Phnom Penh’s Potential to Evolve into a Smart City

A new book, “The Future of Cities” has been launched, examining Phnom Penh’s potential to rise to become one of ASEAN’s leading smart cities
Phnom Penh skyline at night. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Phnom Penh skyline at night. Kiripost/Siv Channa

In Cambodia, urbanization is growing at a rapid rate of more than three percent annually, and with a population of about 2.3 million people, Phnom Penh is quickly emerging as one of Southeast Asia’s newest commercial hubs.

Released on Wednesday at a book launch at Raintree, Phnom Penh, “The Future of Cities” proposes solutions to these problems by offering an in-depth analysis of the city’s potential to rise as a smart city, citing case studies across the world.

The book features theories on Phnom Penh’s future from experts from different sectors in Cambodia. It also discusses topics that range from blockchain technology and intelligent transportation to cybercrime and the future of education.

With the growth of urban populations, “city planners must address rising air, light, and sound pollution. They will have to develop efficient energy, waste, and water management strategies to ensure the city is safe and secure, and there are clean and green spaces for city dwellers to enjoy,” said Tom Hesketh, executive director of EuroCham, which released the publication with Konrad-Adenauer- Stiftung (KAS).

In “The Future of Cities”, the authors weigh in on the implications of digitalisation, waste management, and transportation, among other key factors that will inform future city planning.

Daniel Schmücking, country director for KAS Cambodia and the Philippines, said in a news release, “Cities account for 60 to 80 percent of global energy consumption and 75 percent of global carbon emissions, despite occupying only 3 percent of the planet's surface.”

He noted, “Technology-driven advancements are expected to be at the forefront of solving the myriad challenges associated with urbanization, but they must be properly understood and implemented effectively to ensure the cities of the future are cities we want to live in.”

What makes a smart city, smart?

Jessica Tjandra, senior investment research analyst and author of ‘What makes a smart city, smart?’ used the Digital City Index (DCI) 2022 as a tool to measure how smart Phnom Penh city is.

Tjandra and two team members discovered Phnom Penh scores 42.7, ranking 28th in a new sample of 31 cities, above Mexico City, New Delhi, and Manila.

The Digital Cities Index (DCI) 2022 offers a global ranking of 30 cities across four pillars: connectivity, services, culture, and sustainability.

Phnom Penh scored highest in the connectivity pillar with 56.8, followed by the services pillar at 40.4, the sustainability pillar at 38.6, and the culture pillar at 29.7, according to the overall results of ‘What makes a smart city, smart?’.

“Phnom Penh scored relatively well in terms of connectivity because of their cheap mobile data, as well as high penetration. However, it can still be improved if Phnom Penh has 5G, as well as high subscription,” Jessica added.

She believes the digital city cannot improve while citizens lack appropriate technological awareness.

“We believe that the Cambodian government should improve the awareness of its citizens in terms of cybersecurity and cyber rescue,” said the co-author of ‘What makes a smart city , smart?’.

Finally, Phnom Penh scored relatively well on its sustainability pillar (38.6). Favorable government legislation and policies, including the law of net-zero emission and e-waste management, contribute to this score.

However, they believe Phnom Penh is in an excellent position to progress as one of ASEANs future smart cities.

Ung Techhong Luy, junior student from Paragon International University, majoring in International Relation and Political Science and co-author of ‘Public Transport as a Catalyst for an Egalitarian Society and Sustainable Future’ said he chose the topic as traffic jams remain a daily challenge Phnom Penh faces daily.

“We don’t want Phnom Penh to become the next Manila, and it’s slowly and gradually on the way to becoming one. So our government, citizens, and stakeholders must do it best to make sure that it won’t happen,” he said.

Phnom Penh: Present Reality and Future Headaches

Middle-class children no longer walk to schools but instead are scattered across the city with no connection to amenities and daily necessities, adding additional pressure to the roads.

For decades, low-income residents for decades have rushed to buy motorbikes, second-hand cars, or, when possible, the largest SUVs they can find in an effort to announce to the world that they have “made it”.

Most will not consider the idea of public transport as their daily transportation mode because it is slow, unreliable, has to navigate the same traffic as private vehicles, or simply does not exist.