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Crusade to save Yangon’s heritage

myanmar-yangon-wiki-600

27 Apr Crusade to save Yangon’s heritage

As Myanmar sprints to catch up with its more developed South-east Asian neighbours, one man is in a different kind of race: to safeguard hundreds of precious colonial buildings in Yangon from the wrecking ball.

Historian and author Thant Myint-U, 48, is up against the tide of breathless development the country is experiencing since it opened its doors to the outside world after years of isolation and economic sanctions.

But in just two years since he set up his heritage advocacy organisation, Yangon Heritage Trust, Dr Thant and his colleagues have managed to save at least 50 buildings from demolition-happy developers ready to replace a century-old building with a cheap, no-character highrise that can fetch good rent.

“There is a growing and urgent need for residential and office space, there’s money coming into the property market where you can imagine a huge threat to these heritage properties,” said the American-born founder and chairman of Yangon Heritage Trust.

In town recently to give talks on Myanmar at the WongPartnership Leaders Forum 2014 and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, he is the author of acclaimed books, The River Of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History Of Burma and Where China Meets India: Burma And The New Crossroads Of Asia, and a member of Myanmar’s National Economic and Social Advisory Council.

This article was published on April 27 in The Straits Times. A PDF download is available.