

Zaykabar owner U Khin Shwe has defended the agreement, saying observers are not taking into account the cost of maintenance.


Source: Myanmar Times

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