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Discussing development with architecture experts

As told to Tivea Koam
The experts:
Chris Landvogt
25-year-old land surveyor
Meas Kimseng
39-year-old architect
Paul Robinson
35-year-old architect & urban design lecturer at Royal University of Fine Arts

Every developing city has to consider moving people in order to build bigger and better modern buildings. There are many examples of this in Phnom Penh. How can developers balance the need to change the city with the impact on people who are forced to leave their homes?
Chris Landvogt – I don't think it is absolutely necessary to move people in order to modernize a city. There are many proven examples where housing upgrades and incorporating communities in the development planning stage have alleviated the need for resettlement. There are, however, many widely publicized examples in Phnom Penh where this has not occurred, and involuntary resettlement has been considered as the main plan for Phnom Penh to develop into a 'modern city'. I think this mindset needs to change ... government and developers need to work closelywith communities to ensure that the development is representative of what the people want, and any displaced families are compensated appropriately.

Meas Kimseng – We need to share????? ideas with each other so the development will benefit both people and developers. We need to share resources, solutions, and responsibility by working together. All sides have to participate and discuss issues and find solutions which can benefit everyone equally. After discussion, we will know what each side wants.

Paul Robinson – Developers are crucial for Phnom Penh’s growth and expansion. Urban development can become more balanced if the developer spends as much time as possible surveying and analysing the site before a project’s construction. This includes respecting the existing urban fabric, the residents who will be affected, the Khmer character of the city and the impact on the environment. So when the project is constructed the city can change with a positive impact.

The environment also needs to be considered in the changes being made in Phnom Penh. How do you think construction projects like the one on Boeung Kak Lake will impact Phnom Penh in the long term?

Paul Robinson – Projects like Boeng Kak Lake, Camko City, Diamond Island & Gold Tower 42 will ensure that Phnom Penh will look very different in 10 years time. The urban density will increase and buildings will become much taller. I think it could be an extremely interesting city, especially if the urban design takes the environment into account. The modern materials, on the next decade’s modern buildings, could be used to harness solar power, rain and flood water) or prevailing wind to improve the city’s environment and sustainability.

Chris Landvogt - There are problems already resulting from the changes to Boeung Kak Lake. Several communities have been suffering from severe flooding since the commencement of the project. The developers need be accountable for the environmental effects of their projects, it's in the interest of the Cambodian government to ensure that independent reports have been looked into, and the project results in minimal environmental impact. This will prevent costly reactive measures in 10 years time.

Meas Kimseng – It can have both positive and negative impact. Whatever we do, we need consultants. We have to conduct the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). We will then know to what degree it affects the environment. There will be an impact in the next 10 years, but we need to find solutions which which will affect the environment the least. If it shows that the degree of impact is high, we should not do any projects in that area. Most people [at Boeung Kak Lake] drain their sewage water to the lake, but when the lake is filled, it will flood so we need to study the flow of water in and out and [to find balance].

Electricity has historically been in short supply in Phnom Penh. How are city officials planning to supply the power needed to operate a modern building with elevators and hundreds of high-tech offices?
Meas Kimseng – We cannot stop the government from developing such buildings. Even the prime minister himself wants to see tall buildings rising in the country like other countries. People think that having tall building is a signal of development, but it does not nessesarily mean that. Tall buildings can block wind or light and reflect it back to other buildings. Also, there will be more people living in the city, so there will be traffic jams, higher demand for parking and people will have to travel further to work. Water and electricity consumption will also be major problems.

Chris Landvogt – I'm assuming the buildings will have their own generators to supplement grid power and cover blackouts. Considering that the buildings will slowly fill up, I don't think it's going to have a massive sudden drain on the power supply in Phnom Penh. It's like any other city in the world ... as it gets bigger, the need for power increases. I'm sure this is something the Cambodian government is considering.

Paul Robinson – As energy supplies struggle to keep up with modern development around the world, it is important to consider using natural energy sources for modern construction.

Do you think Phnom Penh is developing too fast? What can be done in the next few years to make sure development has a positive impact on everyone?
Paul Robinson – I think Phnom Penh is at a very exciting time in its lifecycle. The urban fabric is rapidly changing. Safer roads, houses and infrastructure are being constructed all the time. In the next few years, as Phnom Penh continues to grow, I hope that architects and urban designers practice good quality site analysis, environmental awareness, scheme design and building construction so future development can positively impact everyone.

Chris Landvogt – Obviously, cities develop with expanding populations and economic growth, and considering Phnom Penh is experiencing both of these at high levels, it's understandable that that city is developing quickly. There have been some interesting studies in the past suggesting directions which Phnom Penh should take in order to accommodate increasing business and population, whilst retaining the character of the city and providing public open space. The new planning policy drawn up by the Cambodian government attempts to give some direction to development, but I'm not sure if it's enough to ensure that everyone benefits. I'm particularly concerned by the proposed methods to deal with landless families in Phnom Penh.

Meas Kimseng – From 2007 to 2009, I think the development was rapidly increasing, but with the world [economic] crisis, development also slowed down. When development went too fast, we faced some problems. We could not examine thoroughly whether the construction was erected with appropriate standards and quality or not. Moreover, there is not enough environmental management like proper sewage systems. Due to the rapid development, we can see there are many problems with land conflicts. The private sector contributes to development through construction. We have to formulate a plan for the future and follow the plan until it is successful. For example, we make a basic plan of Phnom Penh and devote certain areas to certain types of projects. This zone is used for business, that zone is used for house building, that zone is used for agriculture development etc. No matter how much money you have, you cannot buy those zones for other uses. If we follow that plan it will lead to increased sustainability, but everyone needs to participate.

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