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type of New Town:
> scale of autonomy
CamKo City is a striking example of regional power and financial exchange. The new town, located just north of Phnom Penh, is wholly funded by a South Korean Bank. The town is designed and constructed by Koreans, and will eventually house Cambodia’s first stock exchange (also constructed with Korean consultants).
CamKo City is an urban development project within the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh; located just on the outskirts of its northern part, in the Russei Kaew District. The project comes under a larger strategy under the terms of the Phnom Penh Master plan 2020, helping redistribute the growing population and reduce congestion. This initiative was put in place by the municipality of Phnom Penh since 2005.
This 119 ha development is the municipality’s test case for a series of upcoming satellite city projects, such as Grand Phnom Penh International City, Diamond Island, or the Boeung Kak Lake development, situated around the capital.
CamKo City is a comparatively small new town for 35,000 inhabitants, but it is being marketed as a ‘world-class’ urban environment with technologies such as a reliable water supply, stable electrical system, high-speed telecommunications lines and electronic security systems—amenities that are largely unavailable in Cambodia. While Phnom Penh slowly decays, CamKo is presented as a clean, modern alternative for the capital’s financial and political elite.
Even though this new development is marked as the new city, technically, it does not have an autonomous local government – in fact, Phnom Pench City Hall will be moved to the centre, and moreover its location on the edge of an existing metropolis might also invite doubt about its new town status. However, the development is planned and constructed from a single master plan, and envisioned as a semi-autonomous enclave.
CamKo City or also Cambodia-Korea City represents a unique merging of two countries. Geographically, Cambodia is home to the new town, and the development has the blessings of both local and national governments. Financially, however, CamKo is the largest single foreign investment made to date. The new town is funded by Korean investors, and built with the expertise (and materials) of Korean construction companies.
South Korea and Cambodia has had a very intimate relationship since 1997, when they restored diplomatic ties. Among others, during the late 1990s, Koreans invested heavily in Cambodia’s garment production, helping the country develop the industry that now accounts for 80% of Cambodia’s export economy.
In 2010, South Korea overtook China to become the kingdom’s single largest foreign investor. Between 2001 and 2009, the South Korean government invested more than $265 million, and in 2010 this investment skyrocketed to $1 billion.
The South Korean influence has become so strong that young Cambodians learn the Korean language in order to be able to do business with visiting businessmen and women – almost 250,000 Koreans coming to the country each year. In 2007 the Royal University of Phnom Penh opened its own Korean Department to cater to the growing interest in Hanguk (other term for South Korea) culture; and in early 2010 the Cambodian government even went so far as to outlaw marriage between Cambodian women and South Korean men, citing fears of human trafficking and exploitation.
Although Phnom Penh is now a bustling metropolis, the city was completely emptied for almost five years during the reign of the Khmer Rouge (the Communist Party of Kampuchea) led by Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot. More than two million citizens had been forcibly removed to the surrounding rural areas to work in the agricultural sector. Millions of Cambodians were sent out of the cities into labour camps and ‘utopian’ agrarian villages under Khmer Rouge control. For the period between 1975 and 1979, estimates put the genocide totals between 1.3 and 2 million.
After the Khmer Rouge’s forced agricultural communism was subdued by the Vietnamese army in early 1979, people began to trickle back into the abandoned capital. For 10 years Cambodia was led by a Vietnamese-backed government, with support from the USSR. Peace efforts began in 1989, resulting in a cease-fire two years later.
Despite a ‘relieved’ political situation, the country has not recovered from cruel ages of the ultra-left-wing government. Today, 30 years after the Khmer Rouge, 50% of the population remains illiterate, and the nation of 14 million suffers from poverty, inadequate health care, poor education, rampant corruption and a lack of basic infrastructure.
CamKo City straddles the city boundaries with one half surrounded by dense, low-rise urban fabric, and the other half facing a lake—newly-excavated from existing marsh and fish ponds. Across the new lake, CamKo will face rural settlements until rising land prices induce more developers to wipe out the villages.
At an urban scale, CamKo’s streets are laid out in a semi-circular radial grid much like a scaled-down version of Phnom Penh itself.
The new town’s master plan is divided into three programmatic zones. Along the lakefront edge, the Commercial Zone runs from north to south. Moving south from the northern tip of the shoreline, a hotel complex is followed by serviced residence and retail shops. A convention centre and Cambodia trade centre lie on the northern edge of the main water canal. Where the canal empties into the lake, a large square juts into the water—the future home of City Hall. On the other side of the canal, a large financial centre is followed by mixed-use buildings, a shopping centre, and office buildings. The incorporation of both the trade centre and the financial district signify Korea’s continued involvement in Cambodian economic development.
Although CamKo is a relatively small new town (just 119 ha), the strict zoning makes for clearly differentiated districts. On the eastern edge, a ring of high-rise condominiums inscribes a semi-circle around the periphery of the town. The next internal ring is made up of town houses and a few mid-rise condominiums, while the most central ring is filled with villas, creating spatially defined degrees of economic wealth. The organization of these dwellings places the highest (and least expensive) housing units at the periphery of the new town, creating an imposing border where the new town meets the existing landscape.
The very core of the new town is made up of a technical college and international school on the northern side of the canal, with a medical centre and public schools to the south. This centralized space for public services exists in contrast to historic new town planning principles.
While the Garden Cities and their offspring were primarily concerned with the neighbourhood unit (generally organized by gathering housing around a primary school), in CamKo this organization has been scaled-up to the urban level. CamKo dismisses the neighbourhood as a planning strategy altogether and instead uses the residential area as a sort of buffer against the teaming urbanity of Phnom Penh. Protected by nearly 400 m of this insulating residential bulwark, the Public Zone is located at the central point of the entire development.
The first phase of the new town is comprised primarily of residential units with a few semi-public amenities thrown in. Residence types include town houses, villas, mid-rise and high-rise condominiums, as well as a swimming pool, clubhouse, playground, gymnasium, and day-care centre. Parking lots surround the towers, and there is just one entry point into the neighbourhood from the main road.
Although CamKo’s spatial planning incorporates some contextual elements, its architecture (perhaps due to its Korean influence, or perhaps because it is intended to appeal to foreigners), is surprisingly generic in both design and materiality. The now familiar animated fly-throughs show tree-lined avenues and glittering glass facades. The high-rises are relatively mundane, with stacked-pancake flats, accessed via a central circulation core, and differentiated mainly by paint colour. The surrounding villas and townhouses are slathered in white stucco and topped with terracotta roofs. Small windows and balconies affirm the necessity of air-conditioning, while the deep blue tinted glass windows are one of the few hints of local aesthetics.
The first phase of the project has already waited to see two complete stages of total 623 residential units. The construction of remaining 386 units of Condominium in the 3rd stage is planned to be restarted in 2013. The first wave of residents moved into the 182 units in 2009 and more followed as Phase 2. This area was made up of largely residential areas, with some semi-private leisure facilities, a public school, and reached completion at the end of 2010.
The prohibitive cost of housing in the new town acts as an exclusionary element. In fact, for the Korean developers, the target market includes just the top 1% of Cambodians. The other 99% of the country cannot afford even the cheapest apartments.
Due to the development, thousands of people were forced to leave their homes and moved into alternative housing lacking infrastructure, basic amenities (clean water), and access to work opportunities, although the municipality promised them comparable conditions. Many people went out into the streets and showed their irritation, including more than 1,000 construction workers, who had not been paid their monthly wages, went on strike.