Phnom Penh, vibrant, bustling capital of Cambodia, was our first stop in the land of the ancient Khmer empire. Coming from its neighbor Hô Chi Minh City, we quickly noticed some big differences between these two cities that could be explained by the history of the country. Phnom Penh is less populated, 1.5 against 12 million inhabitants, the urban modernization is slower and the economy seems to be less strong.
Nevertheless, this city seems to be a very dynamic environment for entrepreneurs. The cheap way of life and the administration ease make this city a good place to experiment and create business opportunities. A large international community is settled there.
It is in that context we met David Sweeting, founder of Urban Platform Studio. His company offer consultancy services and aims to create greater impact through social entrepreneurship to solve urban challenges and improve the lives of people. His office is located in Impact Hub Phnom Penh (site web). Impact Hub (site web) is one of the world’s largest networks focused on building entrepreneurial communities for impact at scale. Thus he can takes advantage of a dynamic group and inspiring interactions. His activity is today mainly focused on NGOs which does not have intern skills to develop and measure a positive impact of a project.
David explained us some particularities of Phnom Penh city. As an emerging city, lots of buildings appears quickly, often financed by Chinese people. This development goes too fast to implement in the same time adapted urban infrastructures. Therefore, deep contrasts appear in Phnom Penh's streets : Khmer lifestyle coexist now with big malls and high empty towers. Clear health, inequality reinforcement and mobility issues worry the government and local NGOs.
After meeting David, we were invited by Impact Hub Phnom Penh to attend a conference on: “Cities of the future” and assist to the launch of their new incubator on urban mobility. Government representatives, private sector and academics were there to debate about mass transport solutions. They clearly stated that urban mobility is an under appreciated challenge: AIDS kills less than road accidents especially in cities. Nevertheless, public policies have their place in high scale strategies in mass mobility, as shown by the efficient behavior change of Cambodian people about helmet carry.
That is why, for some cities, it is essential to maximize creativity and increase collaboration to make the mobility more accessible, sustainable, smarter and safer. As a striking example, the urban development in Manila (Philippines) brings congestion and pollution, at the point that people have to get up at 3 am because they have 5 hours traffic jam to get to work: worst traffic in the world. This situation is a real threat for the economy and their social model. Unfortunately, there is a tendency to just accept that situation in their daily life. The government tries to invest in mass transit and fight congestion. Their first experiences highlight the relevance of public private partnerships for this kind of investments because private sector is very dynamic.
Many private companies are convinced that the new urban mobility is closely linked with the digitization of the countries. One factor justified that : the smartphone penetration rate in many South Asian cities now overtakes 60%, and 90% of humanity will access to internet through their smartphones until 2025. Many people now get a smartphone but not credit card or bank account. That is why governments, like in Cambodia, begin to push the digitization of their economy. Some questions are today raised on these digital solutions and the development of smart cities, but still in preserving the integrity of their culture.
For more justice and equity, we need the city to be more inclusive, especially to poor people. We also might need to consider cities and urban areas as levers to empower a global change. May be the solutions to the world’s problem will come from places where they are needed the most, where people can see the problems from close. To face these challenges all stakeholders: authorities, organizations & businesses, have to interact and work together through innovative methods.