Phnom Penh Development – Van Molyvann

Phnom Penh

Source: Molyvann, Vann. Modern Khmer Cities. Phnom Penh, Cambodia : Reyum ; [Chicago, IL?] : Sales and distribution, USA, Art Media Resources, c2003.


“The development of Phnom Penh today offers us a choice. We can either continue along the present path in which a form of laisser faire development responds to immediate needs and desires, or we can plan for a controlled development in which needs are anticipated and future requirements of growing populations are considered and prepared for.”

“For at least the next decade or two, Phnom Penh must cope with extremely rapid population growth. It is not an easy task to transform a city originally designed to house only about half a million inhabitants into a city capable of holding two to three million inhabitants. Planning for rapid population growth is not simply a question of building adequate accommodations for expected surplus populations. Rather one must create the foundations for an urban economy which can support such populations. Such an urban economy must in turn be linked to larger Southeast Asian economy as a whole”

“The major environmental constraints on the city of Phnom Penh are flooding and drainage. The history of Phnom Penh’s expansion is, in a sense, a hydraulic history. The city expanded by the construction of dikes which extended away from the colonial center of the city on the banks of the Tonle Sap River. The process of building dikes and then filling in their interiors was repeated several times, creating a series of concentric arcs on which the major boulevards of the city run today: Preah Sihanouk Boulevard, Monivong Boulevard, Mao Tse Tung Boulevard are all built on dikes.

(A levee, levée, dike (or dyke), embankment, floodbank or stopbank is an elongate naturally occurring ridge or artificially constructed fillor wall, which regulate water levels. It is usually earthen and often parallel to the course of a river in its floodplain or along low-lying coastlines.)

Phnom Penh Zones

“The concentric arc of each successive dike encircled larger and larger areas which then become urbanized. Today the four central city districts (Chamkar Mon, Daun Penh, Prampel Makara, Tuol Kork) like within the interior of these dikes, and the last diked arc defines the limits of the city. Surface water running of in a southwest direction is channeled through drains and sluices to areas outside of these dikes.; water accumulating along the dikes during the rain season must be pumped out and discharged into a network of beng (ponds) and prek (canals) outside the city.

Pumping Stations

It is not possible to continue expanding the city through the building of ever larger concentric dikes, filling in the interceding space to provide new areas for urbanization. Such a method of expansion requires too massive and costly public works projects, and will aslo destroy the natural drainage systems remaining around the city today. It is therefore necessary to develop a new approach to the expansion of Phnom Penh. This new plan must respect the natural environments while recognizing that large area of water, serving as storage reservoirs, will be an integral and attractive part of the future urban landscape.

Drainage Region

The environmental implications of urban extension, particularly in terms of the quality of water supply and the possibilities of managed drainage, have not yet been studied in detail and no comprehensive strategy has been developed to cope with the growth of Phnom Penh. Over the last decade, the city has grown rapidly and haphazardly spreading in tentacle like extensions up to twenty kilometers to the north, the west and the south. The real question posed for future development is how to manage growth while safeguarding the environment. Successful solutions to this dilemma will depend more on measures which offer incentive to those who follows them, than on measures which penalize those who ignore them.”

Runoff Zones

“Over the last decade, a considerable effort has gone into rehabilitating the roads as well as the water supply, drainage, and electricity systems of Phnom Penh. These projects have been limited, however, to increasing the capacities of existing systems through rehabilitation and reconstruction. No plan has been implemented to address new infrastructure needs in the future zones of urban extension emerging outside of the dikes, even though these zones currently contain more than 40% of the city’s population (or about 400,000 people). The surprising number of new constructions springing up on the outskirts of Phnom Penh are connected to existing infrastructure networks in an ad hoc and organic fashion. These evolving unofficial networks of connection must be taken into consideration and incorporated into future planning. As the capital grows, present marginal areas will become central sections of the city. It will then be difficult and costly to repair their infrastructure and unify their various roads and service networks.”

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