Development and Urbanization
Although Urban Studies scholars have long been critical of the narrowly technical and linear approaches to planning and designing cities, the practice of urban design and planning, especially as disseminated through international aid and capacity building, remains trapped in mechanistic conceptions that dismiss lived complexity and self-organization. This is particularly evident in the technical training provided to so-called latecomer countries such as Myanmar. This paper will juxtapose the representations of Thingazar Chaung, a collection of seven wards along the Thingazar Creek in Mandalay, as presented by the JICA master plan and ADB-funded Future Cities Program, and self-represented by local residents and ethnographic research. This heuristic devise will show how top-down planning initiatives oversimplify the actual urban reality and how simplistic technical solutions fail to generate sustainable solutions. This line of argument is well known in urban studies of the global south but demands re-examination in Myanmar because the rush to modernize has left little time or space to question the pre-packaged solutions provided by international experts. Through this comparison, we will argue that the framework of globalized urban planning has failed to recognize the importance of the village in Myanmar’s cities. That is, Myanmar’s cities can be conceived of collections of villages centred around Buddhist monasteries and those monasteries exert significant influence on the socio-religious practices and physical forms of the surrounding settlements. This recognition of the socio-spatial form of Myanmar’s cities is particularly critical today as the country struggles with its historical ethnic and religious diversity.