Satellite towns are popping up in Yangon’s outskirts, as the city’s population grows and residents look for space to expand.
Padamyar and Pearl New Cities are both located in the north of the city’s Mingalardon township. While they have existed for years, largely as a space for various government departments, they have recently caught on as places to call home.
“It’s become a densely populated place since late 2012,” said local real estate agent U Kyaw Aung. “People are becoming interested in the New Towns.”
The two New Cities were slowly begun about 1970, though initially only as permit land that was rented by tenants. They predate similar satellite towns in the new Dagon townships to the east, and now count as two of Mingalardon township’s 31 wards. The township itself is one of Yangon’s largest by area, including the Yangon airport, several industrial parks and golf courses.
Interest in the area had previously been minimal, with many kept away by poor utilities. With local improvements to electricity, water and transportation beginning in earnest around 2012, downtown residents have been relocating further uptown.
Of the two, Padamyar is more densely populated than Pearl, although both of them are growing, say local residents. Padamyar is smaller and most lots are tiny, starting at around 1800 square feet. Pearl has larger plots, up to 10,000 square feet, and much of it is composed of large housing compounds and farms.
The two New Cities – called myothit in Myanmar language – are also attracting notably different clienteles. Pearl sees plenty of retired officials and businesspeople keen for the large land plots, while Padamyar has more of a blue-collar feel.
Much of Yangon’s growing industrial might is springing up in Mingalardon township. With dozens of factories opening nearby, workers are keen to move in to the satellite cities, rather than living in downtown homes.
Pearl New Town resident U Zaw Zaw said there are lots of industry at the edge of the township.
“The government paved the main road in Mingalardon in 2012, and now people are interested in moving here,” he said.
Property agent U Yan Aung said the two New Cities have become particularly prosperous since late 2012, though there are a number of similar satellite cities that were attempted.
“Many people have moved to these two towns, and their price is now quite high,” he said.
Although land prices vary significantly, U Yan Aung said 18,000 square feet on the main road in Pearl myothit can fetch as much as K750 million (US$720,000), while more isolated properties in the area can cost a minimum of K80 million.
Granted land is now sometimes available at the two New Cities, which is a notable attraction for those who would like to own their hand. Combined with vastly improved infrastructure and cheaper prices compared to down, it is drawing growing interest – though the long commute downtown throws off many.
With the success of the area has come speculation, according to local agent U Than Win.
There are many manipulators interested in the land, setting up frequent appointments, he said. Business has dropped off somewhat in line with a general slowdown of the Yangon market.
The price spike in the area started in 2012, with some prices changing on a daily basis. Transportation is the key to the area – land away from the main roads is much less sought-after than property located on important land links.
Local residents say the pace of change in the formerly sleepy neighbourhoods has been dizzying.
Daw Khin May, resident of Pearl myothit, first moved in forty years ago.
“At the time it was at the start of the new town and there were only a few houses in Pearl,” she said. “When I started building the house, I was given a house number, and it was number 2, the second house in the area.”
Initially serving large government officials in various capacities, only recently has the area become a hotspot for civilians as well.
Daw Khin May said she pays fees for her house, land and water use every three months. Prices vary but it is always under K2000, she claimed.
The land her home sits on is owned by the government, similar to many of her neigbours who likewise do not own the land. She said usually only the area’s main properties are grant land which can be owned outright.
“Only houses on the main roads seem to have granted land,” she said.
“With fees so low, many residents are not interested in taking grant land.”
The area also has an agricultural twist to it. While farmland is increasingly being crowded out in the area, many local residents still grow produce.
“If we throw out a mango seed, it can turn into a plant, because the soil is so good,” said local resident U Soe Wai.
Electricity has finally been extended across most of Mingalardon township, reaching the two New Cities a few years ago. Since 2010, roads are gradually been extended and paved over. Most of the area’s water still comes from tube wells, with much being scooped by hand.
The boomtown feel of the area extends to the lack of health clinics and schools, with many local residents forced to travel far to find them – though this is slowly improving.
All the infrastructure improvements are not making the area any closer to downtown, though. At rush hour it can be a two-hour drive to Sule Pagoda, too far for most commuters to the area. For those with workplaces uptown, though, the commute is much more manageable.
Ma Thu Thu Aung, a university student and resident of Padamyar, said while getting downtown is a pain, travelling around the area is simple. Motorcycles are permitted in the area, providing an economic mode of transportation, with no need for many taxis or buses that provide the vital links in the downtown townships.
She listed a number of other advantages behind the area – cheaper food, growing number of stores, KBZ bank branches arriving, and a more pleasant all-around lifestyle.
With Yangon’s population continuing to expand, it is likely the satellite areas will simply expand in the future. Still, infrastructure and transportation links in particular still lag the more developed parts of Yangon.