Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Heritage forum focuses on Yangon market

Shoppers and store owners at Theingyi Market in Latha township, Yangon December 2012. (Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times)Shoppers and store owners at Theingyi Market in Latha township, Yangon December 2012. (Thiri Lu / The Myanmar Times)

Stakeholders from the government, civil society and the media attended a forum on urban development in Yangon on Thursday, December 6 and Friday, December 7 at which presentations on Theingyi Market were a highlight.

The “Housing for People and Urban Heritage for all” forum was jointly organised by Germany’s University of Cologne and the Ministry of Construction, and was held at MiCasa Hotel in Yangon on Thursday, December 6. Similar forums had been hosted in Nay Pyi Taw and Taunggyi in November.

The forum was co-hosted by Professor Dr Frauke Kraas from the University of Cologne, who is working as a visiting professor at the University of Yangon’s Geography Department.

In total, 10 speakers gave presentations at the event, including officials from the Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD) and experts in urban development from Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Daw Hlaing Maw Oo, assistant director of DHSHD’s Urban and Regional Planning Division, gave a presentation focussing on the importance of green and open spaces.

“When we talk about green and open spaces in Yangon, we can see a chain of them but they are not connected,” she said.

“We have to carefully consider if we should maintain these spaces or can we afford to lose them? They are like the lungs of the city.

“The chain starts somewhere around Sule Pagoda with a small open space and expands into the Kandawgyi Lake environment and Shwedagon Pagoda area. Furthermore, we have the Inya Lake environment and then there is the green area around Yangon City Golf Club and the Hlawga Lake environment,” she added.

Daw Hlaing Maw Oo also discussed the importance of the city’s skyline, particularly the idea of ensuring that the city’s major landmark – Shwedagon Pagoda – can be seen.

She also asked the audience whether cultural identity, including street markets and festivals, needed to be retained as the city develops.

Daw Hlaing Maw Oo said Yangon’s residents were confronting serious urban planning challenges such as traffic congestion, limited parking spaces, loss of privacy, reduced natural light and ventilation through overcrowding and overloaded public transportation

She added that a number of different acts and laws regulate Yangon’s urban planners, particularly in relation to heritage buildings and religious or cultural sites.

“We must pledge to save the past for the present, and save the present for the future,” she said.

Mr Christian Gunther, a Master’s student at Cologne University, used Yangon’s Theingyi Market in Latha township as an example of urban heritage in transition.

“The aim of my thesis is to clarify the impact that urban transition has on living heritage,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot of heritage theory and I would just say some brief general considerations about the development framework for Yangon.

“The transition process in Myanmar is volatile and the vibrant framework that I’d like to see is one that does not impact on urban heritage,” he said.

Mr Gunther said the transition has to be seen in the political, social and economic dimensions.

“The A block of Theingyi Zay (Market) is mainly a traditional wet and dry market that sells wet goods, including fisheries products, while block B sells dry commodities and textiles,” he said.

Mr Gunther added that people from varied ethnic and religious backgrounds live around the market and use it for commerce.

Professor Kraas said the market was identified as a potential subject during a 2004 field exercise in Yangon.

“I assumed that Theingyi Zay was a unique market and I don’t think there is anywhere else like it in Southeast Asia. And in 2005, we started conducting field work jointly with Yangon University,” she said.

“We choose Theingyi Zay for the study because we saw its huge potential as living heritage. As you can see, Yangon has number of excellent sites and Theingyi Zay is one. It’s a lively market and has a long tradition. If we go to the vendors, we can see that they have been there for many years – it’s living heritage,” she said.

She added that Theingyi Zay has clear architectural value but its social heritage is even more valuable.

“You will find long-term relationships among the vendors and also beyond the market to other parts of Myanmar and even beyond. There are long historic roots and it has deep economic and social cohesion,” Professor Kraas added.

She told The Myanmar Times that there are 189 heritage listed buildings in Yangon and “we’re currently setting up proposals and suggestions for not only buildings but also …sites such as cultural urban heritage sites.

“I’m very much convinced that Theingyi Zay is among the finest of these places. You won’t find many old and still living and not artificially made markets in Southeast Asia. So, it has unique setting – a unique Myanmar character,” she said.

The market was built in 1905 and has 1156 shops.

“We’re not only talking about the architecture, we’re talking about the people, about very closely knitted social communities, vending communities as well. And you won’t find that elsewhere in Myanmar,” she added.