Between Mobility and Immobility


Between Mobility and Immobility: Traffic and Public Space in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Thomas Kolnberger

From a Moto


“The city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a particularly interesting case study metropolis for an urban structure reformation process. The Pol Pot-regime forcefully evicted Cambodia’s urban population in 1975, leaving the capital a ‘ghost-city’ for years. Phnom Penh had then to reboot its urban life after the Vietnamese expulsed the Khmer Rouge from the city in 1979. For nearly three decades, urban space has been reorganised mainly as a self-organised process by the neo-city dwellers. The widely open use of public space as a multiple purpose surface for transportation, economic activities or as a place for leisure has recently become contested by the state authorities. Buildings and road systems are the material basis of a city. Constructional arrangements constitute spaces and regulate or limit their use. Accordingly, public space is a hybrid of built and mobile environments with fluid social delineation and fluctuating official allocation. On the basis of historical evidence, states around the world have eagerly assigned themselves the role of arbiter regarding these contested areas in-between the private and the public sphere since the ‘age of modernisation’. The (re)rise of state power in Cambodia gives an example of reshuffling urban space and demarcating it in separate spheres by traffic regulations which are implicitly performative and demonstrative acts. This paper is based on participatory observation, interviews with policy makers of the Municipality of Phnom Penh (MPP) and various inhabitants of the capital.
Key Words: Phnom Penh; traffic; transportation; public space
[Submitted as Scientific Paper: 10 September 2011,
revised paper received and accepted: 17 November 2011]”


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