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15 May 2015 / marouhhussein

Utilizing Lost Space in Cairo

There are almost 70 flyovers in Cairo that have been built to alleviate the city’s chronic traffic problem. These structures are often strong physical barriers or giant holes that disrupt the overall continuity of the city’s physical form. Furthermore, most of the spaces under these elevated freeways and roadways are left underused, dirty, dark, ugly, unattractive, deteriorating and frightening. They become wasted outdoor spaces that are ignored and neglected . They also become in-between spaces or ‘non-places’ that divide territories within the city. But what if these spaces could work as unifying and integrating objects, rather than dividing waste land? How can we transform negative spaces, devoid of life, in Cairo into fun, safe places open to all?

Flyover in Cairo. Source: Marwan Abdel Rahman

Flyover in Cairo. Source: Marwan Abdel Rahman

Many neighborhoods in Cairo are characterized by a lack of public amenities and space. For these neighborhoods under-bridge spaces offer a precious opportunity for local communities. Instead of being used for criminal activity or outdoor landfills, these dead spaces can be transformed into fantastic venues for various community facilities and outdoors activities such as pop-up libraries, public events, art galleries, canteens, and recreation. These kinds of anti-territorial projects could work as entertainment hubs and provide an inviting place where different groups of people can interact with one another. Imagine another kind of Cairo, a city whose physical environmental helps locals and passers-by to engage in open for cultural and social functions.

Empty and underused spaces under bridges in Cairo. Source: author

Empty and underused spaces under bridges in Cairo. Source: author

Empty and underused spaces under bridges in Cairo. Source: author

Empty and underused spaces under bridges in Cairo. Source: author

There are many already existing urban initiatives that aim to improve the landscape and townscape of Cairo. Cluster’s Cairo Downtown Passages aims to redesign underused downtown passageways, while the Coloring a Gray City campaign was launched to add brightness and color to Cairo’s staircases and walls. I believe it is time to launch an ‘Under Bridge’ initiative to utilize areas beneath flyovers.

A prime example of the potential for actively using areas under bridges can be seen in Caracas, Venezuela where books are being sold under the Av Fuerzas Armadas flyover. The space under the bridge has become a hangout spot for many people and provides a space for recreation, including public games of chess.

The street chess players under the bridge on Fuerzas Armadas avenue. Source: caracasshots.blogspot.com

The street chess players under the bridge on
Fuerzas Armadas avenue. Source: caracasshots.blogspot.com

The second hand book market under Av Fuerzas Armadas. Source: caracasshots.blogspot.com

The second hand book market under Av Fuerzas Armadas. Source: caracasshots.blogspot.com

Another iconic example of action is Burnside Skate Park in Portland, Oregon, USA. The park is located under the Burnside Bridge on the east side of the Willamette River. Even though the skatepark was built by skaters without permission, the idea has inspired similar action in under bridge areas in many American cities.

More examples of successful under-bridge projects can be seen around the world from Toronto, to Slovakia , London, Wisconsin, Zaanstad and more.

Burnside Skate Park. Source: Rufus Kevin Guy via Flickr

Burnside Skate Park. Source: Rufus Kevin Guy via Flickr

Southbank skate park under Hungerford Bridge, London. Source: www.timeout.com

Southbank skate park under Hungerford Bridge, London. Source: http://www.timeout.com

The transformation of these neglected areas won’t happen overnight. In order to redesign lost spaces in Cairo, the government must first conduct a thorough study of the usability of outdoor spaces, especially the wasteland beneath overpasses. Reclaiming these lost spaces will add thousands of square meters of valuable land for the benefit of cultural, economic and social projects. If designed properly, these urban spaces could provide a unifying framework to challenge the fragmented form of modern Cairo. Lastly, involving local people in the urban transformation process of these forgotten spaces will be key to creating popular public spaces that will be utilized and cared for by the surrounding residents.

Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed is an architect and urban planner. Mohamed received his MSc in Urban planning and Design from Ain Shams University, where he is currently working on his PhD. He is mainly interested in studying the influence of urban space on society adopting a configurational approach, space syntax. Mohamed is currently a Carnegie fellow at American University in Washington.

7 May 2015 / marouhhussein

The State of Solar in Egypt

Come 7:00 A.M., more than 3,000 men and women like, Engi Hassaan and Mariz Doss, will tumble out of their apartments to jog atop the concrete of Cairo. They rise early to dodge the city’s 22 million residents, the four million automobiles and their one-hour commutes, and the insidious “black cloud” of carcinogenic smog that hangs over the city every autumn. They run to escape the craziness of Cairo, a capital city nearing its expiration date, where hyper-urbanization has consigned some 20 to 40 percent of Greater Cairo to cheap white bread and broken sewer pipes. But look up! The sun, that orb that bakes rural Egypt and generates the fearsome khamaseen wind, has come to save Cairo.

