Concerns over long term impact of ‘pragmatic’ approach to urbanisation in Cambodia’s secondary cities

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The Urban Initiative has released a new report entitled ‘Growing Pains: Urbanisation and Informal Settlements in Cambodia’s Secondary Cities’.

While Phnom Penh continues to consolidate its role as the primary city of Cambodia, the country’s secondary cities are continuing to act and expand as regional centres in their own right. ‘Growing Pains’ takes a snapshot look at how urbanisation is impacting  three of these cities – Sihanoukville, Battambang, and Siem Reap – and, in particular, their urban poor settlements.

The study finds the three cities in the midst of growth and expansion. At the core of this growth are very distinct economic drivers for each city – Sihanoukville has its port and tourism, Battambang has a strong provincial agricultural base, while growth in Siem Reap, home to the Angkor Temples, is driven by tourism.

‘Growth in Cambodia’s secondary cities has brought undisputed benefits including significant improvements to infrastructure in the past two decades,’ said the report’s author, Hallam Goad. ‘However, what we are witnessing is a “pragmatic” approach to urban planning which allows for expansion on a largely ad hoc basis but with no overarching vision or master plan. It’s an approach which in the longer term will leave these cities with major infrastructure headaches and most significantly, a lack of readability and identity.’

Alongside impressive growth these cities are hence also witnessing many of the problems associated with urbanisation in developing countries, albeit at a less intense rate. In particular, the urban poor continue to be marginalised with limited access to health, education and most significantly, to tenure security. Despite playing key roles in enabling the impressive growth of the cities, the urban poor continue to be viewed as ‘unsightly’ and ‘illegal’, and removal of their homes and shelters has been carried out sporadically over the past twenty years.

‘The good news is that urban poor settlements in the three cities are of a very manageable size – nowhere near the large volumes facing municipal authorities in regional secondary cities such as Bangalore and Yogyakarta,’ said Nora Lindstrom, Project Manager at The Urban Initiative. ‘As such, equitable, and notably legal, solutions for urban poor settlements are eminently achievable if only the political will can be found.’

Intended as a starting point for further research, ‘Growing Pains’ highlights the need for a better understanding of the dynamics – economic, environmental, social, political – of urbanisation in Cambodia’s secondary cities to guide their future development. The study’s conclusion – that growth in each of the cities can be managed and issues facing the urban poor can be solved in an equitable fashion – calls on all stakeholders in urban development to redouble their efforts to support the sustainable development of Sihanoukville, Battambang, and Siem Reap.

About The Urban Initiative

The Urban Initiative (The UI) is the policy and research arm of local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT). The UI works with highly qualified consultants from around the world to bring light to the latest developments in the Cambodian urban sector.

STT is a Cambodian organization founded in 2005 and registered with the Ministry of Interior in 2006. STT’s vision is a society in which urban inhabitants enjoy adequate housing within a sustainably developing city. Its mission is to provide pro-poor technical assistance for housing and infrastructure and to inform dialogue and raise awareness about urban issues.

The report can be accessed here: Growing Pains



Nora Lindstrom (Eng)

+855 15 552 805

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