Posts tagged lessons from elsewhere

Forat de la Vergonya: a community’s struggle for the city


Stefano Portelli

It was Christmas holidays of 2002, when a small group of neighbors of La Ribera planted a tree in the middle of an empty lot that replaced the old buildings the City Council of Barcelona had just torn down. The little flashlights hardly added some joy to the desolated landscape of garbage and debris accumulating in the area. A campaign of demolitions had converted one of Barcelona’s central quarters into a ‘transitional space’. It had been a labyrinth of medieval alleys, arches and passageways, in which real people lived, sitting on chairs in front of their houses and drinking wine in the old bars - only a few meters apart from the tourist crowd swarming the Gothic Cathedral and the Museo Picasso.

Gentrification was already strong in the surrounding neighborhoods, and the residents suffered a daily routine of bulldozers, fences, clatter and dust, sometimes leading to forced evictions. After the first demolitions the place became known locally as ‘The hole of shame’, el Forat de la Vergonya, in catalan. Though most were sons or nephews of immigrants from southern Spain, they chose catalan to address the authorities: so the words ‘Forat de la Vergonya’ began ringing around the city center - there was a hole in the old fabric of the town, whose inhabitants watched demolitions extend one after the other. One day the tree was poisoned: somebody understood it could become a symbol for something more than Happy Christmas. The residents replaced it with a new one, now surrounded by banners and writings on the walls, denouncing that real estate speculation and public policies that were forcing people out of the area.

Many houses surrounding the ‘hole’ had been emptied and waited for the demolition: so it was little surprise when an assorted crew of young people - many of whom were foreigners - broke into a six-story building and turned it into one of the most experimental and enjoyable squats in town. A strong complicity arose among the international squatters and the local neighbors of the Forat de la Vergonya: and the struggle got tougher.

“El Forat” (2006) documentary film by Falconetti Penya

The ‘hole’ became an arena for urban struggle: the City Council wanted to turn it into a four-story subterranean parking lot, but the residents wanted to keep it public. The residents didn’t only ask for it, but actually built a public space, planted trees, sat around, organized parties and concerts in it. The square became alive. Until one day in November 2003, when the authorities built a wall around the whole area, ordering the anti-riot police forces to guard it day and night to prevent more ‘illegal occupations’. This action by authorities ignited a large demonstration against the evictions in downtown Barcelona. Nobody expected what would happen when the demonstration ended in the Forat: there was just that tiny wall preventing people from taking back the square… It was easy to tear it down, with bare hands or spare pipes and poles that were abandoned in the area, or the very bricks that held it up. And a tree was planted again in the plaza.

After that confrontation a little war raged in the center of Barcelona: local residents, were they squatters, leasers or owners suffered beatings, detentions, persecutions and police harassment. During the subsequent years the square was reclaimed inch-by-inch, word-by-word, in public meetings and in bootleg festivals held in the space occasionally. Acts of resistance included decorating the square, planting trees, building benches, and even building a wooden pirate ship for children to play on. All this took place while enduring the constant hostility of the City Council and its supporters.

imageForat de la Vergonya square in Barcelona, during the demolitions. Photo Girard Girbes, 2005.

The Forat de la Vergonya was ours; it had become a hotspot of Barcelona’s counterculture, international, interethnic and intergenerational, making it increasingly difficult for the authorities to claim it back to build their parking lot. The city, in Forat, returned to its origins: to retrieve that power of resistance and collective struggle that had made Barcelona the ‘capital of the idea’ – the only city in Europe in which an anarchist revolution prevailed, in the 1930s, where workers ruled in the streets for some years, before the fascist army of general Franco bombed it from the air to bring back the Church and the King over its free soil.

The parking lot was nothing more than a prolongation of that old project of bourgeoise reconquista of Barcelona’s working class neighborhoods. But the new civil struggle could not be won, since, unlike in the 1930s, this was not an armed struggle! In 2007 the squat was evicted, and the Forat lost some of its main activists. Much had already been done, though. Soon the City Council agreed to recede from the project, and declared the square a public park. Many chanted victory, others just made the best of it, knowing no planned plaza could replace the strength of those years of collective self-management and self-planning.

Today not many of those who pass by or spend time in the square know its story. Its very name was replaced, with the uninspiring name of ‘Pou de la Figuera’ - the ‘well of the fig tree’: but neither well nor fig trees are left in the area for generations. But for some, there will always be a message inscribed in this small plaza; a message so clearly read in observing its daily life, compared to the “social death” that rules the touristic neighborhoods that encircle the area. In most Southern European cities we are being pushed to the outskirts, forced into newly built estates, high-rise buildings, cars and buses. But when we watch children still playing freely in a city center, when we see a square in which we can still stop and meet friends, we see that much can still be done to reclaim our cities.

Further reading:

To resist is to win: 10 years in the Forat, from the blog Perifèries Urbanes of the Catalan Institute of Anthropology.

El ‘Forat de la Vergonya’: the sudden clash between architecture, politics and citizens in the renovation of the historic center of Barcelona”, Alessandro Scarnato, 2014

Observatory for Anthropology of Urban Conflict (OACU), University of Barcelona.

Looking to Beirut from Cairo (Part II)

This is the second of a two part reflection on Cairo via Beirut. Here is Part I.


Show off your own city: Go to Beirut’s bookshops, such as the famous Antoine, and you’ll find a plethora of Beirut-produced books about Beirut. The authors are diverse and the publishers are many and the images portrayed of the city by residents of the city take different forms and tell different stories, indeed there are many “Beyroutes” to discover.

Take for example these two guidebooks pictured above. Beyroutes: a guide to Beirut is a project initiated by Studio Beirut. The project “presents an exploded view of a city which lives so many double lives and figures in so many truths, myths, and historical falsifications that for navigating its streets and its corners you need a whole new set of rules of engagement.” This blurb on the back cover says a lot: it says that Beirut is complex (as is any city) but often guides elide complicity in favor of ease of navigation to select points of interest always directed towards a very narrow audience, the tourist. This guide, however, takes a different approach to introducing readers to a city, this city, Beirut. The book is divided into several sections: “First Impression City,” “Official City,” “Emotional City,” and “Invented City.” Within each of these sections are a variety of items that range from short essays to cognitive maps drawn by residents to photo essays. The pieces herein convey experiences of the city and zoom in on particular places, districts or routes from one area to another. You can read things like “Urban Myths” by Steve Eid who forwards his short contribution by writing “In a city where nothing is certain and rumors and hearsay are all you have to go by, myths become sacred wisdom.” Another piece is “Accidental Monuments” by Reem Saouma, which consists of four photographs which when you turn the page you realize they are actually postcards that can cut our of the book. The postcards depict four sites/buildings in the city that, as the title suggests, have become accidental monuments, such as the City Center Cinema, pictured below, as a (monument to the devastation of downtown), and Charles Helou Station (monument to modernity). Beyroutes is not a conventional guidebook. It is different in format and content. It is authored by residents from different parts and of different affiliations and interests. It is for Beirutis and visitors to use.image

Beirut, a Guide to the City (pictured to the right) by Carole Corm “offers an original take on Beirut. Digging deep into its cultural and historical wealth with Fin de Siecle and Post War thematic trails amongst others, to plenty of suggestions on new boutique hotels, up and coming designers and soon to open art foundations.” This is a very different kind of guide from the one discussed above but it too avoids the traps of mass-produced impersonalized guidebooks available on the market targeted towards international tourists. This is a guide by Beirutis also for Beirutis and visitors alike, whether they are visiting for a week or staying for a couple of months. The book is beautifully designed and printed with photographs by Nadim bou Habib. The spirit of the book is perhaps captured best in a page in which the author debunks “5 cliches about Beirut” such as, Beirut is “the Paris of the Middle East” which is eloquently debunked with “or maybe it’s the Beirut of the Middle East.”

These are but two examples of many more similar books and guides and publications that show Beirut from the perspective of locals without eliding the less than perfect aspects of the city. This printed matter on/about/for Beirut is impressive not only in its quantity but also its creativity, thoughtful content and high quality production. Cairo on the other hand suffers from a deficit in this kind of publication despite being a larger city with many complex stories and narratives, many sites and voices and a huge market of local readers as well as international tourists. International guidebook companies are the most available guides to the city which serve a particular audience. There is also the practical guide to Cairo which stands alone as an alternative guide to the city and it is too conventional in its structure and content. Cairo needs to tell its own stories creatively and celebrate its multiplicity and complexity for its own residents and its visitors..


Making something new from a lot of old things: Hishik Bishik Show is an amazing production that brings together songs that were familiar to anyone born in Egypt before 1990. These are early to mid-twentieth century songs that are part of modern Egyptian folklore and which are part of a fragmented and fading heritage. The show is performed by 10 singers, dancers and musicians and it is entirely live. The set is simple yet innovative, another proof that a good stage production does not need a large budget to look good.

The songs are arranged together in a sequence that does an excellent job of avoiding nostalgia. This is not an attempt to re-perform classics without intervention, to the contrary. The show is campy without ridiculing the musical heritage that is the source of inspiration and the artists perform with such grace combining professionalism with humor and individual personality. This makes the show an all-new never before seen experience even though its foundations are 50-80 year old songs. يا خارجة من باب الحمام or يا مصطفى يا مصطفى become at once familiar yet brand new. The show is presented in a cabaret setting where the audience sits around tables with food and drink on offer. It is a fun night out that I would have loved to have in Cairo, after all this is Egyptian folklore. But why have our own young artists and musicians veered away from using this rich archive of material as a resource for totally new artistic productions without falling into traps of nostalgia or struggling with questions of authenticity? The Hishik Bishik Show is evidence that looking back and digging into the treasure trove of Egyptian pop culture is a worthwhile endeavor that can produce something totally new, fresh, and entertaining.


The show takes place in Metro al Madina, a venue in the basement of a building on Hamra Street. This could have been a forgotten unused space, but now it hosts this weekly show and another set of performances and it has its own bar creatively designed using old theater seats. The opportunities to do this in Cairo are endless with tens of old theaters in downtown alone in addition to other neighborhoods sitting empty, closed and unused waiting to be creatively activated.


Stay a While: Artists need space and often they can’t afford space. In Beirut it seems that a few people have managed to make deals and arrangements between some property owners and artists where space can be temporarily used (could be months or years) for free as long as the owner gets their house back when they decide. It is a kind of soft contract that works both ways, on the one hand the property is activated rather than remaining empty and unused and on the other hand artists can have space to set up their studio space and get their work done. Pictured above is “the mansion” a large urban mansion currently used by an artist community. They are not squatters because there is a deal with the owner, and the space is maintained enough to be functional, there is a working kitchen for example and a communal dinning table with benches in the garden for group lunches and brainstorming. The entire place feels like an escape and and with the burden of paying rent alleviated, the place emanates with positive vibes.

Again such a thing can happen in Cairo where hundreds of independent artists face a difficult time finding affordable studio or working space. When individual artists find spaces they are often isolated and don’t have the luxury of community that the mansion in Beirut provides its artists. In addition, Cairo’s many alternative artist spaces and venues are paying high premium rents and their funding is often donations or from international grants which means a significant portion of their limited resources goes into securing the space rather than into their artistic production and programing. Empty locked up properties in Cairo, particularly downtown and surrounding areas such as Bulaq are abundant but they are managed with commercial interests in mind where providing space for free for artists to work (even with some kind of contract and conditions) is unheard of. Of course in Cairo the big elephant in the room is the state which owns many buildings which can be regenerated by artists if the state grants them short/medium/long term contracts free of charge (based on a process of evaluation and with set conditions) which will allow artist collectives to raise money to repair the spaces, generate the areas around these otherwise dead properties and energize and diversify the local economy.