Imagine if the satellites that cover Cairo's rooftops were replaced with solar. Source: Wikicommons

Imagine if the satellites that cover Cairo’s rooftops were replaced with solar. Source: Wikicommons

In April 2014, the Egyptian government pledged $1 billion USD to develop several nationwide solar power projects. The vow came just two months after former electricity minister Ahmed Emam announced that the country planned to increase its share of renewable energy to 20 percent by 2020. Along with a generous feed-in tariff announced in September, Egypt intends to procure 4,300 megawatts of renewable energy. If all goes as planned, Egypt will be following many other countries, such as the United States, Sweden and France, on the road to making renewable energy more available. Six months later, the government of Egypt shook hands with SkyPower Global and International Gulf Development for a $5 billion investment to create 3,000 megawatts of utility-scale solar projects. The project aims to create 75,000 jobs and put a dent in the country’s 13.4 percent unemployment rate. The partnership was signed at the Economic Development Conference held at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh resort in March 2015. Delegates representing more than 112 countries attended the conference, where Egypt played its cards to attract some $60 billion in foreign investment. By the third day of the conference, Egypt’s Minister of Investment, Ashraf Salman, could boast that the country had procured $38.2 billion in signed agreements. By the conclusion, Egypt had raked in $92 billion in Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs). About 24 percent of that went to the electricity and power generation sector. Egypt’s Economic Development Conference was part of a greater plan released by the Egypt Solar Industry Association (Egypt-SIA) in March 2015 titled, ” Egypt’s Solar Energy Market – FiT Program and Beyond 2015.” Masdar, SkyPower Global, ACWA Power, Terra Sola and 174 more, flew like eager flies to Egypt’s honey-dripping promises of feed-in tariffs and

A solar panel in Marla, Cirque de Mafate, Réunion. Source: Wikicommons

A solar panel in Marla, Cirque de Mafate, Réunion. Source: Wikicommons

merchant IPP schemes. The first round of accepted projects will generate 20 megawatts, almost one-tenth of the 2,300 megawatts of solar power that Egypt hopes to develop by 2017. A few of the investments are large-scale public works projects and giant photovoltaic solar farms connected to Cairo’s electrical grid, such as Terra Solar’s 800-megawatt “solar park.” Other projects will contribute through smaller solar arrays, technical research, manufacturing and training. Some organizations, however, have chosen to work outside of Egypt-SIA’s FiT program. A grassroots example is Solar Cities, which installs solar hot water heaters in the neighborhood of Manshiet Nasr. Additionally, The National Bank of Egypt and Banque Misr both plan to finance rooftop solar systems by providing loans with 4-8 percent interest rates. Rooftop solar units will help wean the country off its overworked grid that has become increasingly dependent on natural gas. The failure of that grid is felt the worst in the slums of Greater Cairo. The natural gas burned to sustain that grid has dirtied the Cairo atmosphere with air pollution that some experts liken to smoking a pack of cigarettes daily. Egypt’s budding love affair with solar power could lift the country off its reliance on non-renewable and polluting energy sources, as well as ignite interest in other Middle East countries, particularly the Gulf States. If successful, Egypt could be leading a new type of photosynthesis, where the country basks in sunlight collected by PV parks, and in turn its poor neighborhoods blossom like lotus flowers.

Maria Ramos is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy, active lifestyles.

28 April 2015 / marouhhussein

A “New” Capital

In seven years, there will be a ‘new’ new Cairo. The new capital will be built in Egypt’s Eastern desert with new homes, new jobs, new parks, new mosques and churches, new everything. This may sound like a new idea to many people but not to Egyptians. Over the last 5,000 years, Egypt has had 24 capital city changes. Each move has intended to decrease the population in one area and avoid congestion. Despite these same problems occurring again and again, the same solution continues to be given.

Model of Egypt's new capital. Source: The Guardian

Model of Egypt’s new capital. Source: The Guardian

In March 2015, the Egyptian government announced a partnership with a UAE based company to fund the creation of the new capital city. According to the Egyptian government, the purpose of this new city is to ease congestion and “overpopulation” in Cairo over the next 40 years. The new city will create 21 new residential districts that will house 5 million people. The city will also have over 650 hospitals and clinics, 1,250 mosques and churches, hotels, malls and a theme park double the size of Disneyland.

