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A view of the pool and treehouse. The outdoor playground is free, while for $3 kids can use the pool. Eliah Lillis

Carving out an ‘Urban Space’ for kids and parents

With outdoor space for children at a premium, Urban Space Playground offers an oasis in Tuol Kork and a lifeline to tired parents.

Raising three young children in Phnom Penh, Pagna Young encountered a problem familiar to all parents in the capital: a shortage of outdoor spaces to let his kids run free. So he and John Vu, a German friend and parent, decided to do something about it.

In just half a year, they built an urban paradise for children, decked out with a pool, trampoline, tree house, suspension bridge, mini climbing wall and much more over its more than 2,000 square metres.

Best of all, Urban Space Playground and Cafe, which opened in January, is also a haven for adults who can let their kids roam free while enjoying a full bar and surprisingly good food.

“Most of our kids only stay in schools or air-conditioned rooms. They don’t have fresh air or things like this,” Young says. “Initially we just did it because we have small kids, and we didn’t know where to bring them, so we designed this and suddenly a lot of people are coming.”

The space Young and Vu created is meticulously thought out. Each activity and room, like a classroom that will hold Montessori after-school programs and an elevated library made from reclaimed wood that overlooks the pool, has a specific educational goal.

In one hallway is a mesh net that overlooks a small drop to the floor below. The kids are encouraged to overcome their fears of heights by climbing on it. And in the indoor playroom, the toys which are all made from wood for environmental and hygiene reasons are rotated out weekly so that returning kids don’t get bored. Supervisors oversee the children at all times to ensure safety.

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A child plays with toy cars in the indoor playroom. Eliah Lillis

As part of the décor, throughout the two-storey building are inspirational quotes from people like AA Milne and Walt Disney. And in the restaurant, an artist has written in big block letters: “Don’t grow up. It’s a trap.”

While adults may have to fight the urge to jump in the pool, which at just 0.7 metres they might find disappointing, or onto the trampoline, they will be pleased with the food. Urban Space has two chefs one from Hotel Cambodiana doing Western food and another from Thailand and a massive menu.

For those who can handle spice, the Penang Stir-fry ($5.50) features a refreshing mix of green beans, local eggplant and peas. And the mixed plate of Australian steak, salmon filet, prawns and garden potatoes ($15.50) is a hearty and shareable option.

On the alcohol front, cocktails are just under $4 and glasses of French Merlot are just $3.50, with all drinks two-for-one from 4-7pm.

Already, Young and Vu are scoping out places to expand to, with their sights set on Boeung Keng Kang I and Siem Reap. That could be good news for parents who live on the other side of town from Tuol Kork.

For Young, who founded Western International School after moving back to his native Cambodia from Vancouver, the selling points are obvious.

“The kids can play and the parents can sit down and have some wine and make sure they have good food, good drinks and good service,” he said.

Urban Space is located at #19 Street 287 in Tuol Kork. It is open every day from 7am-9pm.

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