Blue plaques to mark Yangon’s heritage

Yangon City Hall is the first building to receive a blue plaque from Yangon Heritage Trust (YHT) marking its historical importance.

It is part of a campaign will see about 100 plaques placed at historical buildings and sites in the city as part of an effort to spread knowledge of the city’s history, said U Thant Myint-U, founder and chair of YHT.

The dual Myanmar and English language plaques will mark historic locations, and include information about the buildings and location themselves as well as the people who lived and worked there.

“Some people don’t know the exact background of these buildings, so the blue plaques will give historical background and other information,” said U Thant Myint-U.

In addition to marking buildings, plaques will also note historically important locations, such as Bo Aung Kyaw Road, where student leader Bo Aung Kyaw was killed in a December 1938 strike during the colonial era.

Yangon boasts one of the widest arrays of historical buildings in Southeast Asia. U Thant Myint-U said the plaques will impart knowledge to locals and foreigners alike about the city’s unique history.

The project is supported with about US$75,000 from Dutch firm Philips, which will fund about 200 total plaques. YHT’s present plan is to put up 100 blue plaques within the next two or three years, including 20 or 30 plaques on buildings that are over 100 years old.

YHT director Daw Moe Moe Lwin said it takes some time for the plaques to arrive, as they are being imported from Australia.

It will also take some time to decide which buildings and locations are to receive the 200 plaques, said U Thant Myint-U.

In a separate program, YHT has begun a project looking at the city’s historical buildings with the aim of developing preservation best practices, said YHT program manager U Kyan Dyne Aung.

It has begun three studies of Bokgalay Zay street in Seikkan township, 26th Street and Latha Street, looking at the buildings themselves as well as everyday life in the neighbourshoods.

The three locations were chosen as they are home to a large number of historical buildings.

“Though we want to do this type of survey for the whole city, we can’t,” said U Kyan Dyne Aung. “We have budgetary and time limits.”

There there are a few separate parts to the studies. Examinations of the physical buildings were completed in April, and the next step will be to survey the economic livelihood and everyday interactions of people living and doing business in the area of the historical buildings.

“We will ask questions to understand what peoples’ businesses are, how they earn money, where they buy goods, as well as what their opinion is on urban heritage and how their businesses affect heritage buildings. We will ask all kinds of people, including vendors and shopkeepers,” he said.

“What we want to do is study how we can maintain heritage buildings in their environments,” he said.

The project is being run jointly with the European Union, and will collaborate with Yangon City Development Committee and Myanmar Egress non-profit organisation.

Organisers hope the survey will boost the management and technical expertise of YCDC in urban planning, generate public cooperation in urban planning and also raise awareness of the importance of preserving heritage as a part of urban planning.

Studies into possible legislation will follow the current surveys of the buildings and people who live and work nearby, he said.

“We need to study how developed countries work to maintain their heritage buildings first,” he said. “And then we can propose corresponding laws for our country.”


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