From the late 1990s onwards, Phnom Penh experienced rapid economic development and investment, which led to aggressive commercialization of land markets, resulting in a collision of commercial and public development agendas. The increasingly vulnerable poor communities in Phnom Penh became the target of relocation. Through a series of community-centric studies and community-driven demonstration actions this project was designed to show how alternatives to relocation can be achieved and how slum upgrading and poverty reduction strategies can be integrated into the City's Development Strategy (CDS).
A City Development Strategy (CDS) Task Force, comprising representatives of all project partners and other stakeholders, and an Urban Poverty Reduction Unit (UPRU) were established in the Municipality of Phnom Penh. A shared vision of the city's development and up-to-date understanding of the current trends affecting the urban poor was achieved through three studies focusing on the relocation of the urban poor, land availability and the development plans for Phnom Penh. The studies involved broad participation and discussions with local actors as a way of building understanding and ownership, including khan (district) level community workshops and the briefing of more than 500 community leaders. A number of alternatives to relocation were identified, including upgrading, nearby relocations and land sharing and pilot areas were selected.
The project has had far-reaching effects in creating a city-wide vision and agenda for change, making people-based development as the preferred mechanism for upgrading low-income settlements and facilitating greater cooperation between communities and their local authorities. Ros Reay, one of the three pilot areas, demonstrated people-based approaches to urban upgrading (through the provision of drains, paved roads, house improvements and landscaping). Together with the studies, the demonstration actions have influenced shifts in government policy regarding resettlement, which culminated in the Prime Minister's commitment to improve 100 settlements per year for the next 5 years. The project has increased understanding of the situation of poor settlements in Phnom Penh, strengthened community solidarity and elevated the awareness of development and land issues within government and city communities.