Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambang will struggle to attain smart city status without adopting far reaching master plans, according to officials tasked with implementing the program.
The brainchild of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), the smart city program seeks to link up to 26 regional hubs by getting them to work together towards a common goal of sustainable urban development enabled by technology.
But professor Tous Saphoeun, an architecture professor who also works with the Cambodia Ministry of Land Management, Urban planning and Construction, believes the program is easier said than done, and that current thinking was based on upgrading parts of a city rather than the city as a whole.
“It requires a comprehensive master plan for the whole city, not just for a few satellite cities,” he said.
The Asean Smart Cities Network (ASCN) was proposed by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and approved by all members at the 32nd Asean Summit last month. According to the charter, ASCN is seen as a collaborative platform between up to three cities from each member state, including its capital.
“Asean countries recognise that technological and digital solutions can be utilised to resolve the implications of rapid urbanisation such as city congestion, water and air quality, poverty, rising inequalities, urban-rural divide, and citizen security and safety,” it says.
Some developers in Phnom Penh have been building to smart city specifications even before the Asean initiative came along – for example the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation’s Chroy Changvar satellite city.
“Our project is being developed based on the smart city concept to ensure sustainable and economical development,” said Touch Samnang, deputy director of OCIC.
“We have been working on a number of infrastructure developments such as street lighting controlled by computer, CCTV camera systems and underground electrical systems.
“Moreover, the ministry of environment has come and supervised our project in order to ensure that there will be no negative impact.”
As the largest and fastest-growing city in Cambodia, Phnom Penh is yet to introduce any regulations that will put it on the path to smart city status, said professor Saphoeun.
“In Phnom Penh, some residential and industrial areas are developed in the same place, with factories built next to schools and homes,” he said. “Lakes and rivers are mostly filled for commercial purposes without considering future negative impact.”
By 2030, almost 8 million people are expected to be living in urban areas, and most of them will flock to Phnom Penh city.
“Population growth in urban areas requires access to basic services and infrastructure laid out by zoning regulations in an urban master plan otherwise, the quality of life and efficiency of the city will decrease along with continuous urban development,” said Saphoeun.
“For example, the lakes and rivers which used to store the rain water during wet seasons are being filled in for development projects. The growing urban population will put more pressure on where to store water and this will leave the city susceptible to constant flooding.”
Saphoeun said two master plans existed for Phnom Penh, but neither had yet been adopted.
“In fact, the proposed master plans only cover big areas with no details for smaller areas. This usually creates a problem between people and officials. After people built houses in particular areas, they end up in conflict with officials.
“The Phnom Penh city master plan needs highly qualified technicians to work on it and must be for both the short and long term.
“For example, if we want to develop a particular suburban area into an industrial or commercial space, there is no infrastructure in place to support it. Each area must be clearly defined as residential, commercial or industrial, which will maximise opportunities in the city and encourage growth that will support better living.”