Building Boom: Both Cairo and Beirut are experiencing an uninterrupted construction boom, however that boom manifests differently in each city. For instance the boom in Cairo is in the unofficial/semi-official sector.  Contractors (مقاولين) build several buildings at a time, all speculative, often on agricultural land or in pockets within the city, typically with massive corruption involving bribes for permits (if they bother to get permits) and more bribes to get the municipality to connect water, gas and electricity despite the dubious legal status of the buildings. These constructions abuse underpaid labor and incredibly cheap building materials such as concrete and brick.

This type of construction is pervasive and it is the result of a malfunctioning municipal and planning system, a porous legal system, a corrupt state and the abundance of cash that is not plugged into the formalized/official economy. These constructions lead to destruction of agricultural land, demolition of historic buildings particularly old domestic architecture (often undocumented and understudied) and exert pressure on infrastructural systems. When done in the urban core in neighborhoods like Sayeda Zeynab or Abbasiyya such constructions not only lead to the removal/eviction of original tenants and the destruction of their homes but they also lead to a drastic transformation in that urban environment, and the escalation of land and property value. However, the physical form of these constructions do not correspond with academic architectural practice, they don’t look like gentrification to an eye which defines the term with reference to a western paradigm, thus they often escape that kind of critique. For others such construction is misread as a response to housing shortages despite the fact that many such buildings remain vacant for years (speculating on future values and since no taxation is required there is little financial burden on the builders, these are exploitative speculative investments. Cairo has in excess of a million empty new units from this construction sector alone). To others they are also misread as a sign of increasing poverty due to their poor aesthetic quality, namely the unfinished exteriors and exposed red brick, which visually does appear similar to construction in impoverished or lower-income areas.

On the other hand architectural projects designed by Egyptian architects catering to upper income clients tend to be out of sight in the privatized cities outside Cairo proper. Such projects also tend to be low-rise residential units. For a city as large as Cairo with a sizable population with the financial means to build, the number of known architectural firms with practices that conform to international professional standards can be counted on the fingers of one hand. For example the most visible and accessible project by Shahira Fahmy architects is designopolis which is located far outside the city on the desert road to Alexandria. This means that architecture with a capital A is little visible within the core of Cairo.

The situation is dramatically different in Beirut. The difference I point to here is not about taste or design aesthetic but rather about the continued relevance of the profession of architecture to the private capital in the city. Architects have become irrelevant in Cairo’s urban development, perhaps because of the dominance of large development companies and the diffusion of private wealth into corporate cookie cutter developments invisible to the general public. Also because of Beirut’s limited space, upper-end developments remain in the core of the city and are vertical thus visible, rather than Cairo’s horizontal and invisible developments.

What is also significant is that many graduates from Beirut’s schools of architecture, most notably AUB, end up working at firms in Beirut producing architecture in Beirut. That relationship between architectural education, architectural practice and the real estate market has been interrupted in Egypt perhaps because architectural education at Egyptian universities, including AUC, is lagging behind the transformations in Egyptian politics, economy and society. The system is producing professionals whose expertise does not correspond to the needs of Egyptian cities and the Egyptian real estate market, which has led to the marginalization of trained architects in the majority of the city’s development which has been viewed by those very professionals as “informal” and “poor” when in fact things are more complex on the ground than this flattening view. I suppose the question raised by the comparison between the practice of architecture in both cities is how can Egyptian architects make their services relevant again to a wider segment of society so that their practice becomes more visible and contribute to the shaping of the city’s urban reality? Another important point of comparison regarding professional practice is the relatively high standard of Lebanese construction companies’ practice compared to their Egyptian counterparts: the choice of building materials, the execution, construction site preparation and management, and other aspects of the construction industry which have nearly disappeared in the vast majority of Egypt’s constructions.




Downtowns: The word Solidere often incites reactions that sometimes verge on the aggressive. The story is known: a company formed by the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, acquired the entire war-damaged downtown area of Beirut and proceeded to remodel and redevelop it with a heavy top-down exclusionary approach that has alienated the majority of Beiruti society and has made the area into a privatized hyper-realistic, pedestrian yet militarized, mostly vacant-above-street-level city center. Debating the accuracy of this popular view is not my interest here. However, I am interested in how that experience in Beirut has affected the reception of another company in another city in another downtown. When Al-Ismailiya company came on the scene sometime in 2009-10 it faced many criticisms including attacks based on an analogy with Solidere’s downtown Beirut. 

This issue deserves its own article, but in the context of this Beirut-Cairo discussion a few points must be made that could be further elaborated elsewhere. Downtown Cairo is not downtown Beirut and Al-Ismailia is not Solidere, and here are a few observations to support my argument that the two projects are fundamentally different. (1) post-war downtown Beirut was a bombed out city heavily damaged and largely depopulated, downtown Cairo, although unmaintained it is far from a bombed out city! and while the percentage of occupancy in the residential apartments is as low as %20 in some blocks it is not depopulated and its streets are buzzing with life and activity. (2) Downtown Beirut is significantly smaller than its Cairene counterpart, the entire core of downtown Beirut is equivalent in size to the area surrounding Talaat Harb Square in Cairo. (3) Solidere grew out of a marriage between political power and private capital, and the company was formed to carry out work that the state was not going to do directly, this is different in Cairo as Al-Ismailia is not a private arm of the state nor is there direct relation between the company and the state nor is it mandated by the state to carry out work that should otherwise be done by a public institution such as the municipality. (4) Because of the post-war state of downtown Beirut, Solidere was able to buy out property rights from the existing owners at extremely low prices given the conditions of the city, however in downtown Cairo the ownership map of the area is far more complex with over %50 of downtown buildings owned by various state owned entities such as banks and insurance companies in addition to a highly complex ownership map of private owners, inheritors not to mention buildings owned by Awqaf. This means that even if it were planned to mimic a Solidere style project in Cairo it would be nearly impossible for a single company to simply acquire entire sections of downtown let alone the entire district.


Perhaps as way of conclusion I should elaborate on some points that triggered this two-part reflection on Cairo via Beirut. Beirut is bigger than its Downtown and Hamra, just like Cairo is much more than downtown and Zamalek. The intention here was to try to understand how particular aspects of place manifest differently in each city as a result of the difference in the role of the state and private capital in each city. For instance the military is visibly present on Beirut’s streets with armored vehicles and uniformed officers stationed throughout the city, yet that visibility is not a reflection of the military’s control of the city’s economy, for example, as it is the case in Cairo. In Cairo the military functions as landowner, and real estate broker owning large swaths of land in and around the city and selling such lands directly to international developers such as Emaar, or to local businessmen to develop places such as Shorouk City. At the same time the Egyptian state is bloated and ever-present, controlling (and complicating) transactions that range from acquiring permits for opening an ice cream shop to acquiring construction and demolition permits. While this is not unusual and it is in fact the role of the state to control such transactions, the high levels of corruption and the unnecessary complications within this bloated state have had adverse effects on Cairo’s municipal and urban development. The Lebanese state is significantly weaker and less intrusive (at least compared to the case in Egypt) and the relationship between that state and society is significantly more ambivalent than in Egypt. Again this is not to say one condition is preferable over the other, rather it is an attempt to point to the possible differences that contribute to the production of different kinds of cities.

The other major component that presents itself as a contributing factor in the difference between the two cities is the role of middle/upper income private capital. In addition to the spaces of consumption and spaces of cultural production discussed above, there is a visible impact of Lebanese families supporting the arts. While Egyptian independent art institution depend entirely on international grants and funding, in Lebanon there are many families who have been patrons of the arts and who support individual artists as well as institutions such as Ashkal Alwan. This aspect of bourgeois society has nearly disappeared in Egypt where the accumulation of private wealth has not been complemented by an active philanthropic engagement with society and if it exists it is limited to essentials such as food banks and almost never enters the realm of the arts.

In addition, private business of many varieties take Beirut as their point of inspiration. There is a kind of visible passion for the city despite its less than perfect condition. The result is a kind of city branding from below, by the people of the city not by some tourist authority or top-down government institution. I think this is called civic pride.

On another scale, banks in Lebanon, such as Bank Audi and Bank Byblos, have also taken an active role in supporting arts and culture and in financing urban improvement projects, perhaps as part of their corporate responsibility spending, although I am not sure how to explain this. Egypt’s many banks have no role in urban upgrading projects nor in the arts nor in providing financial services such as small loans for young Egyptians to establish small business nor do they allow borrowing to young Egyptians seeking to purchase and restore property in the city center (broadly defined as the area within the ring road).

Finally, Cairo’s enormous real estate developers have not had a positive or active role in improving discourses on architecture and urbanism or supporting any of Egypt’s architecture departments and universities nor creating/funding research labs that seek to produce innovative solutions to Egyptian urban problems in ways that will ultimately benefit Egyptian cities and indirectly benefit their business endeavors. Solidere, as controversial as it maybe, publishes Portal 9, “a journal of stories and critical writing about urbanism and the city.” The journal, pictured below, is published in both Arabic and English and provides an excellent platform for the dissemination of urban and architectural research covering contemporary and historic topics with a particular focus on Middle Eastern cities. I can’t imagine what an architectural journal published by the developers of Madinaty or Porto New Cairo would look like.

Beirut suffers from many of the same problems Cairo confronts, from the destruction of historic heritage, to the lack of democratic municipal management and the increasing privatization of public spaces and urban amenities. However, it seems that beyond the apparent aesthetic and taste level contrast with Cairo there are fundamental differences between the two cities that result from the ways in which the relationship between state, society and capital is negotiated in each context. Looking at Cairo through the lens of Beirut maybe helpful in understanding Cairo’s complexity through a comparative view that moves beyond the usual north-south pairing (looking to European cities for lessons) and beyond the fad of idolizing Gulf cities as a point of reference for Cairo’s development and urban culture.


[The Beirut waterfront, the city’s premiere public space for promenading]

image[Portal 9 (right) launched in 2012 is a journal dedicated to writings about the city, The Outpost (left) is a quarterly magazine that “aims to ignite a socio-cultural renaissance in the Arab world through inspiring its readers to explore a world of possibilities.”]

Looking to Beirut from Cairo (Part I)

This is the first of a two part reflection on Cairo via Beirut.


Comparative urban perspectives can be helpful. Beirut, only a short one hour flight away from Cairo, offers some interesting possibilities for reflecting on Cairo’s urban condition. Cairo has been the victim of city-pairing that has been less productive or informative, take for example the concept of “Dubaization” flaunted for a decade and even championed by some Egyptian architects and architecture academics in their envisioning for Cairo’s urban future or their attempts at grasping the city’s urban development from malls to the never-off-the-ground attempts at high rises along the Nile. In retrospect, looking at Cairo via the Dubai lens was little useful in understanding the city’s transformations over the past decade.

