6 Minutes To Read

Green Spaces in Yangon City: Towards a Greener City for all

6 Minutes To Read

Yay Chann argues that Yangon City’s declining green spaces is bad for its citizens, climate change resilience and tourism.

Another Development (AD), a local organisation, has developed this paper to understand some of the challenges relating to green spaces in Yangon. The paper identifies some next steps for positive reform, highlighting the past-to-present of green spaces in Yangon City. In this paper, we limit the definition of green spaces to focus mainly on accessible public parks in Yangon City. Although this does not comprehensively account for all green spaces in Yangon (such as area with vegetation but no parkland, greened/regenerated street etc.), it was necessary to set this limitation so we could make conclusive statements about the amount of green spaces in Yangon based on available data.

Image sourced from Wikipedia.

Green spaces play a key role in the quality of urban communities in cities, with benefits ranging from the health and well-being of individuals and their relationship with nature, to the regulation of climate impacts, branding, economic development, tourism, character, and culture of a city. The importance of green spaces to cities has been growing globally, and they have come to play a key part in the quality of urban communities in cities.

Figure 1: Green spaces in Asian major cities (Source: Asian Green City Index, 2011)

Green Spaces in Yangon City

Green space in Yangon is increasingly under pressure due to economic growth, population increase, and rapid urbanization. Green spaces are being overtaken by real estate developments and targeted through a number of economic activities. A marked increase in population has created challenges in delivering basic adequate infrastructure and services. These combined challenges create poor urban settings and fail to promote the well-being of residents. The current population of Yangon City has nearly doubled from 2.9 million in 1990 to 5.2 million in 2014[1]. Over this period, the amount of green space per person has declined by almost 40%[2]. It is also predicted that the population will be about seven million in 2024[3]. There are in total 63 public parks in Yangon City covering 522 acres of land, which equates to just 4.37 square feet of green space per person.[4] This increases to 18.74 square feet per person if the Zoological Gardens and Hlawga Wildlife Park are included, as they are included in official YCDC calculations for green space per person[5]. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that a city should have just under 100 square feet of green space per person.
Figure 2: Green space per person in Yangon City (Source: Comprehensive Development of Yangon: Basic Data and Recommendations, YCDC (2016)
Additionally, distribution of parks in Yangon City is unequal – with almost half of the total number of parks located in the CBD (Central Business District) and Inner Urban City Zone. There are seven townships that have one public park each, and nine townships which have no parks at all. There were more than one million park visitors per month in September and October 2018 in Yangon City, according to Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC)[6]. A survey conducted by AD (Another Development) with park users showed that: young people (aged 13 to 25) formed the majority of park users; 54% of park users were male and 46% were female; 43% of users stated they visit parks monthly; and, 78% of people said they visit parks for recreation. 31% of respondents said that parks had adequate facilities, while 22% stated that facilities and the number of parks did not meet the needs of users, with 10% reporting that parks were too far, and that it took too long to get to them. YCDC is the body in charge of parks, and the Department of Playgrounds, Parks and Gardens is the responsible YCDC agency for green spaces in Yangon City. The goal of the Department is to have one playground in each ward and one park in each township, and to keep parks green and playgrounds accessible.[7] However, there has been no significant increase in the number of public parks in Yangon City. On the contrary, growing population and rapid urbanization has resulted in construction development projects taking over green spaces. There are a number of private companies that have had green spaces handed over to them including major developments in Kanthaya Park and Mya Kyun Thar Park. On the other hand, there are organizations focusing on developing green spaces, urban planning and regeneration in Yangon City. Since 2017, Doh Eain has been running urban renovation and restoration projects such as heritage restoration and the upgrading of public spaces aimed at renewing parts of Yangon City. There are also organizations focused on long-term advocacy and strategy for improving green spaces in Yangon City. One of the organizations, Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT), has been advocating for urban heritage focusing on the downtown area. In 2016, they produced Yangon Heritage Strategy, in which they pointed out that many parks in Yangon City are inaccessible for the public and have been eroded by semi-private developments. The Japan International Cooperation Agency is another organization working on parks and green spaces, and engaged with YCDC in 2013 to prepare a strategic urban development plan for Greater Yangon with the agreement of Regional Government.

Towards a Greener Yangon for All

There are many challenges with regard to maintaining current and creating new accessible green spaces for an increasing population in Yangon City. The Playgrounds, Parks and Gardens Department’s goal to have a playground in each ward and a park in every township is a welcome start, however, there is much more work to be done to create a Yangon in which increased and improved urban green spaces allow for the well-being of all citizens.

A green space strategy should be developed that ensures the expansion of public parkland in Yangon City to satisfy the WHO’s standard of nine square meters of green space per person. Recommendations relating to parks and green spaces laid out in YHT’s Yangon Heritage Strategy should be supported and committed to. Also needed is enhanced collaboration among YCDC agencies and departments to improve urban planning and better meet the needs of the residents.

Civil engagement and public voices are not sufficiently heard in urban green space planning and development in Yangon. YCDC should ensure that inclusive public participation is practiced in all Yangon City urban planning projects.

A number of relatively simple improvements to improve public parks should be implemented such as growing more shady trees, sports facilities and simple exercise machines, trash bins, lighting, benches and public seating areas, educational tools for children to make parks more interactive, and the removal of access fees for park facilities such as public toilets. Increased maintenance including water sprinkling and trash collection would be beneficial, as would promoting the holding of events such as educational, literature, and celebrity talks and other ceremonies in parks, as a way to attract users and promote tourism.

Finally, ensuring that public parks are accessible for all kinds of people including disabled people, and improving the safety of parks through increased security staff, would enable parks to be shared by all, and for people to feel safe when doing so.

Green spaces will play a crucial role not only in the quality of life for the people of Yangon, but also in the economic and environmental future of the city. Additionally, as Myanmar undertakes widespread democratization across the country, green spaces can be a contributing factor in the formation of a democratic society, and a tool for strengthening social inclusiveness and cultural diversity.

We need to call on YCDC, Yangon Regional Government, MPs, and CSOs working in this field, to act on the ideas in this paper and make green spaces an issue that matters, so that the future of Yangon City resembles the vision and ambitions of its citizens.

Yay Chann is a Knowledge Seeking Analyst at Another Development (AD) Policy Think-Tank, and works on urban planning project. His recent research focuses on urban green space, and urban water supply.

AD (Another Development) is  a local Myanmar think-tank and a non-profit organization. AD’s work focuses on five main thematic areas: Human Rights, Multiculturalism, Decentralization and Federalism, Rural Economic Development and Social Enterprises and E-government and E-citizen. AD was set up in 2015 specifically to address some of the problems besetting Myanmar society in the new era and to advocate for public policy improvements.

Notes
[1] YCDC. (2016). Comprehensive Development of Yangon: Basic Data and Recommendations (Rep),  April, Yangon: YCDC
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid)
[5] Ibid.
[6] AD’s interview with Playgrounds, Parks, and Gardens Departments, YCDC, November, 2018.
[7] AD’s interview with Playgrounds, Parks, and Gardens Departments, YCDC, November, 2018.