Thant Myint-U expressed his concern on February 6 and 9 in Facebook posts following recent media news that five large construction projects have been “suspended” due to concerns about their proximity to Shwedagon.
According to media reports, the suspension is likely to be temporary while plans for the projects by Marga Landmark, Thu Kha Yadanar Company, Shwe Taung Hday Development, Shwe Taung Development and Adventure Myanmar Tour and Incentives are checked. The companies claim they have taken care with planning and the need to adhere to regulations.
The Yangon Region Government and Myanmar Investment Commission have suspended development projects citing the proximity of the projects to the Shwedagon Pagoda and other pagodas and the need to protect the city's cultural heritage. They say they will review the projects, Thant Myint-U writes.
He said he had just visited the area and was “shocked at how close some of the planned 12-story buildings were to the Shwedagon.”
Thant Myint-U’s comments were made after many people are reported to have taken to social media to express their concern over how close the projects are to Yangon’s most famous pagoda.
However, as he pointed out, Yangon City urgently needs billions of dollars in new investment for new housing and office and commercial space.
“But it's critical that development is well planned and within an overall vision of how Yangon should grow and modernize. We have this one chance to make Yangon a truly livable as well as modern city. We don't need to make the same mistakes that so many Asian cities have made these past decades,” he writes, adding that the decision to suspend the projects was “brave and commendable” and “a step forward for proper urban planning.”
Yangon Heritage Trust Chairman Thant Myint-U is a historian, author and Harvard graduate who is the grandson of the late Myanmar statesman, U Thant.
Despite his concerns over projects close to the revered pagoda, Thant Myint-U says it is important to say that he is “personally very much in favour of dense development in Yangon, with medium and high-rise buildings.”
He says only about 10 percent of Yangon needs special protection from a conservation or heritage perspective. Ninety percent can be new and medium-to-high rise development, for which billions of dollars is needed in new investment.
“The principal areas I think need to be protectedare: the centre of the old downtown, the area around the Shwedagon, and the waterfront [including lake fronts] and public parks,” Thant Myint-U says.
“Many areas downtown - including east of Thein pyu, west of Lanmadaw, and around the Railway Station - could be areas for new medium and high-rise development,” he says.