Local residents, artists, students and even Rangoon’s chief minister gathered beneath the flyover at a main junction in the city on Wednesday morning to celebrate the inauguration of a public space dividing bustling Pyay Road.
An initiative aimed at placing the city back in the hands of the people, the space under the Myaynigone flyover in Sanchaung Township was revamped thanks to the French Institute in conjunction with local and international partners.
After the official handover, the focus shifted to model designs created by architecture students from the Association of Myanmar Architects. The exposition, in collaboration with Yangon Heritage Trust, gave the next generation of city-builders the chance to showcase their vision for Rangoon’s future.
Inspired by urban planning designs in Paris and other European cities, the new-look space is providing a welcome respite for locals feeling overwhelmed by the commercial capital’s seemingly endless, sun-baked concrete and chaotic traffic. “With the priority given to cars and car users, most of the pedestrians and everyday citizens were cast away from the city streets and no longer had a place to walk, nor to enjoy public space,” the French Institute said in a press release on Friday.
But the project, at the intersection of Pyay and Bagaya roads, is not just a cookie-cutter transplant lifted from international cityscapes. Its designers consulted with the public to find out how the space could best serve the people, with project manager Alex Aung Khant saying youth had a clear picture of what they wanted.
“For this project we mainly spoke to the youth who were [already] using this space about what they wanted and what they wanted to see and we transmitted this to the architects,” Alex Aung Khant said at the inauguration.
“The project has democratic values — the fact that people are taking over the streets and not just car owners. We’ve seen that even though the area was really blocked off before, we’ve seen that people [are] playing football in the evening. There’s an organic need and desire for public space.”
First opened to the public on 4 December, the opening day of the Mingalabar! Festival, the space beneath the Myaynigone flyover has been adopted by local residents as a place to play chinlone, relax on lunch breaks and even conduct informal teaching groups. Win Win Kyaw, an architect who assisted on the project, urged more teachers to devote their time.
“Some children that cannot attend school are taught here by volunteers. I hope to see more teachers here to help,” she said.
Coinciding with the inauguration, the French Institute handed over responsibility for maintenance of the site to the YCDC. Until Wednesday, volunteers had visited the space several times a week to pick up rubbish and ensure the area remained clean.
“We have plans for micro-economies that will generate revenue, as further incentive to keep the area clean and maintained,” said Alex Aung Khant.
The $180,000 Myaynigone flyover pilot programme is the first of five in Rangoon. Similar plans have already been drawn up for spaces under flyovers in Hledan and Tamwe townships, as well as at the junctions of eight-mile and Shwegondaing.