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Urban Safety on The Dark Streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Urban Safety on The Dark Streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia

What makes a city safe? Safety is a critical issue that we consider when exploring a city, whether knowing it or not – which neighborhood you decide to live in or where you visit at night. Certain areas of a city are always more favourable than others, but what factors determine this and how can

What makes a city safe? Safety is a critical issue that we consider when exploring a city, whether knowing it or not - which neighborhood you decide to live in or where you visit at night. Certain areas of a city are always more favourable than others, but what factors determine this and how can they be addressed by our built environmentPhnom Penh is a beautiful city, but at night it can fizzle into crime and darkness. If safety is made a greater priority within the rapid development, the city could attract more investment and be more enjoyable for its residents.

Phnom Penh Street Life

Compared to other countries, Cambodia ranks moderately among common crimes with the exception of corruption. However, the streets of Phnom Penh during the day are very different than the evening, when most petty crimes take place - like robbery and bag snatching. Since it is much cooler after the sun sets, there is more activity at night, people socialize and exercise in the parks and eat on the streets - surrounded by traffic until 10pm in the dark. These factors, combined, make any city a little more dangerous, but with the limited public services and civil protection of Phnom Penh, the streets are nearly lawless.

Currently, Phnom Penh is undergoing rapid urban development as the capital and historical center of commerce and trade. With many plans for future expansion, including infrastructure and public services, now is the time to implement features that improve safety within the urban environment.

So what design features will best improve our perceptions of urban safety? Having public spaces, like streets and parks, that are open and visible during the night is a start. Most streets in Phnom Penh have many obstructions, whether it be trash, potholes, animals or other items, which could easily be avoided if they were visible. Currently, most streets are only illuminated by vehicles or private businesses at night - office lights, shop signs or the light bulb from a food stall.

Phnom Penh at night

Lighting the streets in Phnom Penh could bring out qualities described by Jane Jacobs in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, with eyes being able to see the street. Throughout the city, the streets have a small, low-rise scale, many lined with trees offering shade on the (few) sidewalks during the day, but new upper class properties are turning their backs on public space - making them feel isolated at night. Lighting these social spaces, and the people within them, during the most active times can remove the unknown and foster a safer atmosphere.

There are many dimensions of safety that need to be addressed in the city, but visibility after dark should be a primary concern since it can have positive effects on other aspects like health, food and road safety. Of course, there are many ways to address urban safety, but urban designers and architects also have a role to play in order to foster better human interactions and perceptions in the public realm, allowing our cities thrive. As Phnom Penh expands, ensuring basic lighting and mixed uses for constant street activity can improve the livability and safety of the city.

Considering that safety is a critical component to enjoying our cities, whether intentionally designed that way or not, what features would you say makes your city safe?

Credits: Images by Tara Whelan. Data linked to sources.

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Tara Whelan has recently graduated from a Master's in International Cooperation and Sustainable Emergency Architecture from the International University of Catalunya in Barcelona, Spain and is pursuing a career in humanitarian and social architecture...

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