Lovichakorntikul, Petcharat and John Walsh, “Urban Change and Economic Transformation: The Case of Phnom Penh,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.4 (June, 2017), pp.40-6, available at: http://crcltd.org/images/Urban_Change_and_Economic_Transformation_The_Case_of_Phnom_Penh.PDF.
Abstract: Capital cities are required to fulfill some or all of a variety of functions: home of the monarchy, center of religious monuments, commercial and social center of the state. Yet Phnom Penh, historically, is rarely fulfilling any of these functions. The center of religious monuments and the legitimization this offered was located in Angkor, while the home of the monarchy was moved from place to place on a regular basis. When it did become established as the capital city, Phnom Penh passed through periods of transformation based on economic and commercial change rather than for political or legalistic reasons. Different ethnic communities lived next to each other in more or less harmony on the basis that they occupied different economic and occupation-based activities. This was managed by the colonizing French and, after a brief and somewhat decadent post-colonial period, Phnom Penh suffered its most debilitating changes
after the Communist revolution of 1975 brought the Maoist Khmer Rouge into power.
Antithetical to urban living and mostly manned by people who had never visited a large
conurbation, Phnom Penh was almost completely emptied as the city dwellers were forced into agricultural collectivization or imprisoned or forced into exile. Historical monuments, for example the Catholic Cathedral, were razed to the ground while others, Tuol Sleng notably, have become reconfigured as monuments for the genocide conducted in the city. After the Khmer Rouge were evicted by Vietnamese armed forces and the long and painful transition towards democracy commenced, the city returned to some form of life. Significant inflows of investment were sourced through transnational non-governmental organizations and government overseas development and assistance and that investment were aimed at both institutional improvement at the macro-social level and help for businesses and entrepreneurs often at the micro-social level (since large business corporations can be assumed to develop from association with government and social elites). Changes to the city, therefore, have been largely driven by commercial interests. Simultaneously, the real estate sector is booming and the government is planning large increases in the downtown areas. In some cases, this has featured the forcible relocation of slum dwellers to new areas far from the city. This paper investigates the nature and cause of changes in Phnom Penh over recent decades and seeks to explain what changes are likely to be seen in the future.
Keywords: Urban Change, Economic Developments, Culture, Commercial change, Phnom Penh