Many people may read this idea and not immediately realize its faults. What’s wrong with building a new city and urbanizing desert land? What’s wrong with decongesting the current capital and spreading out Cairo’s population? What’s wrong with potentially creating more jobs for the lower and middle class citizens? What is wrong is, the plan is unrealistic. What is wrong is, a non-Egyptian private company is ‘buying’ and controlling Egyptian land. What is wrong is, lower and middle class Egyptian citizens will still struggle to live their daily lives.

capital 2

The new capital will be located in Egypt’s Eastern Desert. Source: The Capital Cairo

Cairo has a long history of creating satellite cities in an effort to decongest Cairo. The cities are often left unfinished and deserted. Realistically, if this city is successfully accomplished, it will become an upper class city that is closed off from others. Lower and even middle class citizens will still not be able to afford to live in such a luxurious city. Yes, it may attract tourists and wealthy residents, but what’s the purpose if the same problems remain in “old” Cairo? What’s the purpose of creating a new city that will neglect Egypt’s urban problems and enable the poverty cycle to continue?

Housing prices are no longer affordable for an average citizen living in Egypt and this has caused low-income areas to become pockets of centralized poverty. In order to ease congestion and “overpopulation” in cities like Cairo, the government needs to expand out of the cities by adding housing as an extension to an already existing city, not creating an additional isolated hub. They also need to address the needs of already existing cities.

capital3

The city is designed to be a cultural and economic hub. Source: The Capital Cairo

Instead of building a new city for government buildings and creating an attractive city for tourists, any new city should be focused on elevating the country’s economy and decreasing poverty. The government in Egypt should hire local engineers and Egyptian companies to plan and build the city instead of contracting out to foreign companies. Making the new city a local project will provide jobs to Egyptian citizens and aid to alleviate unemployment and poverty. In addition, more revenue can be generated when cities provide local opportunities to start businesses, buy land and apartments and earn living wages. The dream of making the new city and restoring Egypt’s reputation to the outside world can still happen, but it should involve Egyptians improving their own country, first.

Sarah Elbery is a recent graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Planning & Public Policy and Middle Eastern Studies. She is currently an MPA candidate at Rutgers University with a concentration in International and Regional Development. 

21 April 2015 / marouhhussein

Sidewalk Salon- Now in Arabic!

صالون الرصيف: 1001 كرسي شارع من القاهرة

[Note: Complete text in English below]

حت غطاء التوتر السياسي, المشاكل الاقتصادية والنمو العمراني العشوائي وجدت منار مرسي و دافيد بويج وسيلة

1000 مبتكرة لعرض شكل الحياة بالقاهرة. خلال الثلاث سنوات الماضية تجولت مرسي و بويج في القاهرة ليلتقطوا أكثر من

صورة بولارويد لكراسي الشارع. ملتقتين صورا لكراسي بمناطق مختلفة كل الاختلاف كشوبرا الخيمة, الخليفة

والقاهرة الجديدة, جمع الثنائي الصور ب “صالون الرصيف: 1001 كرسي شارع من القاهرة”. الكتاب يسعى لاظهار

عمليات التصميم المبتكرة التي تحدث على الرصيف وذلك بالتزامن مع التدخلات العشوائية في الفراغ العام الذي يميز

.مدينة القاهرة. النتيجة عبارة عن تصوير صميم لفراغلت و بشر القاهرة

لمشروع مصور في المقام الأول الا أنه يحتوي أيضا على مقابلات مع مجموعة مختارة من ملاك لكراسي الشارع

,وأشعار وكتابات خيالية مستوحاة من كراسي الشارع. قائمة الكتاب المختارة تضم ياسر عبد اللطيف, طاهر الشرقاوي

.ماجد زاهر, محمد الفخراني و أميرة حنفي

سيكون “صالون الشارع” متوفرا للبيع في صيف 2015. من أجل توفير مصاريف الطباعة تقوم 1001 كرسي بحملة

.جمع أموال لمدة 40 يوم على موقع انديجوجو بدأ من يوم 24 فبراير. للتبرع للحملة برجاء الضغط هنا

:مزيد من المعلومات عن 1001 كرسي من القاهرة, يمكنكم زيارة الموقع

http://www.sidewalksaloncairo.com/

Beneath the headlines of political unrest, economic struggles and ad hoc urban growth, Manar Moursi and David Puig have found a unique way to display life in Cairo. Over the past 3 years Moursi and Puig have traveled across Cairo collecting over 1000 Polaroid images of street chairs. Capturing chairs in neighborhoods as diverse as Shubra El Kheima, Khalifa and New Cairo, the duo has compiled the photos into Sidewalk Salon: 1001 Street Chairs of Cairo; the book seeks to present the creative practices of design that occur on sidewalks along with the unplanned interventions in public space that give Cairo its distinctive character. The result is an intimate portrayal of Cairo’s space and people. sidewalksalon2

The project is primarily visual but also includes interviews with select street chair owners and fictional pieces of poetry and literature inspired by street chairs. Contributing authors include Yasser Abd El Latif, Taher al Sharqawy, Maged Zaher, Mohamed Al Fakhrani and Amira Hanafy.

