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Open spaces ‘fail capital’s residents’

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Workers lay block paving on a sidewalk on the capital’s Norodom Boulevard on Wednesday. Pha Lina

Open spaces ‘fail capital’s residents’

Research from Cambodian urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) has found that Phnom Penh is failing a large number of its inhabitants by falling far below minimum UN standards for open public spaces.

SST warns that the situation “will have negative consequences” unless planners begin addressing the problem.

STT advisor Isaac Daniels said on Wednesday that the purpose of the research was to explore the inclusivity of Phnom Penh by looking at its public spaces.

“The findings begin to paint a picture of a city that is enjoyable for some, and less so for others."

This is most clearly illustrated in the difference between a borey [gated community] and poor urban settlements.

“People who live in a borey can often enjoy parks without leaving their neighbourhoods, but poor urban people must travel long distances to find parks or spaces to relax in or exercise,” he said.

The report said public space had many benefits and was a direct indicator of inclusivity.

“Streets, sidewalks and open spaces provide areas for exercise, engaging in the economy, and civic participation, such as protests or demonstrations,” the report said, adding that such spaces are found even less in poor areas of Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh Department of Public Works and Transportation director Saing Piseth, who was in charge of the sector, declined to comment, referring questions to city hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey, who said he did not have information on the sector.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Workers install paving slabs on a Phnom Penh sidewalk. Pha Lina

STT left three recommendations for the government, including improving existing-space – particularly parking areas – considering workability and bicycle lanes in future planning, improving current sidewalk design and prioritising public space development for the urban poor.

“This research should serve as a warning sign to Phnom Penh’s city planners. They are failing to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 11, and this will have negative consequences for the poor people of the city unless city planners begin to address it,” the STT said.

STT used indicator methodology outlined by The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) for indicator 11.7.1 of the SDGs, which measures “the average share of the built-up area of cities that is open space for public use for all, by sex, age and persons with disabilities”.

“Streets and sidewalks make up 14.26 per cent, which is not bad when compared to Bangkok (15.9 per cent) and Manila (15.2 per cent). But it is significantly below Singapore (21.6 per cent).

“The 2.10 per cent of open public space in Phnom Penh, such as parks, places to exercise, and places for civic participation, is well below the international standard of 10 per cent,” the report said.

It indicated that most open public space is found in the Khans (districts) in the heart of Phnom Penh – Daun Penh and Chamkar Mon.

“A 16.36 per cent is well below the average for a city like Phnom Penh, which should be aiming for 45 per cent,” the report said.

Borey, it said, had a good percentage of total public space at 24.7 per cent, but the report did not recommend such types of communities because of inaccessibility.

In December last year, the World Bank also released a study, “Urban development in Phnom Penh”, which covered various aspects of urban development.

World Bank communications officer Bou Saroeun on Wednesday said the findings in that study were still valid today.

The World Bank study said many sections of the central business district of Phnom Penh had relatively wide sidewalks ranging from two or three metres on local roads, to five meters on major roads.

“However, most of the sidewalks have largely been [converted into] parking and commercial [spots], and pedestrians are often forced to walk on the roadways,” the study found.

It said a lack of traffic law enforcement and regulation coupled with a lack of parking places contributed to the problem.

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