This article is a feature article dedicated to World Wetlands Day 2019. We prefer to write about the wetlands in Yangon, additionally, which can be created into public spaces without losing its essence. Therefore, the interview talk from Raphael Monnier gave valuable input for showing the importance of wetlands on the landscape architect point of view.
Wetlands are land areas that are saturated or flooded with water either permanently or seasonally. Inland wetlands include marshes, ponds, lakes, fens, rivers, floodplains, and swamps. Coastal wetlands include saltwater marshes, estuaries, mangroves, lagoons and even coral reefs. Fish ponds, rice paddies, and salt pans are human-made wetlands.
World Wetlands Day
2 February each year is World Wetlands Day to raise global awareness about the vital role of wetlands for people and our planet. This day also marks the date of the adoption of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar on the shores of the Caspian Sea.
Raphael Monnier who is the co-founder of Yangon-based architecture and design company Blue Temple explains about the importance of wetlands and vision to create a public space on the wetland in Yangon City.
What are the key benefits of wetlands in Yangon in your point of view?
In landscape design terminology, this would be defined as eco-system services, basically what nature can provide. There are many different categories of services such as "Supporting", "Provisioning", "Regulating" and "Cultural". The one we are the most interested in is the cultural aspect, sub categories include but not only economic, psychological and therapeutic services.Talking about "Economical Eco-System Services" it is important to note the risk for gentrification in urban landscapes. Even though a park can bring a lot to a neighborhood, it can also destroy it. A park makes the living condition higher in its surrounding therefore creates inflation in the immediate real estate market. Low-income households can no longer pay rent and get pushed out of the neighborhood. The "HighLine" project in New York was, in this regard, a social failure, concentrating so much on the aesthetic look of the design; it completely omitted its context and influence on the neighborhood. When studying the case of Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve in Singapore, we can learn a lot from these
services. Of course, it allows for biodiversity to blossom, connecting the site with much bigger natural patterns such as migration bird paths; it also tries to sensitize people to the importance of nature though educational programs and tourism. A wetland in Yangon would encourage new ecological initiatives, help to bring down the temperature down during hot season, create new revenue models in the tourism industry, serve as a training center for schools interested in ecological practices, create a natural retention pond dealing with the flooding problem locally instead of pushing it away, propose a new vision for Yangon's development as a Green city.
2. How can we create wetlands into public amenities?
The pipeline can be seen as a storytelling machine, punctuated by special moments that relate the social and ecological urban context of Yangon. Connecting a wetland to the pipeline would include it into a much larger narrative, where passerby, community members, tourists, locals from other parts of the city would have access to. The wetland can practically allow such exposure and public engagement by providing ecological amenities. Wetlands clean water using natural processes, this service in an urban context can be affiliated with grey water disposal, public toilet, showers. A wetland can also be seen as a place of discovery and amusement, a sort of playground for kids where learning is done through playing. By building elevated walkways inside, the wetland becomes a park for the whole city to use.
3. Why does Yangon need to create public spaces?
Studying the urban development of Yangon, it seems that developers are forcing place-making in many neighborhoods of Yangon by pushing Western lifestyles into local neighborhoods. The construction of shopping centers such as Hledan Center, Myanmar Plaza, Junction City, and soon The Central are perfect examples of such standardization and capitalist intentions. These spaces do not allow for the common practices and activities of Yangon park goers such as picnicking, umbrella dating, playing guitar and singing, drinking beers, getting together in groups, playing Chin Lone and so on. These interactions are
impossible in shopping centers. Public spaces are crucial to the cities well-being, the milestone for creating links within the community and the civic center of a neighborhood. In Yangon, similarly to Beijing, roads are a very important part of a community's life with street vendors, vegetable markets, Mohingha shops that have in many cases been there for generations. All these places are now in jeopardy of relocation or even dismantlement; they are seen as obstructing the flow of cars in a highly congested city. This "cleaning up" of public space can also be seen as uniformization, breaking community practices to serve better efficiency. Public spaces are ever so crucial today to encourage car-free spaces in the motor vehicle lead urban layout.