Beirut on the other hand complements Cairo and as a point of reference could be useful in understanding the trajectory of Cairo’s urban culture. The majority of this two-part reflection will function as a kind of condensed partial list of observations and a descriptive attempt at capturing some of the many facets that I find compelling in Beirut, particularly while keeping Cairo as my frame of reference. So to be clear, especially to my Beirut friends, this is really a post about Cairo, and I don’t claim to offer a comprehensive view of Beirut and I won’t be attempting to capture Beirut’s complexity since I only know it as a repeat visitor moving within a very particular geography within the city. To be more precise this is a post about the impact of bourgeois society in each city.


[Zaituna Bay, a waterfront marina development with a public boardwalk, restaurants and shops.]

Beirut and Cairo have a long history that ties them together. Families from Lebanon immigrated to Egypt over a century ago where they along with Syrian families formed a lively Shami-Egyptian community. Egyptian and Lebanese singers, writers and actors exchanged ideas, collaborated and traveled between the two countries frequently. Egyptian intellectuals fled to Beirut in the 60s. Cairo- and Beirut- based architects were in dialogue. Cairo-based Antoine Selim Nahas, one of Egypt’s leading modernist architects who is of Lebanese origin, co-designed the Beirut’s archaeological museum (National Museum). The building features a facade inspired by Ancient Egyptian architecture.

There are obvious differences between Cairo and Beirut: Beirut is a city of two million while Cairo is home to twenty million. Beirut is geographically limited with the Mediterranean coast on one side and mountains on the other dotted with villages and small towns that serve as suburbs. Cairo, however is flat for the most part with no natural limits defining its edges which has led to a horizontal expansionist urbanization that has more than tripled the city’s footprint in the past two decades alone.

However, I attribute the contrast between the two cities to two major differences: (1) the relationship of the state (and the military) to the city and (2) the relationship of private capital to the city, in each case respectively.


Instability: In recent months it has been amusing watching the Egyptian middle and upper class freak out about power cuts, worsening traffic (was it really better before?), and the overall state of political confusion. (Yes these are developments that deserve serious political mobilization to prevent them from becoming the new normal). But, in Beirut the power is cut daily for three hours on a set schedule, which has created a market for power generators for those who can afford them. Still, electricity bills are astronomical in Beirut compared to Cairo. Traffic can be bad here too, and there is nearly zero public transport infrastructure and a taxi ride is minimum $7 (LE50). The city has a massive refugee population, a history of civil war, and car bombs still happen, not to mention Israel has bombed the city recently and got away with it. Political life in Beirut is too complicated for me to grasp but I think it is safe to say that it does not amount to political stability.

Yet the city is thriving and its middle class is relentlessly making it work. There is a sense of resilience that is unmatched in Cairo where famously during the early days of the revolution some faced very middle class problems like being unable to order pizza delivery. What have the Egyptian middle and upper class done to Cairo during the -now viewed with nostalgia- political stability of the past 30 years? Political stability in Cairo turned it into a segregated food court out of American suburbia. The more interesting bourgeois venues were few, over-priced and made exclusive even if what’s on offer was nothing more than dressed up mediocrity. Overall there has been relatively little investment by Cairo’s bourgeois into the urban core with much of private investment being directed with state policy towards the desert fringe, thus fragmenting the potential for the formation of a powerful urban bourgeoisie proud of their city (a social, economic and political entity that the authoritarian state might have to please).

Despite political instability Beirutis have created an interesting city for eating, drinking, shopping, walking, and creating. And despite the security challenges of that city there isn’t the kind of obsession with walls/fences protecting the privileged few from the rest (for contrast see any major hotel in Cairo or the city’s premier shopping destination City Stars Mall). Entry to the swimming pool of the St. George Club costs $30 yet it is directly visible and open onto the publicly accessible and free waterfront boardwalk of Zaituna Bay (pictured above). There are no walls, no bomb-sniffing dogs and no tens of underpaid security guards.

Beirutis aren’t waiting by the sidelines until things calm down to do the things that make the city a destination for its own residents and visitors. Beirutis are consumers but of a different kind than Cairene consumers. Yes there are international chains in Beirut but there are many more alternatives, indigenous forms of commercialism driven by strong concepts and individualism.


Concept: Strong design concepts lie behind Beirut’s various commercial establishments. Take for example Urbanista, a popular recent addition to Gemmayze. The restaurant/cafe has a spacious interior with modern decor that is eclectic and is at once international and contemporary Lebanese. There is a little garden in the back and free internet throughout. Every detail in the space is designed with attention, from reused and reclaimed parts and pieces of furniture to exposed brick, industrial lighting, and polished concrete floors, this is an urban hangout, hence the name. At the entrance there are some items for sale, some local design items others international imports, all items that cater to the “young urban professional.” In addition to the design and high concept the food and drink are top quality. Urbanista offers its clients an experience, something that I find to be lacking in many similar establishments in Cairo where often there is high concept but low quality product or mediocre concept and product. Urbanista, and establishments like it in Beirut, is driven by an owner with vision and hands on management.

Another example is the recently opened Jaï, a chef-operated delivery and catering service specialized in east Asian dishes. Chef Wael Lazkani, a well-seasoned and traveled chef who cooked at some of the world’s top restaurants decided to establish a business in his hometown Beirut. His concept is a delivery/catering kitchen with a table that seats 4. The kitchen is in a storefront open onto the street so passersby can see and smell the delicious Asian flavors being cooked up as they walk by. The well-designed kitchen is inviting, clean, modern and most importantly the food is ridiculously delicious and affordable. There are dishes on the menu of Chinese, Indian, Thai and Indonesian origin but they are all done with chef Wael’s creative design. The food is inventive and not obsessed with “authenticity”. Creating a kitchen without a full seated restaurant reduced overhead and management costs and creates room for the business to grow. The chef himself runs the kitchen from opening to closing, making Jai another example of Beirut’s labor of love.imageimage

Another concept-driven owner-run establishment is Papercup, a bookshop specialized in books on art, architecture, design, photography, and fashion. The shelves are stocked with a beautiful collection the likes of which I have not seen in Cairo despite the recent surge in bookshops. The magazine rack is impressive with particular attention to art/architecture magazines emerging from the region lately, many of which are out of Beirut. The shop has a few tables and the owner, who was working there when we visited, offers an incredible service of ordering anything that isn’t on the shelves with complimentary shipping. Delicious coffee is also served. The design of the shop is simple, clean, modern, making use of typical Beiruti cement tiles and the shop identity/logo/concept is manifest in specially-designed lighting fixtures.

These are just three examples of this kind of individualized entrepreneurship that shapes Beirut. Although Cairo has recently witnessed the emergence of concept-driven spaces of consumption they tend to still function within the dominating business models in Egypt: franchising/fast food, which are less about placemaking and creating a unique space and more about creating a product that can be multiplied endlessly, which is far less charming.


[The office of the Arab Center for Architecture in Sassine, Beirut]


[Arab Image Foundation premises in Gemmayze]

Sharing Knowledge: This week Lebanon participated in International Archive Day, in which several Lebanese institutions opened their archives to the public to stimulate interest in the work carried out by these institutions and to stimulate interest in history in general. Two of the participating institutions are the Arab Center for Architecture and the Arab Image Foundation.

The Arab Image Foundation, established in 1997, is the leading photography collection and archive in the region. The non-profit organization has been collecting, restoring, digitizing and archiving photographic material for over a decade and making their material available to researchers as well as producing exhibitions and books that publicize their work and the region’s photographic history. Their beautifully designed facility is inviting and the staff are helpful. Visiting the AIF it was difficult for me to understand why such an organization does not exist in Egypt. There are separate attempts, such as the state’s CULTNAT project which has tried to digitize Egypt’s photographic heritage but after years of that program they have little to show for it and there is no physical archive nor did the organization engage the public in any meaningful way. Then there are Egypt’s hoarders, both Egyptian and foreign, who collect and accumulate all kinds of heritage material including photography which they never share waiting for the moment THEY will write this book or create that exhibition, none of which materialize. There are few exceptions in Egypt such as AUC’s exhibitions on Van Leo, but again AUC is already is universe within a universe, closed onto itself and such exhibitions on campus premises pale in comparison to the efforts done by AIF. What is so inspiring about AIF is that everyone working their is passionate and that there is an understanding that there is a need to make this photographic heritage seen by the public sooner than later. This has led to unexpected collaborations such as the organization’s recent collaboration with Samandal (see picture below), Beirut’s graphic magazine, where the Samandal team was invited into AIF archives and produced an entire issue based on photographic material from the collection. The issue included an index of the original photographs.


[The Arab Center for Architecture’s exhibition titled “Modern Design and Architecture in the Arab World: the Beginnings of a Project,” the exhibition was held in a modernist house in the center of Beirut and the owner allowed the ACA to transform the space for the exhibition in exchange for a symbolic gift, essentially the ACA was not burdened with renting the space.]

The Arab Center for Architecture was established in 2008. Founders were George Arbid, Fouad El Khoury, Nada Habis Assi, Bernard Khoury, Hashim Sarkis, Amira Solh and Jad Tabet. The center is mainly focused on recuperating the heritage of modernist architecture in Lebanon and beyond. The young organization recently acquired a space that functions as their office and archive where material collected can be sorted and stored. Last month the ACA put on its first public exhibition, curated by ACA with architect Mazen Haidar as assistant curator. The organization and the exhibit show the level of serious engagement with questions related to modern heritage, modernist architecture, research and architectural history. All questions that should concern Egypt’s many departments of architecture and its many decedents of famous architects who practiced in Egypt just two generations ago leaving behind massive archives and collections. Why has there been no such organization established in Egypt? While the scale of building and modernist architecture in Egypt far surpasses anything found elsewhere in the region, what we have left as a public and as researchers is nearly nothing. There are architect’s archives in private hands but they are decaying and unreachable. The Egyptian National Archives has not presented itself as a reliable place for collections to be deposited nor has it sought such collections. In the meantime there were no efforts to do as the Lebanese have done and establish a serious independent center for architecture that focuses on this important heritage so closely related to questions of history and identity relevant to the present.


[Ashkal Alwan space in Jisr el Wati during their Home Works Forum 6 program]

Working together: Coming from Cairo to Beirut I always sense an enviable sense of collaboration. Perhaps because the city is relatively small and because everyone seems to know everyone, people seem to work together more. Collaborations happen within arts and culture field but also across fields. A space established by one group can be easily transformed to be used by another group for another purpose temporarily. Collaboration does not mean that artists, architects and others have lost their competitive edge.

For example during last month’s Home Works Forum organized by Ashkal Alwan, the program incorporated some of the city’s many spaces and venues such as Babel Theatre, al-Madina Theatre, Metropolis Empire, Beirut Art Center, 98 Weeks, and Artheum. Other art galleries organized shows to coincide with the forum. More generally collaboration is felt in Beirut in the sense that persons and organizations work together, share facilities and equipment and support each other. See for example the We Are Working network, a directory of arts and culture organizations working in Lebanon. This sense of collaboration is now extending beyond the city and the country into a regional level with the establishment of the Modern Heritage Observatory, an initiative led by Beirut’s AIF and ACA along with the Association for Arabic Music and Cinematheque de Tanger.

image[Samandal (right) a graphic magazine out of Beirut. Shown here is the special issue that resulted from the collaboration between Samandal and the Arab Image Foundation. Blending Traditions (left) is an example of Beirut’s many publications that celebrate the city and its sites of memory, in this case Cafe Younes, established 1935.]

