Phnom Penh Fares Poorly in Livability Index

Phnom Penh is one of the least-livable cities in the world, but has also seen relatively strong improvement in quality of life over the past five years, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual Global Livability Ranking released this month has found.

The analysis of 140 cities, which considers factors of stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure, ranked the capital the world’s 126th most livable metropolis.

With a score of 51.4 out of a possible 100, Phnom Penh fared somewhat better than last-place finishers Damascus and Dhaka, but also trailed far behind top-ranked Mel­bourne, Vienna and Vancouver. The report describes cities scoring between 50 and 60 as having “substantially constrained” livability, and suggests companies pay personnel working on such cities a 15 percent premium on wages.

However, Phnom Penh’s score has improved 1.6 percent over the past five years; only nine other cities advanced further. This occurred despite a negative trend in average livability globally over the same time period, with only thirty cities becoming more livable since 2008.

While the gains have been modest, recent changes—not all within the report’s scope—have attracted foreign businesspeople and jobseekers.

“The [first thing] they look for is accommodation, and that’s improved to no end,” said Matt Rendall, a managing partner with Sciaroni Associates, who specializes in real estate. He cited improved roads and better options for schooling and food as other factors luring people from abroad.

“One area we’re still lacking when talking to investors is medical; most people still opt to go overseas for treatment,” he added.

Admittedly, Phnom Penh is straining to improve livability for a population that has doubled since 1998, and in some areas appears to be backtracking. It continues to lack a sewage treatment plant, a reliable electrical grid and a public transit system. There is also no major park in the city and pedestrians find it difficult to walk places due to a lack of passable sidewalks.

The absence of a vision for sustainable development even prompted Cambodia’s preeminent architect, Vann Molyvann, to endorse the opposition CNRP this summer. “[E]verybody is taking land and selling it to foreigners and they are now creating huge skyscrapers without a plan,” he said in June.

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