An ongoing trend towards urbanization may increase property value near the few public spaces in Phnom Penh significantly.
The dusty strip of land behind the Hotel Cambodiana parking lot doesn’t look like the most inspiring place to spend a Sunday afternoon. However this is soon due to change: two NGOs, Building Trust International and Skateistan Cambodia, have joined forces with the government to turn the area into Cambodia’s first public skate park.
“Due to the lack of public space in Phnom Penh, we want to create a dynamic place for people of all ages,” says David Cole, director of Building Trust International. “[The development will] hold a multitude of functions for people to share workout spaces with dog walkers and synchronised dancers.”
“This shaped our original brief for a straightforward skate park into a landscape of tilted planes, sculptural planters and seating areas that can be skated, but also admired and interacted with by other users,” says Cole. Running parallel to an extended riverside walkway, the proposed Mekong Skatepark also has a commercial element to its design, with space allocated for possible cafés or restaurants overlooking the park and the river covering 1,700 square metres of land in total.
Places like the skate park aren’t just a pleasant addition to a city. According to UN Habitat, public spaces are a “connective matrix on which healthy and prosperous cities must grow...well-designed and maintained streets and public spaces can help lower rates of crime and violence and make space for formal and informal economic activities.”
Chris Hobden, a surveyor with CBRE Cambodia, believes that this desire for outdoor spaces is a factor that is fuelling Phnom Penh’s condominium and gated community growth. According to CBRE, market supply for such developments will increase by 533 per cent from early 2015 by the end of 2018.
“The gated communities have well thought-out master plans that balance green space with built-up areas,” Hobden says. Although proximity to schools and building service provisions are what he has seen as being the most sought after commodity on the property market, he recognises that Southeast Asia is responding to an increasing desire for green space.
Although precise figures for direct value added are difficult to calculate, Hobden says that “generally, public space that serves a practical function or is visually pleasing can enhance the value of property in close proximity to it, providing its use doesn’t result in adverse noise or congestion.” This is especially true for Bangkok, where high rises with a view over Lumphini Park command premium prices.
“Areas with access to public space are attracting investors. As Phnom Penh expands outwards, I believe that more provisions will be made for natural spaces, especially considering the huge growth in condominium construction,” he says.
But can small, urban projects like the Mekong Skatepark draw investors back into the city centre?
“Urban community focused projects, when done well, clearly add to the overall appeal and viability of city living. This can, in turn, play a role in attracting investment.” says Hobden.
“Last year, the official Olympic committee and the Ministry of Sport made skateboarding an official sport in Cambodia. It’s a growing, popular sport and it’s great that people will have a place to practice,” Lauren Della Marta, communications and development officer at Skateistan said.
Residents nearby also expressed optimism towards the benefits of the proposed skate park. “I think it’s a good thing that the kids in the area will have something to do,” says Touch Sam, owner of the Blue 7 Spa, located across the road from the Hotel Cambodiana. “Many other countries have things like this. It’s time for Cambodia to have them too.”
“I think it’s good for the neighbourhood, because it’s free and the kids will love it,” agreed Leang Sopich who lives with her family nearby the proposed skate park site. “Public space is important so that people can exercise, although I wouldn’t necessarily pay higher rent to live nearer to it”.
Although the project has received government approval, there are no dates for construction on the skate park to start or a projected opening date. The government is providing funding for the surface area but Skateistan will still have to fundraise to pay for the skateable features. For Skateistan’s Della Marta, the hurdles will be worth it.
“Over the last three years, skating has become big amongst the Khmer youth. As with many developing cities, there’s not that much public space, especially for older and younger people,” she says. It may be a small step, but it seems like the Mekong Skatepark may be a sign of Phnom Penh’s increasing dedication to public space.