There are several reasons why the current practice of transferring ownership of public buildings to private individuals is not a good idea.
The most important are the obvious lack of transparency, which means the citizenry have no say in these very important transactions, and the lack of an open bidding process, which suggests that the government could be losing a lot of potential income.
An additional loss to the city is the open space that almost always accompanies old-style public buildings.
In a city that is extremely lacking in parks, those public facilities in their spacious campus settings could provide sorely needed green space.
Instead, many are being filled up with high-density uses and thus progressively eroding the city’s livability.
As far as I know, no significant park space has been added to the city’s inventory since colonial times, though its population has tripled. In fact, just the opposite: Significant former or potential park space has been or is now being converted to development.
The former public space at the tip of the Chroy Changvar peninsula could have made for a spectacular public park. Likewise, Boeung Kak Lake had great potential – back in the 1960s, one could rent rowboats to enjoy the water.
In some cases, the Hotel Renakse, for instance, important historic buildings are being lost. New buildings are a dime a dozen and everywhere; old ones are rare and irreplaceable.
Every important historic building should be cherished and protected as living examples of the city’s past.
Then there is the matter of relocating public services to the edge of town.
This causes many people to travel much further to access services, thus adding to the city’s total traffic load.
It also adds to the time and the hassle of taking care of public business for many residents.
It is an especial hardship to travel so far for low-income people who have to pay dearly for motorbike transportation.
Finally, there is a lack of control or oversight over what is being built on some of the most important parcels of land in the city.
The former T3 prison site at the corner of Street 154 and Street 13 is a perfect example of how not to develop a city.
A space so centrally located and valuable could have been the subject of an international design competition and been developed into a signature and spectacular addition to Phnom Penh.
It is so large that it could have easily included public space among many buildings.
Instead, it has become a collection of parking lots, repair shops and trashy nondescript buildings. Phnom Penh deserves better.
Citizen input could have made a big difference to the outcome of this sell-off of public property, but is nowhere to be found. That is to everyone’s loss, except only the few at the heart of these important decisions.