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.