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Accepted Paper:

Making heritage, producing people: the heritagization of Yangon   
Felix Girke (HTWG Konstanz and Allegra Lab)

Paper short abstract:

The heritagezation of Yangon’s downtown is intensifying. Heritage actors increasingly work on persuading the residents that the city’s “urban heritage” is valuable - specifically its colonial architecture. This communicative process produces not only “heritage”, but also a new kind of residents.

Paper long abstract:

Yangon has become known as an unmatched repository of colonial architecture. Long isolation delayed wholesale modernization, and the government's move to Naypyidaw has removed functionality from the state-owned, most spectacular of the "heritage" buildings, reminders of an ambivalent past.

Tourists and investors required little convincing, but efforts to persuade the inhabitants of Yangon to appreciate the cityscape for its aesthetics, historicity, liveability, economic potential, and "heritage value" are only now intensifying. The military government considered colonial architecture symbolically problematic, unfit for a modern and independent state; residents saw little worth preserving in privately owned colonial buildings. Without popular support, much will be lost soon.

This presentation discusses interventions that stimulate an understanding and appreciation of "heritage" in a context where the very idea is not yet well-established: the global notion of "urban heritage" remains underdetermined, little understood, and foreign. The focus on such persuasive activities bridges the divide between top-down declarations and bottom-up resistance by highlighting the necessary conditions for true participation by the residents.

The case of Yangon will provide both the test case and eventually the blue print for similar processes in other Myanmar cities: to firmly establish "urban heritage" as desirable, valuable, and unproblematic there will have a significant effect on many other sites.

For Yangon's residents this means that they are not only subject to the translations of a global discourse into local terms: they themselves are to be the products of the intensifying heritageization - a new kind of resident, with a new set of sensibilities.

Panel P096
Urban revitalization through heritagization: collaboration, resistance and the right to the city
  Session 1