The grass is never greener: As Phnom Penh booms, green spaces are cut back

As Phnom Penh’s construction sector booms, communities suffer as public recreational areas are sacrificed for never-ending new developments. In an economic environment where money trumps all, who will preserve vital green spaces for the capital's residents?

If you study a satellite image of Phnom Penh closely, you will see a dizzying swirl of grey and brown blocks – a sign of the capital’s sprawling multi-billion dollar development boom industry. If you squint, you may also find a few scattered blocks of green, highlighting a critical gap in urban planning: Phnom Penh’s shrinking urban green spaces (UGS).

According to the World Health Organisation, every city should provide its citizens with at least 9 square metres of UGS per capita to contribute to the health, happiness and wellbeing of communities. In stark contrast, the Global Green Growth Institute estimates that Phnom Penh currently offers 1.1 square metres per capita.

When asked about Phnom Penh’s lack of green spaces, Phnom Penh-based, UK landscape designer Simon Johnson attributed this to Cambodia’s unprecedented development rate. “As one of the fastest growing countries in the world, Cambodia has seen a lot of urban development – but it’s very divided development. One of the things that’s been sacrificed for this speed of growth is urban green space, and the importance this has for the population.”

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