Greater Cairo Strategy, Vision Between Depraved and Wealthy

“A black hole,” with pollution, traffic, slums and overpopulation; the Egyptian Capital according to Bassem Fahmy, Principal Strategic Advisor at the UN HABITAT Egypt Project Office, Cairo stands as one of the unique cities that requires a different approach, when comes to urban development.

Back in 2009 the Egyptian government proposed a vision for a greener, more integrated capital in the future, and according to the official proposal, the project would entail renovating and upgrading multiple districts within Greater Cairo.

“[Cairo 2050 vision] is a group of projects in Cairo and Giza governorates that will develop Cairo to be a touristic, economic, attractive and cultural capital,” said Omnia Khalil, cofounder of ‘10Tooba’ for Applied Research on the Built Environment, and PhD student in anthropology, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center.

“Before the revolution in January 2011 it [the project] was called Cairo 2050, and after 2011, they [the government] started using Cairo 2052,” Khalil elaborated.

The project is referred to now as the ‘Greater Cairo Urban Development Strategy’ (GCUDS).

“[GCUDS] is a group of 22 projects that will develop all the pollutant industries, traffic, slums, congestion in downtown Cairo,” said Fahmy.

According to Fahmy, the UN HABITAT- a technical arm for city developments to the united nations, has been working in Egypt since 2007 on regulations, legislations, human resources, urban mobility infrastructure shelter and slum upgrading for settlement developments.

With diversity of architectural styles, the Egyptian capital’s urbanscape changes along the millennia. From informal settlements to five-star compounds and apartments, construction in the 9.2 million inhabitants city, according to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), keeps going on to contain the population.

Under the auspices of the Ministry of Housing, the General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN HABITAT supervised the planning of the project. Fahmy said that GCUDS started in 2008 to find a comprehensive, integrated perspective and vision for the development of the greater good of the capital.

The strategy’s multiple upgrading projects include the renovation of downtown Cairo. Khalil thinks that after street vendors were evacuated from the downtown area, the opening of the Tahrir parking facility that gradually prohibited parking in the downtown area, as well as the closure of cafés in downtown, can result a process of gentrification [to change a place from being a poor area to a richer one].

Fahmy elucidated that, “No one will leave their places, it is how you will deal with them and make something sustainable out of it.”

Sameh ElAlaily, former dean of the faculty of urban planning at Cairo University, sees that underground parking facilities are essential to lower the population density of the downtown Cairo.

The Khedival Cairo renovation project can be considered as part of GCUDS, said ElAlaily.

Khedive Cairo renovation project, according to Khalil, aims to restore the façade of the historical buildings in the downtown area.

Yet, Khalil also believes that the renovation process causes gentrification, as it is unjust to the people who live in this area. She affirmed that “rental prices are going high and people will not afford the prices eventually.

We can never call it a process of development of upgrading because of one word: gentrification.

GCUDS according to Khalil, had a vision of creating a high-rise building district along the riverbank of Boulaq Abu El-Ela area [west downtown Cairo].

“This means that all the governmental buildings along the river bank, except for the ministry of foreign affairs, and all the residential and commercial areas in this area will be removed or re-allocated,” Khalil added.

In the late 70’s, according to ElAlaily, there was a project carried out by the Paris institute of Urban Planning on Cairo, and of its main recommendations was to prohibit high-rise buildings on the river banks as to not block the visibility of the Nile.

Khalil added that these areas fall under the umbrella of informal districts to the Egyptian government.

Meanwhile, Fahmy affirmed, “It is not acceptable and not part of the official document. Some of the consultants who were working on the project offered a vision of ‘new-urbanism’ that entailed building skyscrapers and it was not part of the project.” He added that the project faced criticism as people thought it was directed to satisfy the needs of the private sector.

Buildings along the banks of the Nile contradict the 1970’s Paris committee resolution, that made a sacred space on the nile, banning all tall buildings to make the visibility clear for all the community. [Labeled for reuse from Wikimedia]

Earlier in 2016, Foster+Partners a London based architecture firm, have won a competition organized by the Egyptian Ministry of State for Urban Renewal and Informal Settlements to redesign the master plan of the Maspero triangle [North downtown Cairo].

The Maspero triangle is a highly dense district that is located in the heart of downtown Cairo, connecting between Khedive Cairo and the Nile where the Egyptian Radio and Television Union stands.

Khalil appreciates the fact that Foster+Partners efforts can yield a real participatory project, however, the problem that she perceives is the alternatives they give to the people who live in the area.

“The idea of making the citizens of the neighborhood choose either to move out to a different district, or to rent an apartment in the Maspero Triangle district, that its rental will depend on the space of the apartment not the needs of the families force them to move out,” Khalil.

“Will the rehousing process be fair and just to the people?” said Khalil questioningly.

Whilst ElAlaily questions the capability of the infrastructure, to be able to hold such an overloaded are of Cairo.

Since the devastating earthquake in 1992 that left more than 500 dead and another 50,000 homeless, the government has stopped issuing permits for individuals to renovate buildings in the areas of Maspero triangle and Boulaq, which Khalil believes is an indirect way of forcing people to evacuate those areas.

“Studies are showing that the population of the district of Boulaq is decreasing, because of the permit to renovate issue,” Khalil explained.

Fahmy believes that “it is important for Foster+Partners to consider the goals and the vision for the Greater Cairo Urban Development Strategy.”

GCUDS also aims to upgrade El Warak Island, located in northern Cairo. There is a part of the island that was reclaimed to fit the vision, according to Khalil. “They filled the land of the island to build huge towers on the tip of the island."

Other projects in the vision, according to Khalil, include the upgrading of the Giza Plateau by having a touristic district instead of the Nazlet El Seman area located next to the pyramids of Giza, and upgrading El Dahab Island.

ElAlaily added, “There was a dream of having a tunnel connecting between northern Cairo in Shoubra, to the South in Helwan, and all the above to be turned into green spaces.”

In the meantime, Khalil is not sure whether all the projects for the vision are on or off. A great part of the project, according to fahmy, is the infrastructure projects, “the ring road and all the roads around Cairo, currently under construction or already constructed, will help lowering the density in in the downtown area.”

“The project, at the end of the day, put fast solutions for Cairo problems such as slum upgrading, traffic and pollution.” said Fahmy.

Nevertheless, he affirms that the UN HABITAT are done with the planning of GCUDS and is now undergoing the implementation phase.

ElAlaily hopes that the project will “protect the Nile and the heritage, not only the monetary heritage, but also the cultural heritage.”

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