The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged urban planning
The Lost Land of Egypt

An important article by Maria Golia on land in Egypt, covering the loss of agricultural land to real estate speculation; the dearth of affordable housing; and the looting of heritage sites.  

In Egypt, land is power. The military is the largest landowner, and the Mubarak regime’s undoing was partly owed to sweetheart deals for choice locations, particularly on Egypt’s coasts. Large tracts of land that might have been developed as new towns or institutions serving the public instead enriched a handful of real estate investors interested primarily in upscale tourism or residential compounds. The Egyptian Centre for Housing Rights (ESCR), an NGO, reports that a minority elite, around 250,000 families, typically owns several residences including a seaside villa or two, while 18 percent of Egypt’s lesser privileged families share a single room.[4]


A giant sexless story-telling statue?!?
The designers plan to install speakers throughout the park, allowing people to tune in to the giant as he plows through recordings of traditional stories and legends. For those who might find the sight distressing, the statue would sport recreational rooms and a library located at the base in the Giant’s ankles. One wonders whether the architects took the metaphor “to study at someone’s feet” a little too seriously. In a city almost exclusively dominated by state of the art, air-conditioned phalluses, such a statue would not only be sexless, but be equipped with a series of elevators that would transport one through parts of the body where few Fundamentalists dare to tread, while from its viewing deck, situated in the Giant’s hollowed-out cranium, one would be able to enjoy Dubai’s skyline as it stretched out to where neon lights spider over the rust-colored dunes in the distance.

Only in Dubai. And even there, I find it hard to believe that this is actually going to be carried out (the author does not specify a construction company or a timeline, and a cursory Arabic google search turned up no information about the project). In any case, an interesting and idionsyncratic piece, which also includes a discussion of the popular poetry contests sponsored by Emirati sheikhs--although some of the author's claims (about the relationship of Arabs to the word and to magic, for example) struck me as a little broad and a little off.
Mapping Cairo's future
Just before I left Cairo, last weekend, I attended this symposium on "Urban Trajectories in Cairo." It was organized by new entity called Pericenter Projects, and included videos and talks by artists, designers, architects, sociologists. It was very interesting. I particularly enjoyed a new video by Aglaia Konrad, entitled "Desert Cities," which consists of 58 minutes of footage of (rather forlorn-looking) developments all around the edges of city. And a talk entitled "Legalizing an Urban Tumour" by designer Marwan Fayed, who presented a number of "case studies" of the creative adjustments of Cairo residents to their urban surroundings, as well as  a number of suggested design interventions based on the observed needs of city residents--these included an "expandable" koshk and a bus stop whose roof projected into the street to shade bus passengers waiting scattered in the street. (I'm trying to get the whole presentation online).

There was also a talk by SODIC architect Marcus ElKatscha on the design principles of the new EastTown and WestTown developments (these are up-scale suburban downtowns meant to cater to the residents of 6th of October and Kattameya). ElKatscha's presentation didn't go over that well with the mostly young, artsy, lefty crowd (he got a lot of questions like "Don't you only want to attract a certain kind of people?"). For me, the fact that the planned developments are upscale isn't necessarily a problem--every city in the world has "fancy" neighborhoods, and our beloved Downtown Cairo used to be one. And the idea of providing the already existing Eastern and Western suburbs of Cairo with some sort of downtown is actually quite intelligent--it's clearly what's missing. But the architectural style was quite bland, and what troubles me more is the deployment of the terms "mixed-use." The new developments will mix commercial and residential space, and ElKatscha seemed to suggest that in of of itself this lent diversity to the proposed neighborhood, whereas I think it's quite clear that it will be socioeconomically homogenous. ElKatscha also described Downtown, Garden City, Maadi and Helipolis as "mixed use," something I found very confusing. I live in Garden City and it's overwhelmingly residential--whereas all of central Cairo (including lower-class, unplanned neighborhoods) strikes me as the essence of "mixed use." Finally, SODIC's planners claim their mixed-use downtowns will cut down commuting time and be environmentally responsible--but while the wealthy house-wife who lives there may be able to walk to the mall, I wonder how far all the servers, shop assistants, cleaners and domestic workers will have to commute (I didn't see that the plan included any low income housing). In any case, it was fascinating to get this glimpse into the future of Cairo's development, although I hear that in the current economic climate all these developments have slowed if not come to a complete halt.