This is the first of a two part reflection on Cairo via Beirut. Part II is here.

Lessons from elsewhere: Milan Design Week, When Districts Compete

Around the world this spring and summer several international events take place at several cities, the Cannes Film festival, the Sharjah Biennial, the Venice Biennial and others are events that bring flocks of visitors interested in particular cultural productions such as film and art to those cities. The events serve various functions from energizing the economies of cities to revitalizing otherwise neglected spaces to creating dynamic reputations (branding) for those cities. In all cases such events put their host cities on the world culture map and bring visitors year round beyond the limited time frames of those events. In Egypt, events such as the Cairo Film Festival have failed to make a similar impact on the city. Aly Muhammad Ahmad visited Milan Design Week and reflected on the power of international events in revitalizing cities and keeping them going.


The main exhibition at Milan Rho

By Aly Muhammad Ahmad

Architecture has always been as much about the event that takes place in a space as about the space itself. Bernard Tshumi, Event Cities

Every year during April and for a week, Milan, the well known city as the capital of design and fashion, is well dressed to welcome one of the most important design events in the world: the Milan Design Week. The event takes place in Rho exhibition area (the main exhibition), and also at different districts and neighborhoods which are considered for young designers.

The upcoming lines are not a report about the event and the competition that takes place between designers from all over the world or their amazing works, but it is an attempt to consider an urban perspective on another competition that takes place between different city districts, neighborhoods and public spaces.

Different spaces in each district, whatever their original functions are, switch into exhibition areas. A university, a kindergarten, a warehouse or a workshop, it does not matter, they are all switched to serve the design exhibition.

The two examples below are for two districts that are quiet and calm neighborhoods during typical everyday life but during the Design Week, they are the most well known and active spaces in the city.


The Egyptian booth at salone satellite 2013

Ventura Lambrate

Ventura Lambrate area is a remote area and the main street where the exhibition takes place is full of warehouses, abandoned factories and workshops for small crafts where people are exhibiting their works side by side with their crafts tools.

There are some light fixtures, benches on the outside and bars to sell water and snacks are all what you need to bring life and people into a warehouse and display the different products in open partitions. The warehouse or the abandoned building becomes vibrant and occupied by people and designers and their products.

A kindergarten is changed and switched into another exhibition space for fashion design; many other buildings are easily switched into new temporary functions.


The exhibition at different Warehouses


The exhibition at Workshops

Via Tortona

Located behind “Porta Genova” train station, “Zona Tortona” is a very calm street with a lot of small houses with courtyards inside and some small shops outside. The courtyards and garages on the ground floor are ready to receive the new function during design week, for example, an entrance garden for a firm head office is switched to an open exhibition. The calm street becomes a crowded pedestrian path; entrances on both sides are opened to welcome people, the small shops display their products outside. Booths are everywhere, people are watching, taking photos, contemplating the products, drinking and crossing from one space to another. It’s totally a vibrant and lively space.


Courtyards at Tortona

Every space is well used; the corridor of an old palace is temporarily used as an open area for display. Many other places are hosting events and exhibitions, the courtyards and rooms of universities, the city centre public spaces, and many more.

Milan is fully booked every year during April because of Design Week; people from all over the world head to the city. In addition to the event, touristic sites across the city become activated and well-visited. The event is an important source of income to the city and its hostels, hotels, museums, transportation, and commercial spaces. Good infrastructure and services are very important to host an event like this.

It is all about a vision and a will to convert a specific place or a city to an attraction point. Why don’t you stop, visit, buy, eat, be entertained and enjoy an atmosphere full of art, design and beauty. It’s a will to bring life to a certain space.

It’s very strange how in Egypt we don’t appreciate the value of historical buildings and how we are neglecting them until we wake up everyday on news about the destruction or the collapse of all or a part of them. It is also strange how we feel shame from old crafts workshops and how we want to get rid of them, instead of discovering the potential inherent in them, while other people have crossed over this by giving value to non valuable buildings through contemporary and elegant functions, design, new concepts and creativity. This requires another look at the city and its contents.

Aly Muhammad Ahmad is a graduate student at the School of Architecture and Society at the Politecnico Di Milano.

Lessons from elsewhere: Leipzig by Ali Alraouf

رباعية الرحلة والمدينة والساحة والحرية

د. علي عبد الرءوف

أستاذ العمارة والتصميم العمراني

ساحة اغوستس Augustus Platz، الساحة الرئيسية بالمدينة والتي تطل عليها جامعة لايبتزج.

من ميدان التحرير إلى ساحة اغوستس: ايام في لايبتزج" مهد الثورة

اعتدت قبل سفري لمدينة جديدة من عالمنا المترامي ان الزم نفسي ببعض القراءات والعمل البحثي المحدود لتكوين فكرة عن المدينة واهم معالمها وتاريخها. هذه العادة استمرت قبل رحلتي إلى مدينة لايبتزج الألمانية مدعوا من قبل مؤسسة فولكس فاجن البحثية للمشاركة في مؤتمر ضبط السياسات في العالم العربي: ما بعد الربيع”. من المراجعة تبين لي ان المدينة واحدة من اهم المدن التاريخية في ألمانيا وكانت المدينة الأولى في ألمانيا الشرقية وتشتهر بجامعتها العريقة المسماة على اسم المدينة: جامعة لايبتزج. المدينة ايضا لها تاريخ طويل مع عمالقة الموسيقى والأدب وأهمهم باخ ومندلسون وجوته كما ولد بها الموسيقار الشهير ريتشارد فاجنر. اذن استبشرت خيرا بالتوليفة المثالية: التاريخ والثقافة والعمارة والادب والموسيقى معا في مدينة واحدة.

الخلفية التاريخية لمدينة لايبتزج

تقع المدينة في شرقي وسط ألمانيا، وتعتبر مركزًا تجاريًا وصناعيًا وثقافيًا. وقد تطورت المدينة إلى مركز تجاري مزدهر خلال العصور الوسطى لأنها تقع عند ملتقى العديد من الطرق التجارية الأوروبية. كما اشتهرت عالميا بمعارضها التجارية الكبرى، وكانت أحد أعظم المراكز الأدبية والموسيقية في أوروبا. وقد دُمر ما يقرب من ربع مباني المدينة خلال الحرب العالمية الثانية (1939- 1945م). وتعد المدينة مركزا لحياة ثقافية نشطة حيث توجد بها الكثير من المدارس والمعارض الفنية والمتاحف. كما أن جامعة لايبتزج التي سمّاها الشيوعيون جامعة كارل ماركس بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية، تأسست عام 1409م، ومن أشهر خريجيها الشاعر الألماني الشهير يوهان فلفجانج جوته، وروبرت شومان، وريتشارد فاجنر، وفيرديديش نيتشه. ومن المراكز المعرفية الأخرى في لايبتزج معهد للموسيقى الذي أسسه المؤلف الموسيقي فيليكس مندلسون عام 1843م، وكلية للفنون ومعهد للفنون التخطيطية وفنون الكتب. وقد أدت لايبتزج دورًا كبيرا في تاريخ الموسيقى الألمانية. فقد عاش فيها جوهان سيباستيان باخ، وروبرت شومان، ومندلسون، وغيرهم من العبقريات الموسيقية، كما ولد فيها المؤلف الموسيقى ريتشارد فاجنر، وقد استمتعت المدينة بأعظم عهودها كمركز للموسيقى والأدب خلال القرن التاسع عشر الميلادي.

ساحة التغيير للمدينة والدولة والعالم

اندهشت عندما وصلت إلى بهو فندقي في قلب مدينة لايبتزج حينما داعبتني موظفة الاستقبال مشرقة الوجه قائلة انت بالقطع محظوظ، فحجرتك هي الوحيدة الباقية من الحجرات التي تتمتع بمنظر مباشر على الكنيسة والساحة اللتان غيرتا العالم. تغيير العالم من هنا، الجملة اذهلتني، وادركت ان العمل البحثي الذي قمت به قبل الرحلة لم يكن بالقطع كافيا. فتحت بلهفة ستائر نافذة الحجرة العريضة الممتدة بطول الحائط لأرى كنيسة صغيرة الحجم جميلة التشكيل والتصميم وعلى حدودها ساحة للمشاة ذات مقياس انساني دافئ لم يمنع المطر المتساقط ولا درجة الحرارة التي انزلقت الى -5 تحت الصفر، من امتلاءها بالحركة من كل الاعمار والالوان. الساحة ذات حدود معمارية واضحة من مجموعة من المباني التاريخية التي لا يتجاوز اعلاها ارتفاع الاربع ادوار وتلتف المباني حول الساحة المستطيلة لتكوين فراغ عمراني له عبق تاريخي رصين بينما ترتكز الكنيسة بأبراجها على ركن الفراغ مكونة منظومة بصرية ثرية.

فضولي الانساني والاكاديمي والمعماري لم يسمح لي بمجرد التفكير في دقائق من الراحة بعد رحلة طويلة امتدت من مدينة الدوحة بدولة قطر الى مدينة فرانكفورت بألمانيا ومنها الى مدينة لايبتزج. قرابة 13 ساعة من الطيران والانتظار في صالات المطارات لم تجعلني اتردد في غلق النافذة وباب حجرتي ونزلت اخطو خطواتي الاولى في الساحة ومازالت كلمات فتاة الاستقبال تتردد في عقلي: “الساحة التي غيرت العالم”.اخرجت مفكرتي الصغيرة ودونت اسم الكنيسة المكتوب على مدخلها كنيسة القديس نيكولاسSt. Nicholas Church.ثم كتبت اسم الساحة من لافتة انيقة على حائط حجري رطبته الامطار.عندما بذلت مزيد من الجهد البحثي مستعينا بشبكة الانترنت الاسطورية، تبين لي ان الكنيسة بنيت حوالي عام 1165 ميلاديا عندما كانت مدينة لايبتزج تسمي مدينة القديس نيكولاس وبنيت على الطراز الرومانسكي ثم طورت عند توسعتها لتميل اكثر في طرازها المعماري الى الطراز القوطي الذي استخدم في بناء كاتدرائيات اوروبا الشهيرة.

المدينة والساحة والثورة

قصة تغيير المانيا واوروبا والعالم مثلها مثل ثورات الربيع العربي كان لها ايضا بداية بسيطة وغير متوقعة. فقد دعت مجموعة من الشباب الرافضين للمناخ السياسي الاستبدادي الديكتاتوري في المانيا الشرقية الى اجتماع لمناقشة مصير امتهم. شباب كان يرفض استمرار التعذيب والموت والاعتقال اللانهائي لكل من تسول له نفسه ان يعترض او يتمرد. كان بناء سور برلين الذي فصل شطري المانيا فصلا جغرافيا هو الجريمة الاكبر لان الفصل بالواقع كان عاطفيا وانسانيا حيث مزقت العائلات وقطعت الاوصال. لم تتحمل الجماعة الشابة الثائرة في مدينة لايبتزج المزيد من هذا القهر، ودعت الى اجتماع بهدف توحيد الصفوف وبدء مشروع متماسك للمعارضة، ولأهمية مركزية المكان وقع اختيارهم على كنيسة القديس نيكولاس ليكون مقرا للاجتماع.

لم يكن للثورة زعيم. الزعيم او الرأس كان كنيسة القديس نيكولاس والجسد كان مركز المدينة. كان هناك قيادة واحدة: يوم الاثنين، الساعة الخامسة بعد الظهر، كنيسة القديس نيكولاس!!”

الفنان بيرناد لتزلانج متحدثا عن الأحداث التي بدأت في كنيسة القديس نيكولاس عام 1989.

عندما حانت ساعة اللقاء لم يكن اكثر المتفائلين يتوقع اكثر من بضعة مئات، فكيف يتدفق الشباب الى مكان يعلمون جيدا كيف يتعامل وحوش البوليس السري والعلني مع التجمعات المعارضة. يعلمون ايضا وجود كاميرات المراقبة على كل المباني العامة والساحات والميادين التي تحذر قيادات البوليس فتعطي الاوامر بالمهاجمة والاعتقال الوحشي في دقائق. المذهل مع كل هذا انه في خلال ساعات كانت الكنيسة كاملة العدد يتجاوز من فيها الالف شاب وشابة. وكانت المفاجأة الاكبر للمنظمين عندما ادركوا ان الضوضاء القادمة من الخارج ليست حشود قوات البوليس ولكنها مئات بل الالاف من الشباب الالماني الثائر، وخاصة طلبة جامعة لايبتزج يملؤون الساحة بهتافاتهم حاملين الشعارات والمطالب التي كتبت بعجل وبخط اليد. شعوري وانا اتأمل المكان واسترجع القصة يكاد يكون مطابقا لمشاعري عندما زرت ميدان التحرير في مدينة القاهرة قبل ايام من إخلاؤه بالقوة بواسطة قوات المجلس العسكري الحاكم.

اللوحة النحاسية المثبتة على الأرض الحجرية في الساحة وقد طبع عليها أثار أقدام كبيرة وصغيرة، طفولية وبالغة، رجالية ونسائية فهي ثورة كل الشعب.

الكنيسة اصبحت رمزا وطنيا في كل المانيا منذ احتضانها لما عرف باسم مظاهرات الاثنين، تلك المظاهرات التي انطلقت من الكنيسة التي اصبحت المركز للمقاومة السلمية ضد الحكم الشيوعي المستبد. التجول في الساحة الصغيرة انسانية المقياس يشعرك بالاتساع والرحبة وانت تستدعي الاحداث امام عينيك وتبلغ قمة الرمزية في لوحة نحاسية مثبتة على الارض الحجرية وقد طبع عليها اثار اقدام كبيرة وصغيرة، طفولية وبالغة، رجالية ونسائية، وكأن المغزى ان تصل اليك كزائر رسالة واضحة: نعم هذه ثورتنا وكلنا شاركنا فيها. وعندما وصلت فورة التفاعل في الكنيسة والساحة الى اقصاها قرر المنظمون التحرك من ساحة كنيسة القديس نيكولاس الى ساحة اغوستسAugustus Platz، الساحة الرئيسية بالمدينة والتي تطل عليها جامعة لايبتزج.

كنيسة القديس نيكولاس تطل على الساحة الصغيرة التي تغير من خلالها العالم عام 1989.

متحف الثورة واستعادة التاريخ: متحف وملتقى التاريخ المعاصر

ملتقى التاريخ المعاصر في المدينة هو مكان للذكريات الحية. ومعرض وعرض توثيقي ومركز معلومات مخصص لتاريخ تقسيم ألمانيا ثم استعادتها لوحدتها. ويطرح توثيق لمفاهيم الديكتاتورية وفكرة المقاومة وخاصة في ألمانيا الشرقية. كما يوثق الملتقي النظام القمعي الذي أدى إلى عصيان مدني وثورة سلمية عام 1989. في المسافة الواقعة من ساحة كنيسة القديس نيكولاس إلى ساحة اغوستس يقع متحف الثورة وهو سلسلة من الفراغات المتصلة التي اعد لها سيناريو متحفي مثير يحكي قصة الثورة من لحظة ميلادها في سبتمبر 1989 داخل الكنيسة الى اللحظة التاريخية التي مهدت لحقبة جديدة في تاريخ البشرية، وهي سقوط حائط برلين وعجز الشرطة الالمانية عن ايقاف سيل المواطنين المندفعين الى الشطر الغربي لمدينة برلين تنفسا للحرية واقترابا من اقارب واصدقاء فرقتهم الاحجار العالية والاسلاك الشائكة التي مزقت اجساد بعض ممن تجرء بمحاولة العبور سابقا.

اوركسترا الحجرة في بيت ومركز مندلسون الموسيقي

لمزيد من الاحتفاء بوفود المؤتمر، قرر المنظمون مفاجأتنا بعرض موسيقي خاص في البيت والمركز الموسيقي الذي عاش فيه الموسيقار والمؤلف الشهير فيلكس مندلسون. تجولت في المكان منبهرا بقدر الاصالة وعبق التاريخ الذي تم الحفاظ عليه، وكأن الزمان قد ثبت على منتصف القرن التاسع عشر وسجلت كل اللحظات الرائعة في حياة البيت وصاحبه الموسيقار العظيم.اخذتنا المقطوعات التي عزفها اوركسترا الحجرة المكون من خمس عازفين الى اجواء روحانية خلاقة وفي النهاية استمر تصفيقا وقوفا لعدة دقائق خاصة عندما علمنا ان عازف الكمان الرئيسي رزق بطفلة في اليوم السابق، ولكنه اصر على الحضور والعزف امامنا، وخاصة انه يعلم ان المؤتمر يضم ضيوف من كل انحاء العالم، مستوى مبهر من الجدية والالتزام يمثل من وجهة نظري القيمة الرئيسية والبارزة في الشخصية الألمانية. استمرت الجولة سيرا على الأقدام من بيت مندلسون حتى مطعم العشاء بينما يتسارع رذاذ الامطار ودرجة الحراة تنزل الى ما دون الصفر ولكن الجرعة الموسيقية الفذة كانت لا تزال تدفئ القلوب والعقول بينما الاجساد نشطة بفعل المشي الجميل في مدينة يحترم كل متر مربع فيها رغبة الانسان في التجول والحركة على الاقدام. احساس رائع عندما اقارنه بمدينة سكني الان الدوحة التي تسيطر السيارة بالكامل على كل شيء بها من التبضع إلى العمل إلى التنزه.

ليبتزج المدينة المبدعة

كما وصفتها جريدة النيويورك تايمز فهذه المدينة هي الحديقة الخلفية للعبقري الموسيقي باخ. مدينة مفعمة بنفحات الإبداع والفن، وبها تنوع من الفضاءات المتحفية أهمها متحف الفنون الجميلة ومتحف الفنون التطبيقية ومتحف تاريخ المدينة وأكاديمية الفنون البصرية ومتحف الآلات الموسيقية. ومن أجمل القيم الثقافية بالمدينة بيوت مبدعيها ومنهج الحفاظ عليها. من أهم هذه النماذج بيت الموسيقار مندلسون الذي أقام به حتى وفاته بعد ان اختار المدينة مقرا له والبيت ينتمي إلى الطراز الكلاسيكي المتأخر ومحاط بحديقة صممت على طراز القرن التاسع عشر. مازال المبنى يحتفظ بالأثاث الأصلي واللوحات الفنية والنوتات الموسيقية وبعض الأعمال الفنية التي رسمها مندلسون نفسه بالألوان المائية. في ليبتزج تشعر بالموسيقى في كل مكان فهي جزء عميق في نسيج شخصية المدينة. الموسيقى في الشوارع والميادين والجامعة والكنائس والمطاعم. المدينة هي مكان ملهم ولد وابع فيه مئات المؤلفين والموسيقيين. من أهم علامات الموسيقى البارزة العبقري يوهان سباستيان باخ رائد موسيقى الباروك الذي استقر في المدينة وقاد اوركسترا سان توماس واستمر في قيادته حتى وفاته عام 1750. من عمالقة ليبتزج أيضا ريتشارد فاجنر الذي درس الموسيقى في جامعتها ، وروبرت شومان الذي حول بيته وبيت زوجته كلارا عازفة البيانو الشهيرة، إلى متحف لحياته ومركز للإبداع الفني الموسيقي. المدهش ان بكل مراكز المعلومات وخدمات الزوار بالمدينة توزع خريطة اسمها الرحلة الموسيقية" حيث توضح الخريطة مجموعة من المسارات التي تمكن الزائر من المرور على كل المتاحف وقاعات العزف وبيوت الموسيقيين خلال المدينة بأسرها.

تماثيل العباقرة جوته وباخ في ميادين وحدائق مدينة لايبتزج: مدينة الإبداع والحرية.

الشوارع الصديقة للمشاة تتخلل كل نسيج المدينة.

السوق المفتوح إمام مبنى مركز المدينة: ملتقى اجتماعي وترفيهي وتجاري.

صيانة التاريخ وصياغة المستقبل في لايبتزج

بعد هدم سور برلين الفاصل عام 1989 وتوحد شطري المانيا عام 1990، تدفقت الموارد المالية من الشطر الغربي الغني لمساعدة الشطر الشرقي الذي عانى لعقود طويلة. ومثلت مدينة ليبزح واحدة من أهم قنوات صياغة مستقبل جديد اعتمد على صيانة التاريخ والحفاظ على مقوماته. فالمدينة التي تشتهر بقيمتها السياسية والاقتصادية والثقافية يجب ان تتطور دون ان تفقد هذه القيم التي لا تعوض والتي تشكل الملمح الرئيسي لشخصيتها. ومن هذا المنطلق تم صياغة برنامج لإعادة احياء المدينة يحافظ على رصيدها المعماري والعمراني، وفي الوقت ذاته يطور جامعتها ومراكزها البحثية والعلمية.منذ الوحدة عام 1990 وحتى زيارتي للمدينة 2012 اطار زمني بلغ فقط 22 عاما ولكن وضح الرؤية ووجود الرغبة يذلل كل الصعاب. فبالفعل في تلك الفترة الزمنية المحدودة اعيد بناء وترميم واعادة تأهيل كل المباني التاريخية بالمدينة وتم احياء القلب التاريخي لها وخاصة منطقة كنيسة القديس نيكولاس وساحتها وما حولها لتتحول جميعها الى منطقة للمشاة تتنوع الانشطة فيها بين التجاري والترفيهي والثقافي والفني وحتى الحرف التقليدية.

امام مبنى مجلس المدينة القديم الذي رمم بالكامل بعد الحرب يقام سوق عطلة نهاية الاسبوع يومي السبت والاحد، حيث يتجمع المزارعون وصيادي الاسماك وباعة الزهور فتتحول ساحة مركز المدينة الى حديقة ملونة يتنزه فيها المواطنون والسائحين يشترون الخضروات والفواكه الطازجة ويتفحصون الاسماك المتألقة بألوانها الذهبية والفضية او يتذوقون طعم الاسماك المملحة والمدخنة التي يعرضها الباعة او يعدونها شطائر في خبز محلي طازج. ثم يقفون جماعات يشربون القهوة والشوكولاتة الساخنة وهم يتحاورون ويتصادقون ويتآلفون. والجميل ان كل العارضين والمزارعين والحرفيين يعرض بصورة متحضرة انيقة صحية، بل ويتبارون في تشكيل بضاعتهم ومنتجات حرفهم التقليدية بصور تشكيلية جميلة تضيف ابعادا ايجابية للصورة البصرية العامة للمكان. يسعدك ايضا الرجال والسيدات وهم يشترون باقات الزهور استعداد لوضعها على مائة العشاء فيشعرك المشهد برقي الانسان وحسه المرهف الذي تساعد المدينة بأجزائها المختلفة على صيانته بل وتنميته واثراءه. تجسيد متميز لفكرة الفراغ العام ودوره في اثراء حياة مجتمع المدينة ونجاحه في صياغة الاجواء التي تحقق التفاعل الاجتماعي بين سكان المدينة وتشجعهم على التواصل والحوار والشعور بالانتماء.

محطة القطار في مدينة لايبتزج مبنى تاريخي يتحدث لغة العصر.

رحلة القطار من لايبتزج التاريخ إلى فرانكفورت المضربة

بقدر ما افزعني خبر وجود اضراب للعاملين في مطار فرانكفورت يعيق استقبال الطائرات القادمة من كل مدن المانيا، فقد اسعدني في نفس الوقت ان منسقة الرحلة طلبت منا التوجه الى محطة قطار المدينة لاستبدال تذاكرنا لنستخدم القطار. عندما ذهبت للمحطة شعرت بالسعادة المتناهية، فالمبنى التاريخي المتميز اعيد صيانته بأعلى درجات الدقة والحرفية للحفاظ على طرازه المعماري وزخارفه وتفاصيله الدقيقة. وفي الوقت ذاته سمح في فراغاته الداخلية باستخدام احدث تقنيات العصر في الاضاءة والاتصالات وارصفة القطارات. المحطة ايضا تجسيد للفكر التخطيطي الجديد في النقل العمراني الحضري الذي يعيد صياغة مراكز الحركة الرئيسية في المدينة المعاصرة مثل محطة القطار والمطار وحتى محطة الحافلات الرئيسية الى ملتقيات عمرانية اجتماعية اقتصادية ثقافية مفعمة بالحياة والانشطة. تحسرت على محطة قطار مصر التي تم تجديدها مؤخرا كملهي ليلي فج الزخارف والالوان ضاربين بعرض الحائط طرازها القديم او قيمتها التاريخية. وبينما اتجول متمتعا في فراغات محطة لايبتزج استوقفني متجر كبير يتوسط مدخله سلم انيق يؤدي الى طابق علوي مطل على فراغ المتجر الرحب ودخلت بخطوات مترددة استكشف ماهيه المتجر فابهرني انه متجر لبيع الكتب والمجلات ويحتوي مكانا انيقا لشرب القهوة في مستواه العلوي وركن قراءة للأطفال تسعدك ابتسامتهم وهم يتقافزون متصفحين الكتب المرسومة الملونة، اسعدني منظر العشرات وهم يجلسون على المقاعد المريحة المتناثرة التي وزعت لتشجيع زبائن المكان على تصفح الكتب والمجلات. جو حضاري متنور في قلب محطة للقطار، هذا هو العمران الجديد الذي يجعل من المعرفة والتواصل الاجتماعي في عالم متعدد الثقافات ركائز اساسية لمدن انسانية جديدة دون اسقاط أو إغفال لقيمتها التاريخية

المبنى الجديد البديل لكنيسة الجامعة المنهدمة وقد بني ليكون المركز الثقافي والروحاني والفكري والمعرفي لجامعة ليبتزج في المستقبل.

Lessons from elsewhere: Bogotá

بوغوتا، عاصمة كولومبيا في امريكا اللاتينية، كانت تعد من اخطر مدن القارة وواحدة من اسوآ المدن من ناحية مستوى المعيشة في العالم. في القرن العشرين نمى تعداد السكان في بوغوتا من مئة الف نسمة إلى اكثر من سبعة ملايين نسمة. معظم هذا النمو تم خارج تحكم البلدية (او المحافظة) وبدون تخطيط رسمي.

يذكر ان بسبب سوء مستوى المعيشة في المدينة كان سكان بوغوتا يعبرون عن كرههم لمدينتهم و عن رغبتهم بالرحيل إذا اوتيحت الفرصة لهم. فقد اهل المدينة اي شعور بالفخر بمدينتهم و هو ما زاد حالة الاهمال و ادى بالمدينة إلى مستويات ادنى من المعيشة و آلى تدهور المرافق العامة. الاقلية الغنية كانت تعيش منفصلة عن باقي السكان وهم من كانو يتمتعون بالسيارات الخاصة التي كانت تسبب “زحمة” في الطرق بالآضافة آلى تنوع الباصات التي كانت توفر المواصلات لاغلبية السكان لكن تعدد انواع الباصات و عدم وجود نظام موحد تسبب في مشاكل مرورية ادت الى ازدحام الطرق و الكثير من الحوادث و حالات الوفاة.

بدآ الاصلاح بعد إنتخاب عمدة جديد للمدينة (محافظ حسب المفهوم المصري) و الذي تولى منصبه لمدة ثلاث سنوات من ١٩٩٨ إلى ٢٠٠١ و هي فترة الحكم للمحافظ المنتخب. قام آنريكي بانولوزا بعدة تغيرات جذرية في اسلوب النقل في المدينة و بدون اي عبء مادي على الدولة و كانت فكرته الرئيسية ان يخص اغلب الموارد المتاحة له لخدمة اغلبية سكان المدينة الفقراء بدلا من الاستمرار في اساليب الاستثمار المعتادة التي تضخ كمية كبيرة من المال العام في مشاريع الطرق السريعة و الكباري التي تفيد فقط الاقلية التي تملك السيارات الخاصة.

في بداية المدة المحددة له كمحافظ للمدينة اطلع بانولوزا على دراسات قدمت له من استشاريين عالميين تهدف إلى بناء سبع كباري و طرق علوية للسيارات كطريقة لحل المشكلة المرورية. تكلفة تلك الطرق وصلت إلى خمس مليار دولار (آغلبها قروض من البنك الدولي و غيره). لكن رآى المحافظ في تلك النظرة لحل الازمة اهدارا للمال العام و ظلم تجاه اغلبية سكان المدينة الذين يفتقدون وسائل مواصلات كريمة و مرافق هامة كالمجاري و مياه الشرب بالآضافة إلى المدارس و العيادات الصحية اللازمة. إذا صرفت الدولة خمس مليارات في طرق سريعة و كباري إذا من اين سوف تصرف على باقي إحتياجات المدينة؟

من هذا المنطلق وصل بانولوزا إلى رؤيته لآصلاح المدينة في حيز الثلاث سنوات الذي هو محافظ: ان يجعل من بوغوتا مدينة للبشر اولا لا للسيارات.

البداية كانت في عام ١٩٨٢ عندما قررت البلدية (المحافظة) غلق ١٢٠ كيلومتر من طرق المدينة كل اسبوع يوم الاحد لمدة سبع ساعات. خلال هذه الساعات تتحول تلك الطرق لشوارع للمشاه و الدراجات و للتجول.

بهذا المنطق و هذه التجربة الناجحة قرر بانولوزا توسيع الاماكن العامة في المدينة بالاضافة إلى خلق ارصفة مريحة للمشي بدون عوائق في جميع انحاء المدينة حتى لو تطلب هذا منع ركنة السيارات مقابل توسيع الرصيف للمشاه. من وجهة نظر المحافظ و الكثير من مخططي المدن الرصيف هو من اهم معالم اي مدينة ناجحة في العالم حيث ان الرصيف يضمن للمشاه مكان امن للتجوال في المدينة و هذه الحركة هي التي تنعش الحياه التجارية و حياة المدينة عامتا.

المشروع الاخر المذكور في الفيلم الوثائقي (اعلاه) هو مشروع المواصلات المعروف بإسم ترانزمالنيو. هذا مشروع للمواصلات العامة (الباصات) يهدف لان يجعل الحركة في المدينة امر سهل و رخيص و مقبول لجميع طبقات المجتمع. قبل هذا المشروع كانت الباصات في المدينة متعددت الانواع: بالإضافة إلى الباصات الحكومية الكبيرة كان هناك آلاف من الباصات الصغيرة يعتمد عليها الملايين في حركتهم. لكن تلك الباصات كانت تتنافس مع بعضها البعض و كانت تحت تحكم مافيا للمواصلات. بسبب عدم خضوع تلك الباصات لنظام موحد كانت تتوقف في اماكن عشوائية و تسبب اختناق مروري. خل المشكلة جاء ليس بإقصاء ملاك تلك الباصات لكن بوضعهم كجزء من منظومة المواصلات الرسمية بشروط واضحة و بمعايير تضمن لهم مكسب مادي و تضمن للحكومة نظام موحد يخدم المدينة. 

استبدلت الباصات القديمة بباصات موحدة جديدة من نوعين واحد للطرق الكبيرة مصمم لنقل آلاف الركاب في الساعة و يسير في حارات خاصة بمحطات واضحة و معروفة. النوع الاخر من الباصات اصغر قليلا م مصمم لدخول الاماكن ذات شوارع اصغر حيث ينقل الركاب من تلك الناطق إلى محطات الباصات الكبيرة. اهم نقطة في المشروع هي الحارات الخاصة بالباصات و محطاطها. الامر المثير هو اهتمام المحافظة بالتصميم المميز الذي يجعل الجمهور من جميع الطبقات راغب في استعمال النظام حتى لو ملكهم سيارة خاصة مما يقلل من الازدحام في الطرق. المشروع نفذ في وقت قصير و خلق نظاما متواطل يربط انحاء المدينة ببعضها البعض و نجح في توفير اكثر من ٢٠٠ ساعة في السنة للراكب و يوفر اكتر من  ١٠٪ من مصاريف المواصلات للراكب في السنة. النظام ايضا قلل من التلوث في المدينة. جميع الباصات متصلة بمركز مراقبة للتآكد من ان الباصات تعمل في وقتها و بدون تعطيل.

المشروع الاخير المذكور في الفيلم هو كيفية التعامل مع العشوائيات. عندما اخذ المحافظ منصبه كان على مكتبه امر قانوني بهدم المناطق العشوائية. لكن القرار كان هو نفسه عشوائيا فرفض المحافظ تنفيذه. كبديل لفكرة الاقصاء و الهدم وضع المحافظ آلية للتواصل مع سكان المناطق المختلفة و العمل معهم لوضع حلول مستدامة لمناطقهم من اهما الصرف الحي و مياه الشرب و ايضا المساحات العامة نظرا بان سكان هذه المناطق يعيشون في شقق صغيرة جدا و يحتاجون لاماكن عامة للتنفس و للحياه الاجتماعية مما يساعد تلك المجتمعات في التعامل مع واقعها و ان يتحولو لجزء رئيسي في عملية سرد الحلول المتاحة. ساعدت البلدية السكان في إستخراج الاوراق الرسمية و العقود للاراضي و العقارات ما يسمح لهم ببيع تلك العقارات حسب سعر السوق اذا ارادوا.

الفيلم يوضح هذه الافكار و كيف تم تفعيلها في خلال فترة وجيزة (ثلاث سنين) و كيف تحولت بوغوتا بسبب تلك الحلول في فترة اقل من عشر سنوات آلى مدينة افضل بدون الاعتماد على مستشارين اجانب، او قروض دولية او ميزانية خاصة. كل ما احتاجته المدينة و مشاكلها المصتعصية هي افكار و حلول ناتجة من الواقع و ايضا وجود النية السياسية لا الشخصية التي تميز بها المحافظ و المهندسين في تحسين وضع المدينة بالموارد المتاحة. الدرس الذي تعلمه بوغوتا للقاهرة هو انه يمكن حل مشاكل متراكمة و معقدة اذا هناك نية حقيقية، نظرة غير تقليدية لحل تلك المشاكل.

Lessons from elsewhere: São Paulo

محمود خالد

قمت بزيارة مركز (إس إي إس سي) في مدينة ساوباولو البرازيلية بالأمس، المكان عبارة عن مجمع ضخم من المصانع التي أوقف العمل بها عام 1977 إذ بداء العمل على تحويله الى مركز ثقافي وإجتماعي من خلال بعض التعديلات الانشائية واضافة مبني جديد يضم النشاطات الرياضية،الى أن إفتتح بالكامل عام 1982 أي منذ ثلاثين عاماً، وقامت المهندسة المعمارية لينا بوباردي الذائعة الصيت بمبانيها الحداثية بتصميم وتنفيذ هذا المشروع، ورجال الأعمال هم الذين قاموا بتمويل المشروع بشكل كامل، وكان الهدف الرئيسي; هو أن ينعم العمال في التجارة وباقي أفراد المجتمع وعائلاتهم بالاستمتاع بمعارض للفنون بجودة فنية عالية، عروض مسرحية لآحدث وأهم فرق المسرح، حفلات الرقص والموسيقى، الإشتراك في دورات تدريبية متعددة (حرفية ونظرية ولغوية للكبار والصغار)، ممارسة الرياضة، تناول وجبات الغذاء والعشاء في كانتين يقدم الوجبات الىسريعة بالاضافة الى مطعم شيك يقدم أشهى المأكولات باسعار محتملة (حيث أنها بالفعل مؤسسة غير ربحية)، وأخيراً وليس أخراً إهتمام خاص بكبار السن حيث توفير العديد من الكتب والجرائد المرتبطة بالمواضيع التي يهتمون بها وتوفير مكاناً لهم لمناقشة هذه الموضوعات، (وهو بالفعل من أهم النقاط التي أثارت اهتمامي في هذا المكان، فكم منا يشكو باستمرار من العديد من المداخلات والأسئلة التي تصدر عن أصحابنا من كبار السن في المحاضرات والمناقشات الثقافية في مصر دون التفكير في كيفية ادماجهم في مناخ آخر فعال وأقل مللاً من الذهاب للقهوة ولعب الطاولة).ـ

الهدف من هذه الزيارة كان مشاهدة معرض الفنان ازاك جوليان وهو من أهم الفنانين المعاصرين في العالم حالياً، بلا خجل لم اتوقع على الاطلاق أن يكون هذا المعرض جيداً أو على الأقل جيد التنفيذ ليصل لدرجة ما من حرفية مؤسسات الفنون المعاصرة في إنتاج المعارض، حيث كنت على دراية بخلفية المكان “الاجتماعية والتنموية” وهو بالطبع مايتعارض مع فكرة الحرفية والجدية والتعقيد في العمل الفني وهي الفكرة المعروفة عن الفن المعاصر في وسط المؤسسات الثقافية المستقلة في مصر، حيث العمل الفني إذا وصل الى تلك الحرفية والجدية والتعقيد فهو سريعاً ما ينعزل عن المجتمع ويصبح غامضاً وبالتالي يتناقض مع الأجندة “التنموية والاجتماعية” لتلك المؤسسات والتي تهدف الى الإندماج في المجتمع والمساهمة في تطويره.

كانت الأربعة أعمال المقدمة في هذا المعرض على المستوى الفلسفي تحتوي على درجة عالية من التعقيد السياسي والاجتماعي والجمالي في مضمونها بالاضافة الى التعقيد التقني حيث تنفيذ المعرض الذي جاء مبهراً في حرفيته وذكائه، لم تخلو صالات العرض من أطفال المدارس المصحوبين بعدد من العامليين في المركز لشرح الأعمال لهم، كبار السن يملئون المكان، الشباب والطلبة منزويين في الأرجاء للمذاكرة والقراءة، بالاضافة الى العديد من الشباب (الذي يطلق عليهم شباب الساحل في مصر) يخرجون ويدخلون الى صالات الجيم،

باختصار المكان كان ديمقراطياً بمعنى الكلمة، يجسد معنى المشاركة في جو مليء بالخصوصية، يؤكد أن الاستمتاع وممارسة الثقافة والفن والرياضة بمختلف انواعهم هو السبيل الوحيد لتعايش طبقات المجتمع المختلفة مع بعضها فقط إذا تعاملت مع هذه الأشياء كقيم مجردة للمتعة وليست كمظاهر إجتماعية تنحي أو تجبر الأخرين على التخلي عن ممارسة نوع معين من الرياضة أو الفن حث أنها لا تنسجم مع الأجندة العامة.

ليس الهدف هنا هو مقارنة هذا النموذج بالنموذج المتهالك لقصور الثقافة ومراكز الشباب في مصر والذي يتسأل معظمنا عن أهمية إستمرار دفع مرتبات للعاملين بداخلها حتى ألان، وليس أيضاً الهدف هو تنشيط ذلك الحلم المرتبط بالثورة المصرية في إحتلال وزارة الثقافة ونقابات الفنانين وإعادة هيكلتهم لان هذا الحلم باختصار أصبح مرتبط بالنسبة لي بإعادة هيكلة جهاز الشرطة وكتابة دستور لائق ببلد بحجم مصر، وايجاد من يمثلنا فعلياً (كشعب) داخل ما يسمي مجلس الشعب وغيرها من الأحلام التي مازلنا نحلم بها جميعا ويناضل في سبيلها الكثيرون

السؤال الذي لم أسطع التخلص منه منذ أمس هو موجه الى مؤسسات مثل التاون هاوس وساقية الصاوي تحديداً، حيث أنهم يقومون على نمط مشابه في ألتمويل والادارة، الى أي مدى سيظل الفن المعاصر (بالمعنى الاحترافي) عائق في برامجهم التنموية والاجتماعية؟ الى أي مدى سيظل الفنان والانتاج الفني المحترف في أخر أولويات تلك المؤسسات؟

للمزيد من الصور اضغط هنا

Lessons from elsewhere: Mumbai rent control

Rent control has been the leading cause of the stagnation of Cairo’s real estate economy in the city’s formal center (areas built until the 1950s). Egypt like many other countries around the world created rent control laws decades ago but the law has not been revisited despite the demands of property owners across the country. Since the 1990s several counties have implemented rent control deregulation following different methods. Most recently the Indian state of Maharashtra where the city of Mumbai is located has considered rent control deregulation and the debate there regarding this issue may prove to be very relevant and useful for us here in Cairo.

Robin Houterman, a London-based urbanist who spent some time last year at the Mumbai-based Urban Design Research Institute, has written two useful articles regarding this policy shift. Both articles are published online on The Global Urbanist.

Here is a brief excerpt from Houterman’s critical review of the policy:

In 2011, the Indian Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation produced a new Model Residential Tenancy Act (MRTA), meant to provide a basis for the revision of rent control acts around India. It is a liberal act, proposing the abolition of rent control, and leaving rent levels and revisions to agreement between landlords and tenants.

The act’s publication revives the already decades-long debate on rent control in Mumbai. Like many other countries, India introduced rent control in the 1940s and 1950s as a means to mitigate high prices due to housing scarcity. Although scarceness is still an issue for affordable housing today, on the whole, the necessity and effectiveness of rent control as a means to secure the availability of housing is no longer self-evident. Rent control is often blamed as one of the causes of scarcity in affordable housing.

Some form of deregulation is necessary; however the main argument here is that the MRTA is largely skewed against tenants and is likely to push poor tenants towards inadequate housing.

Read the full article, here.

And here is Houterman’s “Three alternatives for implementing rent control deregulation in Mumbai”:

More gradual deregulation

Reconsider ownership of properties

State support for poor tenants

Read the full article, here.

Property and rent laws in Egypt must be a top priority for Egypt’s legislators as this is an issue which has been neglected by the former regime and completely mismanaged. The negative effects of ignoring these laws has had dire consequences on Egypt’s urban fabric in general but particularly the urban centers which were established prior to the 1950s. The real estate market has also suffered as millions of pounds worth of properties have sat empty, unused and in limbo for decades. Following Mumbai’s debate of the issue could save us a lot of time and energy.

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.

Lessons from elsewhere: New York City #1

لكثير من العرب و المصريين مدينة نيويورك تمثل قمة في مخيلتهم عندما يفكرون في وصف المدينة الحديثة المتطورة.لكن في غالب الوقت فكرة مدينة نيويورك بالنسبة للعرب تختصر في صورة مسطحة لناطحات سحاب و عمارات زجاجية و ابراج شاهقة.في الواقع مدينة نيويورك التي يحلم بها المصريين و العرب ليست فقط مدينة الابراج، بل ان ذلك هو فقط جزء صغير من واقع تلك المدينة.في اغلب الاحياء السكنية هناك ترى مبان تعتبر صغيرة بالمفهوم المصري.ترتفع تلك المبانى ثلاثة الى ستة ادوار فقط.و مع هذا فان مدينة نيويورك فعلا مذهلة و لديها كثيرا من الدروس لمدينة مثل القاهرة.هي دروس لا عن المظاهر الفارغة و لكن عن القواعد و القوانين التي تجعل الحياة اليومية للمواطن العادي حياة مريحة و امنة.

ربما هذه ليست الصورة التي يتخيلها معظم المصريين عندما يفكرون في نيويورك، لكن هذا مشهد لشارع معتاد كالكثير من الشوارع في تلك المدينة.و ربما يظهر ان ليس هناك ما يمكن التعلم منه من هذا المشهد.لكن هيا ننظر في بعض تفاصيل المشهد:

١.مصدر مياه لاطفاء الحريق: كلنا نذكر العدد الهائل للحرائق التي شهدتها القاهرة خاصتا الفترة الاخيرة.بالاضافة الى الحرائق الشهيرة مثل حريق الاوبرا الخديوية سنة1971و المجمع العلمي سنة2011ولكن مع هذا فالقانون المصري و البرلمان لم يتحرك لوضع معايير تضمن حماية المدن المصرية من الحرائق.هذة الماسورة مخصصة لاطفاء الحرائق عند وصول رجال الاطفاء لموقع الحادث و معهم العدة اللازمة.قانونيا تجد هذه المواسير في كل الشوارع كل عدة امتار.

٢.حارة خاصة للدراجات: في مدينة كبيرة مثل القاهرة او نيويورك مستحيل ان تكون السيارة الخاصة هي وسيلة المواصلات الرئيسية للسكان.لذلك على الحكومات توفير المواصلات العامة كالاوتوبيس و المترو(و هذا ليس زكاه على الشعب بل هو واجب يساعد على سرعة التنقل و بالتالى يرفع من مستوى المعيشة و ايضا هذة المواصلات هي مصدر دخل من التذاكر و الدعاية الاعلامية)و بالرغم من ذلك فلابد ايضا توفير اماكن امنة لركاب الدراجات لانها وسيلة مواصلات صديقة للبيئة و سريعة.لكن بدون حارات خاصة للدراجات فهية وسيلة مواصلات خطرة.

