Mud and Jungle: the Tropical Urban Ecologies of Yangon

Department: Architecture
Active Dates: November 2014 - November 2016

Principal Investigator: Ivan VALIN
Funding body: GRF

Abstract

Myanmar’s largest city and commercial capital Yangon is the site of extraordinary and ongoing economic, demographic, and physical transformations; its leaders, planners, and communities are challenged to accommodate these changes fairly and efficiently while preserving Yangon’s unique heritage and urban character. The proposed project explores an element of this character that, although vital, is under-studied and without advocates: the network of parks, gardens, grounds, and greenways that constitute the city’s terrestrial landscape ecology. The goal of this research is to understand the historical relationship between nature and the city in Yangon, and to document the ecosystem services — the benefits to environment, culture, and economy — supplied by these landscape systems within the unexplored context of urban tropical Asia.

The project is composed of three specific but interrelated explorations of landscape in Yangon. The first investigates the transformation of a tropical environment into an urban landscape through the construction and maintenance of a primate city from its colonial origins to the present. The second surveys the network of green spaces in the city, planned and unplanned, old and new, to understand and describe how they contribute to the vital urban ecology of Yangon. The third synthesizes the empirical and historical observations using the heuristic methods of landscape architecture and urban design to assess and speculate on the future of this rapidly changing urban landscape.

These explorations will build on a discourse in urban ecologies that, while vast, has rarely examined cities in tropical climates. A study of the evolution of Yangon’s landscapes will create new knowledge of the complex relationships between structures of power and economy, social welfare, and the tropical environment. As both cultural artefact and living material, landscape as a medium and ecology as a lens promise to complicate postmodern notions of the construct of urban space and environmentalism. The functional description of Yangon’s landscapes, which borrows empirical methods and conceptual models from ecological science and landscape analysis, will observe and evaluate these parks, grounds, gardens, and greenways as an interdependent, layered urban ecology.

Ultimately, given the precarious condition of Yangon, the project seeks to deliver applied research and actionable knowledge on the subject of the city’s rich landscape ecologies. Important lessons drawn from this exploration will also position Yangon as a case study in urban landscape ecology, challenging and extending dominant planning and management practices in the tropical and subtropical regions.

Objectives

  • To construct an understanding of Yangon’s landscape structures as significant elements in the city’s urban environmental heritage.
  • To expand on concepts of the city and nature by documenting the complex and hybrid relationships between social, economic, and natural systems that occur in Yangon.
  • To speculate on the ways in which landscape systems might enable a sustainable and productive Yangon in the future.

Results

Full data is still being analyzed. Results have yet been reached. Significant data collection exercies engaged with local govenment and professionals and has helped to build strong relationships between the Faculty of Architecture and Yangon’s planning and design community.

Anticipated Impact

The research aims to disentangle various periods of landscape transformations that have occurred since the colonial period and through independence to the modern period and determine the success of these practices in light of landscape ecology in the city. This project also seeks to impact the larger discipline of urban environmental designand planning and to diversify the dominant paradigms that shape
urban/nature dichotomies.

Enlarge Photo: Mud and Jungle: the Tropical Urban Ecologies of Yangon 1Enlarge Photo: Mud and Jungle: the Tropical Urban Ecologies of Yangon 2Enlarge Photo: Mud and Jungle: the Tropical Urban Ecologies of Yangon 3
UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG
FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE