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Resident Perspective: Katameya

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods.

Where in Cairo do you live?
Katameya. Peaceful, Green, a bubble away from the bustling traffic and the noise of Cairo. Also, an isolated island from cultural events, protests, and fine dining.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positive: Quiet, relaxing, green, specious. Negative: Far, bubble life.


How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?
My car. I would love a metro or train to reach tagamo3 (New Cairo Fifth Settlement), it would change my life.


How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
It is isolated. The ring road is so dangerous and always crowded, and if there’s an accident, you can just kiss your day goodbye!!!!


What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

Traffic, garbage, and sexual harassment.


What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

What I like most about Cairo: it’s home, where my family and friends are. Favorite places in city: Khan el Khalili, Ibn Tulun (bayn elqasrein), Azhar Park, Felucca on the Nile.

Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

Yes, I love Cairo.


Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

It would be better of course. The local city councils, “mahalleyat,” are zebala (garbage) and full of corruption and bribery. We need democracy from the bottom up.


In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Green Space/Parks: Unheard of, except Azhar Park.

Gated communities: A bubble.

Museums: Should be outsourced to private sector Because the government is doing such a lousy job (of managing them).

Downtown: WAAALLLLSSS (The cement block walls erected post-revolution around the Parliament, Interior Ministry, etc.). NO PARKING - A MESS.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
Nowhere, I love Katameya.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Event: Learning from Cairo, April 12-14

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Learning from Cairo seeks to engage the current political and urban transformation unfolding in Cairo as a critical context for examining relevant international case studies and best practices in areas ranging from housing, transportation, public space, and local governance to informality. Learning from Cairo emphasizes a comparative and interdisciplinary approach bringing practitioners, academics, officials and local stakeholders into dialogue, with the objective of generating an ongoing critical urban discourse, and future visions for Cairo.

Friday, April 12th, 2013 
Public Plenary sessions


9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Oriental Hall, Palace Building
American University in Cairo
Tahrir Campus

Program

(Arabic and English translation will be provided)


9:00 - 9:30 am Coffee and Registration

9:30 - 10:00 am Opening Remarks

Urban Political Change: Southern Perspectives
10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Khaled Fahmy, Department of History, AUC
Gautam Bhan, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Delhi
Mokena Makeka, Makeka Design Lab

Discussant:
Mohamed Elshahed, Cairobserver

12:00 - 1:30 pm Lunch and Prayer

Right to the City: Emergent Practices in Latin America
1:30 - 3:30 pm

Heba Raouf Ezzat, Cairo University
Jennifer Bremer, Department of Public Policy and Administration, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, AUC
Lindsey Sherman, Urban-Think Tank, Caracas/ Zurich

Discussant:
Diane Singerman, Department of Government, American University, Washington D.C.; Tadamun: Cairo Urban Solidarity Initiative

3:30 - 4:00 pm Coffee Break

Cities in Transition: Public Engagement and Civic Design
4:00 - 6:00 pm

David Sims, Author of Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control
Damon Rich, Division of Planning and Community Development, Newark, NJ
Gregers Tang Thomsen and Selva Gürdogan, Superpool, Istanbul

Discussant:
Ayman Ismail, Department of Management, School of Business, AUC


Saturday, April 13th, 2013 
Cairo Tours
(please register for one tour only)
9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Tour 1. Urban Core

Led by: May Al-Ibrashy, Megawra
Mohamed Elshahed
, Cairobserver

Tour 2: Desert Cities

Led by:
Nabil Elhady, Cairo University
Rick Tutwiler
, Desert Development Center, AUC

Tour 3: Informal Settlements
Led by:
Yahia Shawkat, Shadow Ministry of Housing
Khaled Abdel Halim, Department of Public Policy and Administration, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, AUC
Kareem Ibrahim, Urban Development Consultant | Co-Founder of Takween ICD

Tours end with a joint lunch in Al-Azhar Park

Sunday, April 14th, 2013
9:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.

Parallel Working Sessions
9:00 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

Falaki Academic Center, American University in Cairo
Tahrir Campus
24 El Falaki Street, Bab El Louk

Coffee and Registration:

9:00 a.m.-9:30 a.m.

Morning parallel sessions:

9:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m.

Session 1. Mapping Informality

Omar Nagati and Beth Stryker, CLUSTER
Gregers Tang Thomsen and Selva Gürdogan, Superpool

Discussant: Mohamed Elshahed, Cairobserver

Session 2. Evictions and Urban Citizenship

Gautam Bhan, Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Delhi
Yahia Shawkat, Shadow Ministry of Housing, Cairo

Discussant: Joseph Schechla, Housing and Land Rights Network, Cairo

Session 3. Design Innovation and Urban Development

Mokena Makeka, Makeka Design Lab, Cape Town
Mohamad Abotera and Ahmed Zaazaa, MADD Platform

Discussant: Amr Abdelkawi, Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering, School of Sciences and Engineering, AUC


Lunch
12:00 p.m.-1:00 p.m.

Afternoon parallel sessions:
1:00 p.m.-3:30 p.m.

Session 4. Community Activism and Avenues of Participation

Kareem Ibrahim and Diane Singerman, Tadamun
Damon Rich, Chief Urban Designer, Division of Planning & Community Development, Newark, NJ and Founder, Center for Urban Pedagogy (CUP)

Discussant: Khaled Abdel Halim, Department of Public Policy and Administration, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, AUC

Session 5. Security, Segregation and Borders


Aida Elkashef, Filmmaker
Lara Baladi, Artist
Omnia Khalil, Urban Action

Video presentations and panel discussion

Discussant: Samia Mehrez, The Center for Translation Studies, AUC

Session 6. Research/Design Interventions and the Informal City

Lindsey Sherman, Urban-Think Tank, Caracas/Zurich; Chair of Architecture and Urban Design, ETH Zurich
Dina Shehayeb, Shehayeb Consult

Discussant: Magda Mostafa, Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering, School of Sciences and Engineering, AUC

Closing Session, Oriental Hall

Oriental Hall, Palace Building
American University in Cairo
Tahrir Campus
4:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

More information to come.

With support from the Ford Foundation
and the American University of Cairo
Department of Construction and Architectural Engineering, School of Sciences and Engineering
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
School of Global Affairs and Public Policy
School of Business
The Architecture Students Association (AA)


Additional sponsorship by

info@clustercairo.org

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Resident Perspective: El Obour

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods.

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Where in Cairo do you live?
Madinet El Obour: Undeveloped, marginalized desert community, mostly non-gated areas. Has potential, but as every other Egyptian undertaking, is not thought out or planned to thrive.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Negative: Basically in the middle of nowhere which causes transportation and safety repercussions, increased crime rate, unpaved/undeveloped, architecturally disturbing, to say the least..also a number of plumbing issues that have at some point flooded entire districts which just further bolsters the idea that most desert cities (and most cities/establishments in Egypt, really) are cheaply constructed/finished. Positive: Variation in housing classes; something I rather admire since all these desert cities were originally meant to house workers as a priority and most other desert cities have, along the miserable way preferred to house upper middle class and upper class citizens, greedily ignoring the painfully obvious housing crisis at hand. There’s also a certain degree of public gardens with benches strewn about which spread throughout all districts with their class variations. (even though gardens are not exactly the wisest undertaking at this point specifically in a place like El Obour..it would have been much more appropriate/economic to have tried to create a public space more fit to the surrounding climate..but let’s not get picky)


How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?
Private cars mainly..being a female doesn’t exactly encourage walking/cycling. I now think VERY well before stepping out of the house and risking the traffic; some errands are just not worth it. Of course I’d like to very idealistically say, bikes would be great alternatives but let’s face it we don’t have enough streets to start thinking about bike lanes and pedestrian walkways. The one improvement I’d truly like to see would be a certain inner transportation within desert cities (which of course entails having somewhere to go to in a desert city and currently the services around could only be described as pathetic so let’s work on that first)


How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
Isolated would be the appropriate term. Our beloved dictator-infested past with its genius centralization tactics have already doomed our present/future situation of ever expanding while maintaining a connection between all districts..so, unless each new city or district is provided with its own services and legal offices then I don’t think this is going anywhere. I would like to see El Obour more connected to, I don’t know, lands of living creatures but I’m not exactly holding my breath.


What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

Transportation (and inadvertently traffic) Architectural identity The imbalance between supply and demand of public spaces. Transportation and traffic: more streets (that are actually executed correctly with estimated drainage levels for once in our lives not a rip off), a variation in street widths to maintain fluidity of traffic, different methods of transportation so it’s not all private car dependence (10 cars 10 people, 1 bus 10 people phenomenon), clearly borderline pavements for walking and preferably some dignified traffic lights or bridges for people to cross streets and, I don’t know, not die on their way to their miserable underpaid future-less jobs. Architectural identity: Buildings that somehow reflect our modern day needs and culture (not Pharaonic pylons and lotus columns; I think we all agree the pharaohs are dead) more along the line of vernacular climate appropriate architecture..defined/studied spaces for particular uses, housing units that are repetitive yet functional and not over adorned with unneeded architectural eclecticism; Roman orders and other irrelevant additions.) Supply and demand of public spaces: Aside from the fact that all “free” public spaces in Egypt are either non existent or ironically fenced; we have no where to go..the government has tried to prevent congregation so adeptly that all the places left are expensive/ mono-functional..restaurants, hotels, and like what? 6 malls? not to mention the randomly located private clubs.


What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

I like the informality that makes Cairo; the places and spaces that people create; whether temporary occasion-based tables on the streets or kiosks or very personal statement bumper stickers on buses. I also like how it can never fall prey to the urban anonymity that other cities might be subjected to; you can always orient yourself.. Favorite places would be Islamic Cairo..the old city itself..more along the line of Bab Zwaylah (Darb al Ahmar) and the mosques there rather than the very manicured Al Moezz Street.. Diwan bookstore, ironically. My house (regardless of the surround).


Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

Yes and yes (I am very much enthralled by the historic progress of the city from a single nucleus to what it is now..it is part of my studies after all) Civic pride..tough one..I am proud of the original sentiment of Cairo but that romantic pride does not hold much with the obvious deterioration and the constant reminder of how the city has failed on so many levels..I like Cairo but I do not like what it has become or how I’m participating to this current state of decay.


Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

No, actually not in the least. Of course participatory management would be way more efficient specifically since inhabitants of an area know best..nevertheless, it’s a long and difficult process which I do not see happening in the near future.


In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Green Space/Parks: Non-existent. Would help in mental orientation if correctly placed/used and planned.

Gated communities:  Flawed..non-durable.

Museums Not integrated well in any given urban fabric..neglected.

Informal areas: very promising, should be learnt from and improved/maintained. Ironically, the only culture/climate/area-relevant architecture and urban planning examples in Cairo.

Downtown: Congested, legal center, interesting point in historical architectural and urban planning.

If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
At this point, I am entirely certain that, most, if not all, districts in Cairo are in some way flawed and it’s a governmental/ political regime dilemma so I doubt moving anywhere in Cairo would differ in anything. I’d like to add that, we could be a corrupt country all we want but that doesn’t mean we can’t have adequate streets, housing and spaces..Urban planning affects productivity, crime rate and so much more..we could have it so much better with just the same costs.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Resident Perspective: Cairo-Alex desert road

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods.

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Where in Cairo do you live?
In a small gated community at the beginning of Cairo-Alexandria desert road.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positive: it’s a quiet area, unlike most of Cairo’s neighborhoods - the area is booming so we have a lot of new places and activities to do there, so I don’t always have to leave the area.

Negative: I love cycling and taking long walks, which is not very easy to do there, so I have to go Downtown to do that - we don’t have any grocery stores in a walking distance, so I always have to take my car when I need to buy something - The ring road is crowded most of the time, so I always get stuck when I am trying to go anywhere outside the area.


How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?
I use my car most of the time, but I recently started using a bike every now and then. - I would love to see more people using bikes. When you are on a bike, you start seeing the city in a different way. You started noticing things and places that you might not notice when you are locked inside your car. But, as a female, I would just have to live with the sexual harassment and ignore it when I am on my bike, if I really want to enjoy cycling.


How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
It seems more like ‘an accessible’ neighborhood, but I see it rather a connected one: - it’s relatively close to three ring roads (mehwar, the other rind road from Lebanon Sq. and Maadi/Giza ring road) - close to Faisal and Haram and Giza pyramids -13kms to downtown Cairo - 10 minutes away from the Cairo/Alexandria toll station -almost 60kms away from Fayoum.


What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

Absence of proper sidewalks, sexual harassment, the absence of the cycling culture (a lot of people think riding a bike gives an image that you don’t have money or if you are a female, then it’s like you are looking to get sexually harassed).

Solutions: - the government should have proper sidewalks to allow people to use them instead of walking in the middle of cars. And, have proper traffic lights as well. - as for sexual harassment, I don’t see a solution to it in the near future.


What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

Architecture in some areas, the weather (apart from the pollution), the feeling of the ancient city.

Favorite places: Downtown Cairo (especially Cafe Riche), Azhar, Ghouri, Al Moez Street area, Maadi.


Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

Yes, I relate to the historic heritage in Cairo in general and I think I have a good sense of the city’s history.


Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

My community is not really representative of the city because it’s a small community of less than 50 houses, but I think it would be better if we had better residents involved in the local government.


In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Green Space/Parks: I don’t feel it exists in Cairo, we need to have a lot more green space/parks.

Gated communities:  Booming (most of the newly weds I know move to gated communities).

Museums: They are there, but many Egyptians are not aware they exist or just never interested to visit them.

Downtown: People in my circle either started going there after the protests or most of them haven’t been there since they were kids. For them, it’s just an area they pass by on their way to another place. I know few people like me who enjoy going there.


If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
Downtown, maybe somewhere around Talaat Harb square.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

Resident Perspective: 6th of October

Resident Perspective is a series of standardized interviews with Cairo residents to get their views on the city and their neighborhoods.

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Where in Cairo do you live?
I live 10mins away from Mall of Arabia in 6th of October City.

List the most positive and the most negative aspects of living there.
Positives: It’s a relatively new area so there’s a lot of potential to make it into one of the nicer districts in Cairo and it’s much cleaner than other ares in the city too. Negatives: It’s very isolated so you feel slightly disconnected from what’s going on in the rest of Cairo.


How do you move around Cairo (modes of transport) and what would you like to see different regarding the future of transport in the city?
I don’t drive myself but I usually car-share. Other than that, I mostly use taxis or buses. I would like to see the tram system in Egypt being revived and more funding should be put into the Metro system. I also hope to see designated bus stops which I think would solve a lot of problems because many traffic jams happen as a result of buses stopping randomly and suddenly in the streets.


How does your district fit within Cairo? What would you like to see changed in that relationship between your neighborhood and the city?
My district is quite isolated from the rest of Cairo but personally, I like it that way because it’s much quieter and more peaceful than the rest of Cairo. Perhaps a Metro line extension to the area would be useful but I don’t use the Metro much anyway.


What are your top complaints about Cairo and what would you suggest to solve those problems?

1) Rubbish/Pollution: recycling campaigns, investment into alternative modes of transport to reduce the amount of cars on the street 2) Sexual Harassment: harsher laws need to be implemented and public awareness campaigns need to be introduced to tackle this issue 3) Street children: this really depresses me, these children need to have access to education in order for them not to be exploited.


What do you like the most about Cairo and what are your favorite places in the city.

The weather is lovely compared to other cities I’ve lived in around the world. The history of the city is also fascinating. I love hanging out in Downtown Cairo and more historical areas such as Khan el Khalili and El Husayn.


Do you relate to the historic heritage of your district or of Cairo in general? Do you think you have a good sense of history of the city? Would you say you are have “civic pride” or are proud to live in Cairo?

I wouldn’t say I have the best sense of history of the city but I certainly do try and learn more about it. 6th of October doesn’t really have much history, it’s a new district after all but Cairo’s history in general is just amazing! I wouldn’t say I am “proud” to live in Cairo to be honest, because I always get treated like I am a foreigner although I am Egyptian and I do speak the language. I moved here a few years ago yet I don’t feel like I am ever going to fit in. Also, the amount of traffic/rubbish/ugliness of some parts of Cairo don’t really make you “proud” to live there unfortunately.


Do you understand how the city is governed/managed? Do you think your community/district would be better or worst if residents from the community/district were involved in local government (محليات)?

I have no idea how my district/city is governed. There are many suggestions/complaints that I want to get across to my local government but I don’t know how to voice them so I think it would be a great idea for residents from the community to get more involved in local government. I used to live in London and such initiatives were already well-established and it was much easier to organize the area and deal with problems within it as a result. It also promoted a sense of cohesiveness and community spirit and made residents more proud of their area and keen to improve it. The involvement of residents is imperative to the future of Cairo if we have any hope of it improving. It would also take the strain off central government which has enough to deal with already.


In the context of Cairo, what comes to mind when you think of these keywords?

Green Space/Parks: They’re really hard to get to and not very accessible but more of them is definitely needed. The ones that do exist like Azhar Park are also not very well maintained! Green Space/Parks: Green spaces? What Green Spaces? These have sadly become pretty much extinct in Cairo. The local authorities in 6th of October have been planting a lot of trees recently but their future is not really secured if that makes sense i.e. they’re very likely to end up getting cut-down as is the case with trees in Heliopolis. No one really cares about the environment to be honest, it’s not a top priority but the more trees we have, the less pollution and the nicer the city will look so this issue needs to be more highlighted.

Gated communities:  Sad really, if you want to live in a nice, well-maintained and organized area then this is pretty much the only option. Everyone in Cairo should be given the privilege of living a nice peaceful life, not just those who can afford it!

Museums: Derelict and abandoned. Seriously depressing! There’s so many museums that have been “under-construction” for years now and many hidden gems that the people of Cairo don’t know about. The city has so much history yet no one cares for it.

“Informal Areas”: Another heartbreaking aspect of Cairo that people like to ignore. Living in 6th of October, you feel really sheltered from these areas and the horrific circumstances that people there live in. Neglected and in dire need of attention.

Downtown: Beautiful architecture/planning but no maintenance. Also, chaos and traffic but well-connected.


If you could move to another district in Cairo where would you move to?
I love my area, it’s very peaceful and I am satisfied with the way that it is being run. A lot of people are moving to 6th of October now and there are worrying signs that I am starting to see of the the area becoming more like other areas of Cairo which are less-organized and chaotic . There’s a lot of rubbish on the streets compared to before and more traffic in the area around El-Hosary mosque. If things don’t change soon then 6th of October will just become another busy and polluted part of Cairo.

*If you would like to tell us about where you live and share your views on Cairo, fill the survey by clicking here.

The disregarded stakeholders of our cities

By Dina Lotfy


Are the “new cities” built only for the wealthy and privileged? Is Cairo managed with all its “stakeholders” as equals?

In order to initiate a project, such as building a new city, the first step; as per the project management institute (PMI); is the process of “identifying stakeholders”; all organizations and individuals who may impact or be impacted by the project execution. So who are the actual stakeholders of new Egyptian cities such as New Cairo, Sheykh Zayed and Sixth of October?

Are they inhabitants who can afford middle and upper class residence, middle investors who can rent or buy stores, big investors who can rent Class-A office spaces? These stakeholders are taken into consideration, but the new cities have other stakeholders who are not taken into consideration in the planning phase. These disregarded stakeholders can be identified easily by observing the streets of the new cities. Phenomena that started in the old Cairene neighborhoods, and upon neglecting; re-appeared disorderly in the eastern expansion “Nasr-city” and beyond, and again manifests in the same chaotic way in the further expansions of Cairo; East in New Cairo  and West in Sixth of October.

Self-Employment Endeavors (a.k.a. Peddlers)

In a city where unemployment is skyrocketing, these micro-projects are self-employment endeavors; also known as “Peddlers.” Although Egyptian cities have always had peddlers in recent years these various mobile urban characters have been considered as “illegal” by recent laws. Every now and then they are chased by Egyptian forces and an entire corrupt system of bribery has become structured into the police force due to the mismanagement of street vendors/peddlers. Despite hardships, the phenomenon continued to expand into every inhabited new city.

By observation, most of these micro-projects are located beside bus and microbus stops, at cross-roads, under bridges or at pivotal shaded spaces. These are places where individuals gather in the morning time on their way to work to have a quick breakfast; sandwiches of “foul & falafel”, hot drinks such as tea or coffee. In the afternoon the offering switches to hearty but quick to eat meals such as Koshari. Other products sold by peddlers include grilled or boiled corn, products suitable for the hot summer such as fresh cold jujube, licorice, or yellow lupine. Upon further observation; micro-projects customers; especially in the new cities; are basically builders, construction labor, craftsmen, guards, truck drivers, etc.

It is remarkable how these micro-businessmen and women do all the market studies, in an innate process, from selection of location, selection of working hours to the selection of activity type according to location conditions and potential customers, to the process of re-locating in case of non-feasibility. They design the project’s working area, display, simple shade and they operate by installing heat and water sources. These entrepreneurial endeavors provide needed services to an important and dominant segment of society.

Lessons from elsewhere: Tucson Trees

As someone who isn’t a specialist in horticulture and with pedestrian observations only, something seems deeply flawed with the kinds of vegetation planted in Cairo’s desert communities. Water continuously flowing from meters and meters of hoses desperately trying to keep small patches of green as green as possible. Trees that need relatively high water maintenance are planted for shade in private residences. The houses and the developments in which they are located mimic Florida, a state with high levels of ground water, lakes and swamps. However this is Cairo and although it is possible to build a house that looks like its counterpart in Florida, it is not possible to mimic the  landscaping that comes with that model, simply because the ground and water levels are immensely different. Although it is a different kind of desert than Cairo’s, Arizona and particularly Tucson, offers some useful lessons on how to turn the desert green without wasting precious Nile water.

The flat Tucson desert landscape means that almost all the trees and plants seen there today are brought from elsewhere. Although the area is home so various cacti, much of the city’s greenery is in the form of trees. However, these are carefully selected trees, most of them have two important qualities: fast growing, and low water maintenance. Some of the trees commonly used in landscaping Tucson are: Guajillo Tree, Willow Acacia, Argentine Mesquite Tree, Chilean Mesquite Tree, and Chinese Pistache Tree. For a list of medium-sized, fast growing, low-water trees (and other plants), click here.

Why is this important?

Water is scarce in Egypt, yet the relatively small but most financially capable segment of society is the most wasteful. That segment of society is also the one capable of landscaping their desert homes and compounds. Because of lax regulations on water usage by this segment of the population, seemingly small gardens collectively have a dire effect on the Egyptian environment. Added to this is the fetish of golf courses, a 1980s North American real estate gimmick, that continues to be a centerpiece for many of Egypt’s new developments. 

Additionally trees are important for low-rise low-density desert developments as they provide shade and lower cooling costs and electricity consumption. However that shade must be designed and appropriately placed to maximize its effect. Also cutting down electricity costs should not be made at the expense of using high-water-use trees and plants. A landscape specialist, or landscape architect must be consulted.

Landscape architecture in Egypt?

Despite Egypt’s rich cultural heritage when it comes to gardening and creating pleasurable green spaces, nearly none of that heritage has been continued professionally. Meaning, there is not a well-established profession of landscape architecture in Egypt today that builds on Egypt’s long landscaping history nor attempt to confront the challenges created today by urbanizing the desert. Although some academic programs in garden design exist they fall under schools of agriculture rather than schools of architecture. Landscape design is contingent upon architectural and urban planning designs and therefore those professionals must study in schools of architecture. Landscape design is not merely about planing some trees around a building!

Landscape architecture is a multi-disciplinary field, incorporating aspects of: botany, horticulture, the fine arts, architecture, industrial design, geology and the earth sciences, environmental psychology, geography, and ecology. The activities of a landscape architect can range from the creation of public parks and parkways to site planning for campuses and corporate office parks, from the design of residential estates to the design of civil infrastructure and the management of large wilderness areas or reclamation of degraded landscapes such as mines or landfills. Landscape architects work on all types of structures and external space - large or small, urban, suburban and rural, and with “hard” (built) and “soft” (planted) materials, while integrating ecological sustainability.

Besides the need to update the academic and professional frameworks of landscape design in Egypt for the service of new communities, landscape designers are needed to revive the old urban fabric. Landscape designers not only design parks and public spaces but also street furniture and hard surfaces (sidewalks).

Important to stress is the fact that landscape design is not merely ornamental. However the common perception of landscape in Egypt continues to place landscape as an ornamental addition to the built environment. The two most tangible “landscaped” areas in Cairo today are Al Azhar Park and the campus of the American University in Cairo. Although in some instances landscape design in both projects attempts to cross the line from the ornamental to the functional (landscape as shade for buildings and people, for example) it is still treated in both projects as an aesthetic exercise rather than a functional one.

Who regulates the landscape?

Recently the minister of agriculture made outrageous statements requesting rice farmers to reduce their water use due to lower levels of water this year. The minister had nothing to say about golf courses, landscaping in desert communities or the biggest catastrophe of all the Toshka project further south, in which millions of gallons of Nile water are literally dumped into the desert before the water even enters Egypt.

As always the heart of the problem is an administrative one: Who regulates and manages landscaped areas such as parks, public and private gardens and other designed green spaces? How can the same governmental organization also control/regulate agricultural land? And what about the “natural landscape,” such as natural reserves, deserts and other natural environments which also need to be studied, regulated, measured, observed and maintained as part of Egypt’s natural heritage. Finally where does the authority of the Agriculture Ministry “وزارة الزراعة” end and the Ministry of Water and Irrigation “وزارة الري” begin?

Trees are political

Several weeks ago I woke up on a Friday morning to the sound of an electric saw. A mature tree in the yard of the public school across the street was being cut into pieces. When I inquired about the reason for cutting the tree the school yard keeper replied with sincerity “It will be made into coals for shisha.”

As the weather warms up trees around the city have been hacked and severely damaged by what most dismiss as “spring trimming.” In fact what is taking place is anything but maintenance of trees, instead it is a combination of underpaid government employees selling trees (public property) to a variety of businesses to be used either as coal or to make furniture, and government officials turning a blind eye. In fact the state has been actively removing trees in Cairo for the past two decades. Trees provide shade and invites pedestrians to congregate below them, maybe even sleep (or in the case of political instability pedestrians may use trees as shelter as they camp outside to protest). In all these cases trees have been removed. 

In the rare situation of government planing a new tree, it opts for palm trees, as was done at the newly redesigned square outside Cairo’s central station. Palm trees in these cases are merely ornamental and do not provide shade.

There isn’t an administrative governmental body responsible for publicly accessible parks in the city of Cairo. Once again the ministry of agriculture maintains some control but it should be clear by now that a public park in a city shouldn’t be managed by the same authority that regulates pesticides in the country side. Cairo needs a “parks department.”

Also parks are political in that they act as place-holders for future investments rather than actually being used as parks. Despite the seeming lack of green space in Cairo, some parts such as Madinat Nasr and Heliopolis have a relatively high percentage of green space, however these spaces are inaccessible or fenced or are simply unwelcoming. Take for example al-Oruba park on the edge of Madinat Nasr: a large well-maintained park surrounded by a tall fence that is hardly used, the park’s location makes it a target by investors and speculators who can transform the space into real estate in the future. This was the case with the Tahrir Square park, the green space created in 1955 in the center of Tahrir which has been taken away from the public in the 1980s and was later sold to an investment company owned by the minister of housing and minister of tourism. Their company still owns the lot which is being transformed into a massive underground parking facility owned built by the Arab Contractors. Finally the Cairo 2050 plan claims to turn Cairo into a city of parks, showing images of green spaces replacing densely populated areas. The parks here are merely an excuse to dislocate millions of people and to reserve those locations for future capitalist ventures by the state and business elite.

Trees are also political not only because of their effect on urban public space but because of the administrative and environmental reasons mentioned above: who owns the trees? the public? the state? and who takes responsibility for them?

Trees in Cairo can open a multifaceted debate about the environment and governance. Such a debate is necessary and urgently needed. For now however, we hope that those who can afford to plant new trees in their newly constructed desert homes can at least make wiser decisions when choosing what trees to plant.

فقرة رائعة من جميلة اسماعيل عن نتيجة غياب الدولة في عمران القاهرة.

Ahram Gardens

Construction on Cairo’s forth metro line is due to begin. The line will begin from its western-most station at the beginning of 6th of October desert city at DreamLand (a gated compound) and head east. The second station will be at Ahram Gardens, a vast area that is larger than the entire city of Cairo around the year 1900. The area of Ahram Gardens when super-imposed on the center of Cairo at the same scale includes: All of “Islamic Cairo” including the Citadel and Azhar Park, Garden City, Sayyeda Zeynab, all of downtown, Abdeen, El Zaher, part of the Shaf`i cemetary and the northern tip of Roda Island.

Besides the area’s emmense size, it is also notable that its name “Ahram Gardens” or Hada`iq al-Ahram refers to the Giza Pyramids directly next door. Despite this incredible location, Ahram Gardens are more of the same government commissioned housing blocks found anywhere across Egypt. Despite the scale of the development (if it can be called that) there seems to be no clear urban plan whatsoever. And despite that it was, like other desert deveopments, built on a clean slate, what has been built recreates the urban jumble, ad hock planning and lack of vision found in any government plan since the Sadat-era. This is, clear and simple, an urban planning crime and a violation of many standing laws and regulations. In addition, Ahram Gardens forever ruined one of the world’s most unique locations, the Giza Plateau.

David Sims sheds some light on this project in his Understanding Cairo (AUC Press, 2010). Sims refers to Ahram Gardens as “off-plan desert schemes” which he describes in chapter 6 of his book. Here is a bit of his short description of this particular urban snafu:

The oldest and perhaps most outstanding example of such desert land grabs is Hada`iq al-Ahram, or the Pyramid Gardens, subdivisions which began in the late 1970s. At that time a group of influencial persons formed a housing cooperative and somehow gained development rights over a huge 420-hectare site along the Fayoum road just beyond Midan al-Rimaya. This site was just two kilometers from the Giza pyramids area, hence its name. The land was subdivided into large building lots. It is understood that when Anwar Sadat heard of the project, he ordered it cancelled, and for years it remained simply a collection of empty lots with only traces of a street network. However, slowly but surely, investors bought parcels from the original cooperative members and construction of large villas and garden apartment blocks began. Today the site is perhaps half developed, utilities are in place, and land prices have soared to astronomical levels. The fact that the scheme is next door to the iconic Pyramids of Giza does not seem to bother anyone.

This massive area is essentially a land grab by officials. In addition, it is an infringement on a national treasure. The buildings are not occupied and like much of Cairo’s real estate developments, these buildings stand as place-holders where a select few officials, military generals and police officers are waiting for their property to gain value in the future for their own or their children’s benefit, certainly not for Cairo or Egypt.

To make matters worst, Ahram Gardens sits between the Pyramids and the new (and terribly sited) Grand Egyptian Museum. The museum under construction is meant to be the new home of the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square. The main concept of the winning design was direct and uninterrupted view from Museum galleries to the pyramids. Now police officer housing sits between the future museum and the ancient monuments. If the idea behind the new museum’s location is to generate an urban development boom in the area (a kind of Bilbao effect) then Ahram Garden is the museum’s testement to failure before it is even constructed.

Finally, these blocks are far more “informal” and random than the dense urban areas that are referred to as informal. However these kinds of “developments,” and there are many, are government backed and supported using state resources for the benefit of a few crooks. Ahram Gardens isn’t about solving a housing shortage (they sit empty) and it isn’t about developing Cairo and expanding it logically (there is no logic to this). It is about personal benefit and personal investments built on stolen land. These buildings are a true catastrophy because not only are they built on stolen state land (just because corrupt officials in the past accepted their sale does not make these sales legitimate) but also because they have utilities which many of Cairo’s dense urban areas (where people actually live) are deprived from.

Jason Larkin: Cairo Divided

With a rich history stretching back over a millennium, Cairo has become one of the densest urban centers in the world and the largest metropolitan area in Africa. In this podcast, photographer Jason Larkin highlights new construction in Cairo’s desert outskirts. These satellite cities and private gated communities aim to provide exclusive isolation for the city’s elite while over 40% of Egyptians live on less than two dollars per day.