٣.اشارات مرور: حان الوقت ان تضع اشارات المرور الكهربائية في كل تقاطعات القاهرة. تخيل نفس هذا المشهد بدون اشارة مرور و كل سيارة تحاول ان تعبر قبل الاخرى و الجميع يضرب على”الزمارة” ليذكر العالم انه انا جاي، خد بالك

٤.سلة مهملات: ربما يبدو الامر مملا لكن كم مرة و انت تتجول في مدينة القاهرة قابلتك سلة مهملات؟ انها ابسط الامور و اكثرها اهمية في ادارة المدن:كيف تجمع المخلفات في الشوارع من اجل الحفاظ على نظافة المدينة؟ هده السلة هي فقط لمخلفات المشاه و ليس لمخلفات المنازل.تفريغ تلك المهملات هي وظيفة حكومة المدينة.النظافة من الايمان برده، ولا ايه؟

٥.عداد ركن السيارة: من اكبر ازمات القاهرة هي ازمة ركن السيارات.بسبب تشجيع فكرة امتلاك السيارة الخاصة(لصالح المستوردين و رجال الاعمال)بدلان من تطوير المواصلات العامة و تشجيع الشعب على استخدامها فإن عدد السيارات الخاصة في شوارع القاهرة قد تعدى ما تسمح له تصميمات الشوارع و الجراجات.فالقانون في مدينة نيويورك يفرض وجود مساحات للسيارات في المبانى الضخمة.الوقوف في الشارع مصمم لفكرة الوقوف المؤقت، اي ان صاحب السيارة سوف يقدي مشوار و يحرك السيارة بعض قليل، لذالك توجد هذه العدادات لتقليص مدة الركنة عالفاضي.طبعا هذا لا يمكن فرضه في مصر الا بعد وضع قوانين تفرض العقارات من وجود عدد معين من اماكن الركن و ايضا يلزم تعديل قوانين المرور و توفير جراجات عامة في كل الاحياء.

٦.الحفاظ على الطابع المعماري: المباني السكنة في هذة الصورة هي الطابع المعماري المعتاد في كثير من احياء نيويورك.و ربما هي لا تمتاز بجمال ما مقارنة بما نراه في معمار مدينة القاهرة الا ان هذة المبان محفوظة قانونيا في نفس الوقت التي تهد فيه عمارات و فلات اكثر جمال في مصر.لماذا؟ الحفاظ على الطابع المعماري له فوائد مادية كبيرة على اصحاب العقارات و ايضا على المدينة عامتا.نسبة الشقق الفارغة في نيويورك ضئيلة جدا حينما نجد ان في القاهرة نسبة الشقق الفارغة تكاد تتعدى ال٤٠٪ لان المقاولون يهدون مبان قديمة صغيرة و يبنون مكانها عمارات شاهقة ذات طابع معماري سخيف و ينتظرون الى ان ترتفع سعر الشقة.و هذا يسبب ضياع هوية المدينة، وضع ضغط علي مرافقها، اهدار الاموال في مشارييع وهمية و في النهاية مصر هي الخاسرة.

٧.رصيف واسع و خالى من العوائق: من اهم و ابسط المعالم لمدينة تدار جيدا هي الارصفة النظيفة و الواسعة خالية من العوائق و الباعة و العراقل.من حق اي مواطن ان يجد رصيف مآهل و امن.هذه ايضا من اختصاصات القانون الذي يضمن هذا الحق للمواطن و يضع المعايير اللازمة.ارصف القاهرة، اذا وجدت، في حال صعب و يجد المشاه انفسهم في وضع مؤسف يحول شيئ بسيط مثل المشي في الشارع الى مهمة صعبة.معظم الوقت تجد المشاه يتنافسون مع السيارات على الاسفلت لان الرصيف غير متاح.

٨.اشجار: معظم الاشجار التي نراها اليوم في كثير من احياء القاهرة زرعتها الدولة(كما في عصر الخديوي اسماعيل، الملك فاروق او حتى في ظل تجديدات المدينة تحت رعاية عبد اللطيف البغدادي في الخمسينات).لكن كان هناك برنامج لزرع الاشجار و العناية بها في شوارع المدينة.اما الان فالاشجار تزرع فقط لخدمة الباشا فلان او الوزير علان اذا زرعت اساسا.في مدينة نيويورك توجد في حكومة المدينة هيئه خاصة فقط للعناية بالحداٍئق بالاضافة الى برامج مختلفة لزيادة المساحات الخضراء في المدينة منها برنامج يسمى”المليون شجرة”حيث تهدف المدينة لزرع مليون شجرة جديدة في عشر سنوات.

كل مافي هذة الصورة بسيط لكنه يلزم قوانين و عمل جاد من الدولة.هذه هي الحضارة و الحداثة:مراعات الانسان ايا كان و توفير المرافق الرئيسة له.الحداثة و التطور ليست ابراج دبى التي تاخذ من نيويورك اكثر مفهوم سطحي لتلك المدينة.تلك الابراج التي هوست المصريين العامليين في الخليج و يعتقدون ان بنائها هو اهم من الشارع النظيف، المواصلة الكريمة و التراث المحمي.تلك الابراج فقط ترمز لتكتل الاموال في ايدي قليلة و هي رموز خاوية لا تعني شيئ.كل ما نراه في هذة الصورة هو نتيجة دولة المؤسسات و القانون، فماذا تفعل مؤسسات مصر و برلمانها؟ رغم ان هذه الامور البسيطة تلمس حياة كل مصري يوميا لن نسمع رجال البرلمان يتحدثون عنها و عن كيفية اصلاح المدن المصرية و جعل القاهرة، حيث يعيش ربع المصريين، مدينة افضل للجميع.فماذا اذا يفعلون؟

Lessons from elsewhere: Frankfurt Waterfront

The Nile River goes right through Cairo. Yet for pedestrians there are few opportunities to experience the river up close. At present the river can be experienced by riding boats or crossing the city’s bridges, particularly Qasr el Nil Bridge. The sidewalks along the river are higher up from the water where pedestrians are much closer to buzzing traffic than the river. In addition views of the river are obstructed by overgrown vegetation or smaller buildings which belong to various professional syndicates, private enterprises such as restaurants or five-star hotels or the waterfront is simply off limit.

A simple waterside park reached by stairs from the sidewalk down to the level of the water could be the city’s most popular and most democratic attempt at a green and public space. There is no need for an over-designed park: simple pavement path cutting through a grassy park with native plants and trees which already exist on the site can be a relatively easy and affordable urban renewal project.

Even one of the world’s wealthiest cities, Frankfurt, has a simple and not too extravagant waterfront park. Below is a short article about that city’s experience

Frankfurt, Germany is a city which I have come to know and admire over the last few years. It is one of the world’s wealthiest cities, a major financial hub, home to one of Europe’s busiest airports and a magnet for migrants. It consistently scores highly on quality of life rankings.

At first glance, Frankfurt appears a cold and business-like city. As a tourist, it does not have the charm of a place like Heidelberg, nor does it have the exuberant night life or cool demeanor of Berlin. Its skyline is one of the most dramatic in Europe, leading to it being called ‘Mainhattan,’ after the river Main, which flows through the city. And it is this feature of Frankfurt which I would like to discuss with you now.

Most cities in the world, especially very old ones, are situated on some sort of body of water. Frankfurt is located along the River Main, with the city center, and much of the population and industry situated on the north bank, and a handful of neighborhoods and the city’s vast forest situated on the south bank. Like all rivers, it serves as a natural barrier in the city, although there are many bridges which span the Main, carrying pedestrians, cyclists, buses, trams, cars and trains.

Cities which are situated on bodies of water face the challenge of what to do with that space. Historically, waterfronts were working spaces, the places where goods were loaded and unloaded, factories which needed those goods were situated and transport networks were located in order to give good access to all that industry. In a post-industrial city, all of those uses have disappeared. (In Frankfurt, there is still a lot of industry along the waterfront, but it is situated on the periphery, not in the city center)

Many cities have redeveloped their waterfront with grand public buildings, apartment towers, stadiums or other commercial uses. Many waterfronts, such as that in my home town of Toronto, have been cut off from the rest of the city due to over-development and poor planning.

In the city center, Frankfurt has rejected that commercial development (at least in the center) and opted for a far more simplistic, some might say minimalistic approach. For along the riverfront there is simply a park. It is not a park with lots of grandiose fountains, monuments or public art; it is a park in its most basic form. There is grass, there are benches and there is a wide path running beside the river. There is space amongst the grass for festivals, which the city has plenty of, and there are numerous beer tents and bratwurst stands to give hungry Frankfurters a place to fill up, or relax while they are out along the waterfront.

And that is exactly what locals do: they use their waterfront. On a sunny day, it is filled with people walking, cycling or rollerblading. There are people sitting on the grass or along the quayside. When there is a festival on, it seems like the entire city has come out to the river.

While some cities spend millions on their waterfronts and public spaces, Frankfurt’s riverfront is proof that good quality space does not have to be complex. It also shows that it does not need to be built to become a destination; a simple park, with good paths, nice views and a pleasant atmosphere will become a destination simply because people enjoy visiting it. Many waterfronts of the world appear to be ‘overbuilt’ with too much emphasis on landscaping, design and creating unique spaces. They can also get ‘cut off’ from the rest of the city due to too much development, or being over overbuilt as public spaces, with too few connections to the surrounding areas and rest of the city. Lost in all that building is the fact that people enjoy simple things like grass, being beside the water and spending time outside on a nice day. Frankfurt’s waterfront can give them all of that, while at the same time feeling like a space which blends seamlessly into the neighborhoods which surround it.

The city’s waterfront also contributes something much more valuable to the city. Post-industrial cities are constantly competing with each other to make themselves attractive places to live and work. Many cities opt for grand museums and other spectacles in order to gain an edge in this regard. Frankfurt plays this game too, but the riverfront plays another important role in the equation: it contributes positively to the quality of life of its residents by providing much needed open, public space in a densely crowded city.

This quality of life contribution helps the city in both economic and social ways. Economically it helps because it makes Frankfurt a more attractive city in which to live. Many affluent households are footloose and will live in places they feel offer many amenities and a good quality of life. A welcoming riverfront park definitely makes a contribution to this regard. Socially, it brings a positive contribution because it truly is a public space, open to everyone. On any given day, you will see not only bankers eating their lunches, joggers or mothers pushing strollers, but also young people playing music, or the city’s less affluent drinking beer along the water, or under a shady spot beneath a bridge. It is the type of public space where virtually all activities are accepted and practised.

Its genius lies in its simplicity. It is not overbuilt. It is not overplanned. It is simply a park along the waterfront. Its success as a public space and its contribution to the city’s quality of life can offer valuable lessons for other cities. The first lesson is that people like grass. With some public space, even places which are meant to be parks, you get the notion that their designers forgot about that important fact! The second is that simple places can often work the best. Frankfurt’s waterfront is a success not because it is a grand design, but because the people, through their use of the space, and the festivals which take place there, have made it a truly special place. And third, the waterfront should be part of the urban fabric, not cut off from the rest of the city. Frankfurt’s riverfront has seamless connections with the rest of the city; even a freight railway line which runs along the north bank does not serve as a barrier (fortunately, there are few trains left). In this regard going to the river is less of an ordeal or event for Frankfurters, and more a part of their daily life and routine. In this sense, this simplistic combination has created a space which belongs to the citizens of Frankfurt. And for a city to truly be great, this is what public space must be about.