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Planning key to sustainable, urban living in Phnom Penh

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A group exercising at Independence Monument. Open outdoor spaces in urbanised cities have been proven to enhance quality of life. Photo supplied

Planning key to sustainable, urban living in Phnom Penh

Creating open, green spaces combined with adequate natural light and ventilation in new apartments are some of the key areas Phnom Penh needs to focus on when it comes to sustainable urban development.

Catherine Sherwin, an Australian urban planner and business lead with Phnom Penh-based development consultancy firm Agile Development Group, said there were some great things about Cambodia’s capital city, but noted the city was facing some challenges with regards to liveability.

“Phnom Penh is undergoing rapid urbanisation at the moment and certainly rapid high rise development,” Sherwin told Post Property.

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An apartment in Toul Tom Poung with windows close together. Photo supplied

“All the apartment buildings are getting built so close to each other, so there isn’t much natural light or natural ventilation.

“The mental health and well being of those people living in those spaces with not much natural light is diminished which is why it’s important to have those outdoor areas for people,” she added.

Sherwin, who recently visited Phnom Penh as part of her consultancy work with Agile Development Group, said she had observed a lack of forward planning and unified thinking when it comes to Phnom Penh’s urbanisation.

“There’s no sort of future planning really, it’s just about me and my block and what I can do with it,” she said, also noting that a desire for cars as a mode of transport added another layer of difficulty.

“The use of cars is starting to increase and that’s a worry because that will increase the traffic congestion. My prediction is that it is going to get worse by the looks of it,” she said.

Amid Phnom Penh’s increasingly urbanisation, Sherwin said the city could look further afield to other high density cities which have achieved a good balance of sustainable development and liveability.

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Catherine Sherwin. Photo supplied

“For Cambodia, it’s good to look at Singapore and Hong Kong in terms of how they have developed liveable cities,” she said.

“They have more good public open spaces where Phnom Penh only really has Riverside and Independence monument and everyone else is forced to play on the street.” Looking ahead, Sherwin said community discussion and grassroots movements can go a long way to instigating positive change.

“At the end of the day it is all about collaboration,” she said.

“There are some really great initiatives around the world and some of those have come from one or two people in the community and it has gained traction and resulted in something,” Sherwin said, referencing the High Line in New York City, once a central railroad that was redesigned into a linear park.

According to Sherwin, while community initiatives and lobbying the government are crucial when it comes to planning for Phnom Penh’s future, she said the difficulty was that currently there is no overarching plan or strategy for the city.

“I think it would be great to have a city plan,” Sherwin said. “If there is a city plan we can look at it from an overall prospective not from a micro ‘what’s in my street and neighbourhood’.”

Sherwin also urged the government to introduce guidelines on apartment design, which should include parameters around natural light and ventilation as part of sustainable urban living.

“There needs to be guidelines because if they aren’t provided people will just provide the minimum [standards],” she said.

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