Urban Planners Offer Advice on Squatters

The next time the Phnom Penh municipal government razes a squatter settlement for a park or development, officials should consider a new tactic, experts said Tuesday.

Rather than trucking the squatters to new villages on the city’s outskirts, it would be cheaper to provide them with better housing near their former homes.

That’s the plan proposed for the Boeng Salang commune in Tuol Kok district, a marshy, waterlogged area on the city’s western edge that is home to at least 450 squatter families.

Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara and other officials listened Tuesday as architects and planners outlined a plan to redesign the area with parks, streets, and housing lots that won’t flood.

The presentation came at the city’s second seminar on urban management, development and rehabilitation policies, jointly organized by the city and Asia Urbs, a planning agency funded by the European Commission.

The Boeng Salang project was inspired by a Japan International Cooperation Agency project for area sewer and drainage work.

In recent years squatters have built shacks and walkways over the area’s natural waterways, polluting the water and risking flood damage when the water rises.

A JICA-designed canal will help control the waters, but planners say the shacks should go. They propose lining the canal with parklands that can absorb occasional overflow water without damage.

The squatters would be relocated to two new neighborhoods within the commune, on rebuilt land less likely to flood. Peter Swan of the UN Center for Hu­man Settlements said there are good reasons for shifting people as little as possible.

Among the reasons: it’s cheaper, people are more willing to cooperate, there is less job disruption, and they do not lose the network of friends and social services they depend on, he said.

Planners did not give the project’s cost or starting date, but noted that the city government would be expected to pick up some of the cost, along with UNCHS and JICA.

The seminar also reviewed a five-year plan to rehabilitate several downtown neighborhoods, including overhauls for Phsar Thmei and Phsar Kandal, the preservation of historic buildings near the main Post Office and the need for clear, workable property laws.

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