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Developing an urban identity

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Conference to examine Siem Reap's rapid urbanisation

Photo by: Peter Olszewski

Philippe Peycam calls for official recognition of Siem Reap as a city.

DR Philippe Peycam, director of the Centre for Khmer Studies, is tackling the challenges posed by increased development of Siem Reap by facilitating a conference entitled Siem Reap: Urbanisation in the Shadow of Angkor.

The conference, on October 26-29, will draw scholars, business people and government officials to help find solutions on how best to govern this unique area.

Peycam has been involved in the centre, which is both a  registered NGO and a non-profit organisation in the US, since its creation eight years ago.  Originally from France, Peycam received his PhD in Southeast Asian political history from the University of London.  "I did my study on the dearth of an urban-based political culture in the context of the colonial period in Saigon.  I am passionately interested in the urban factor, so, I really believe in this conference."

One of the major challenges is the lack of a clear authority governing Siem Reap.  The absence of clear administrative mandates is, in Peycam's opinion, due to Siem Reap not having been declared its own municipality.

"Siem Reap is the third-largest city in Cambodia and the fastest growing city.  It's time for Siem Reap to be taken as a city in its own right," he said.

Another obstacle for Siem Reap, and a focus of the conference, is Siem Reap's identity as a town centred only around tourism.

Not just a tourist town

"There is enormous potential in terms of education, schools and institutes that could impact the local economy.  Siem Reap can use the prestige associated with the presence of Angkor and go beyond the boundaries of Angkor," he said.

"We need to consider who lives here, and how much we should cater to local inhabitants versus preserving Siem Reap as a tourist town."

"As Siem Reap grows, we have a presence of middle-class Cambodians and a foreign presence that is not just comprised of archaeologists and tourists.  So there is a need for recognition of Siem Reap as an independent entity.

"We need to take development, zoning and conservation into consideration.  We need to approach Siem Reap on its own terms, as an organic body of human activities."

Peycam hopes the conference facilitates discussions that allow experts to come up with recommendations and solutions for how to approach the increasing urbanisation.   

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