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Amid Its Aging Public Spaces, Yangon Just Opened a Community Skate Park

If you had to pick any Southeast Asian country to house a public skate park, Myanmar might not be your first guess. In Yangon, its biggest city, horse-drawn carts still travel the betel-stained streets and ancient landmarks like Shwedagon Pagoda loom large in the background.

But despite its traditional ways, the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC) and nonprofit Pushing Myanmar recently managed to open a community skate park that's free of charge and open to the public, reports Frontier Myanmar.

Last month, thanks to a US$21,000 crowdfunding campaign, 30 volunteer skaters from 15 different countries were able to build the 400-square-meter skate park over three weeks. Pushing Myanmar, the local arm of German NGO Make Life Skate Life, worked with the YCDC to secure a location for the park, which gives young Burmese a safe place to skateboard. If you're wondering how much demand a Yangon skate park can have, Myanmar's population statistics show promise in developing young skaters: nearly 30% of the country's population are under the age of 15, according to Newsweek.

The city actually had a similar space in the 1990s, however it was torn down by a private company in 2012.

This is a victory for urban green space in Yangon, where the ratio of public park space is 0.37 square meters to a single resident – among the lowest in the world – however it's not all good news for the city. Commercial development continues to threaten the city's aging public parks, which are still heavily used despite their deteriorating state. 

For Yangon Heritage Trust director U Thant Myint-U, these public areas are an important part of Yangon's identity.

“Public spaces are exactly what makes a city a dynamic and exciting place to live, to see, meet and interact with local people,” he told Frontier Myanmar. “Once people pass a certain threshold in income, happiness often comes from other things, and enjoying life in a beautiful city is one of them.”

“Wide and clean pavements, parks and other green spaces, accessible waterfronts, areas for recreation and sports, all of these things are vital to people’s health and happiness,” he continued. “Creating and maintaining public spaces should be at the very center of any urban planning policy for Yangon.”

Though many development projects seem to be nothing more than whispers at the moment, local residents are concerned for the fate of their beloved outdoor spaces. Still, it remains to be seen how YCDC, the outfit responsible for managing Yangon's 58 public parks, will handle the city's rapid modernization.

[Photo via Make Life Skate Life]

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