Friday, March 26, 2010

learning from Phnom Penh

This article from The National, an English-language paper from Abu Dhabi, offers a fascinating squatter history of the Cambodian capital. In the decade after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, the city developed on a self-built model--but over the last 20 years, more than ten percent of Phnom Penh's residents have been displaced.

Among the great points made by writer John Gravois:

1. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, "the Vietnamese made a bold, perhaps brilliant move: they rendered all prior property claims in the city null and void....Phnom Penh was opened up for settlement on a “first-come, first-serve” basis. All property still technically belonged to the state; real estate transactions were illegal. This period of “spontaneous resettlement” produced an otherworldly urban landscape. What qualified as a dwelling was left up to the imagination; the city essentially presented a set of containers and surfaces. And so, for example, more than 15,000 people across Phnom Penh still live on rooftops; the largest such settlement, called Bloc Tanpa, was home to more than 1,000 people, who lived in a dense shantytown atop a single apartment building until it was destroyed by a fire in 2002. The rooftop – located just a few blocks from the city’s Central Market – boasted its own local government, schools and a village square, all connected to the street below by a single dingy stairwell." Amazing: a squatter city, by design.

2. "For the urban poor, property takes a back seat to proximity." A vital point. People need to live close to where they can make money. Otherwise, the commute may cost more than the money they make.

3. "The current population of the Jakarta metropolitan area is larger than that of the world at the time of the French Revolution. A wave of humanity this large cannot be excluded forever, and the future of the developing world may depend on whether its cities make peace with the slums in their midst." A crucial truth: social and economic inclusion is key to the future of the world's cities.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mr. Neuwirth;

I would like to invite you to a conference organized by the US Department of State. Could you kindly contact me?

Regards
Mathew
mathejg@dni.gov

Student Groups for Social Justice Coalition (SGSJ) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cosanna said...

Dear Robert,

I am researcher with the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs looking at street traders in Lagos.

I was referred to you by Dr. Kate Meagher as someone who might be able to assist on a quick fact finding mission.

I know statistics here are notoriously difficult to find and rely on but I was wondering if you had any idea of the number of of people working in the informal sector in Lagos and/or the number of street traders in Lagos.

Any thoughts you might have would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks
Cosanna
cosanna.preston@gmail.com
Visiting Research Fellow
Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, Lagos

rn said...

Mie84 left a comment saying: Phnom Penh is vietnam,is it?

No Mie84, it's not Vietnam. But the Khmer Rouge were overthrown in 1979 by the Vietnamese Army. Vietnam took control of Cambodia between 1979 and 1989.

matproctor said...

Hi,

I am an English urban designer looking to move back to Phnom Penh later this year with a view to gaining experience in slum clearance and urban policy in the developing world, and I wondered if you would be able to pass on some contacts in Phnom Penh? I am looking for local professional work, local authority work, and NGO contacts.

Any help you may be able to offer would be gratefully appreciated.

Best regards

Mat Proctor

matproctor said...

Hi,

I am an English urban designer looking to move back to Phnom Penh later this year with a view to gaining experience of slum clearance strategies and urban policy in the developing world.

I was wondering if you might be able to pass on some contacts at local professional practices, municipal authorities, or urban-related NGOs?

Any help you may be able to offer would be gratefully appreciated.

Best regards

Mat Proctor

rn said...

Mat: I've got no direct contacts there, but let's open this up and see if anyone else does.