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Naypyidaw, Naypyidaw, Burma

Friday 19 Sep 2008

Urban planning - Military Style

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New ‘Orwellian’ capital built on foundations of famine and poverty 

Burma is building a new capital. While millions of its inhabitants are still reeling from the after effects of Cyclone Nargis and the ensuing massive rise in food prices, the military government, led by dictator Than Shwe, is building a vast new city. But all is not as it seems.

Welcome to Naypyidaw, one the world’s most bizarre exercises in urban design in modern times.

A new ‘Soviet Style’ city hall will dominate the centre of the new capital which is closed to westerners. The opulent city, founded only in late 2005, will be home mainly to government officials. There are no international flights and foreigners are banned. For good reason: The estimated build cost of £2.7 billion has been funded by trade in ruby, teak and opium and offers its residents untold luxuries (relative) including 24 hour power (unheard of in Burma), exclusive villas, three golf courses and a zoo.

As you approach Naypyidaw, loosely translated as ‘abode of kings’, dusty trails turn into vast, 12 lane highways, all deserted bar the odd horse drawn trailer or a speeding convoy of blacked-out limos heading for the rumoured network of luxury houses built for Than Shwe and his junta of top generals. Reportedly locked in a closely guarded secret quarter, the exclusive villas form an essential part their opulent lifestyle including golf, gambling and much more.

Some 1,500 new blocks of apartments sprawl across the city, and in true Orwellian style, these are colour-coded depending on which government department the residents work for. Blue for health, green for agriculture and irrigation etc.

Some are clearly more equal than others.

Michael Hammond

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