Sidewalk Salon will be available for purchase in Summer 2015. In order to raise money for printing costs 1001 Chairs is running a 40-day Indiegogo Campaign starting February 24th. To contribute to the campaign, click here.sidewalksalon3

For more information about 1001 Chairs of Cairo, you can visit their website http://www.sidewalksaloncairo.com/.

14 April 2015 / marouhhussein

Lessons from Cairo: How Small Scale Urban Initiatives can Improve a City

The following is an excerpt from Abdelbaseer Mohamed’s “Lessons from Cairo: How Small Scale Urban Initiatives can Improve a City” article. Follow the link below the text for the full article.

Cairo, like many cities, is deeply wounded by fragmentation and heterogeneity. It is a complex city with a broken public realm. And while policymakers use lack of money as an excuse for not making substantial improvements, money has no relation with innovation and creativity. Inexpensive, short-term actions can give people the confidence that something is taking place. coloring-cairo-2 

Imagine a city as an urban envelope made up of floors, walls, roofs, and dwellers. How can these simple components, with limited capacity, make change?

Some recent small-scale Egyptian urban initiatives, when compared with the government’s expensive plans, are powerful in drawing people into spaces. These following initiatives are good ‘urban acupunctures’ that might heal Cairo. 

Click here for the full article: http://thisbigcity.net/lessons-from-cairo-how-small-scale-urban-initiatives-can-improve-a-city/

Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed is an architect and urban planner. Mohamed received his MSc in Urban planning and Design from Ain Shams University, where he is currently working on his PhD. He is mainly interested in studying the influence of urban space on society adopting a configurational approach, space syntax. Mohamed is currently a Carnegie fellow at American University in Washington.

24 March 2015 / marouhhussein

The DNA of Cities

The following is an excerpt from Abdelbaseer Mohamed’s “The DNA of Cities” article. Follow the link below the text for the full article.

cityDNA

 

The built environment is a product of socio-economic, cultural, and political forces. Every urban system has its own ‘genetic code’, expressed in architectural and spatial forms that reflect a community’s values and identity. Each community chooses certain physical characteristics, producing the unique character of its city. This ‘communal eye’ exemplifies the city’s architectural legacy and gives a sense of place.

For example, in old Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, unique buildings decorated with geometric patterns create a distinctive visual character unique to the city (pictured above). Another example is Egypt’s Nubian village (below) where the building materials and colors are unique and reflect the vernacular architecture of the region.

However, current architectural practices, in almost every city in the world, do not respect the past identities and traditions of our cities. Most projects bear little or no relationship to neither the surrounding urban context nor the city’s genetic code. Architects only follow international architectural movements such as “Modern architecture”, “Postmodernism”, “High-Technology”, and “Deconstructionism”. The result is a fragmented and discontinuous dialogue among buildings, destroying a city’s communal memory.

Street art and graffiti have been filling this gap, explaining the conflict between the traditional culture and contemporary sociopolitical issues of cities. Street artists are repurposing city walls to highlight heritage, history and identity and, in some cases, to humanize this struggle.

Click here for the full article: http://thisbigcity.net/the-dna-of-cities/

Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed is an architect and urban planner. Mohamed received his MSc in Urban planning and Design from Ain Shams University, where he is currently working on his PhD. He is mainly interested in studying the influence of urban space on society adopting a configurational approach, space syntax. Mohamed is currently a Carnegie fellow at American University in Washington.

17 March 2015 / marouhhussein

Giza 2030: From Deterioration to Gentrification?

The following is an excerpt from Abdelbaseer Mohamed’s “Giza 2030: From Deterioration to Gentrification?” article. Follow the link below the text for the full article.

 

giza

 

Blessed or cursed shall you be in a city. Although cities are exciting places where facilities and workplaces are usually available, living in a big city can have major disadvantages such as pollution, noise, and lack of safety. In Egypt, countless studies have outlined local issues and visions for our urban future. Such studies, which cost the state millions of pounds, are gathering dust in the drawers of governmental institutions. A closer look shows that it is a blessing that the schemes and projects of the proposed visions did not see the light of the day.

A major example of that is the Giza 2030 strategic plan that the Egyptian government proposed in 2008 as a vision for the city’s future. In a 185-slide PowerPoint presentation, the General Organization for Physical Planning (GOPP) showed some extremely ambitious projects. According to the GOPP, the vision for Giza is to become the most unique city in the world, transformed to beautifully combine heritage and modernity within a time span of twenty years, and with no care about cost implications. The proposed scheme, in my view, is a good model for a camouflaged corruption.

In this vision for Giza, the future expansion of the city (2730 hectares) will be on an adjacent agricultural land, while islands on the river Nile (861 hectares) would be developed by private investors into private parks and residential zones. Moreover, there will be mega-projects such as Sphinx Village, Khufu plaza, new hotels, open museums, new green housing in addition to a forest of 294 hectares. There will also be rapid transit systems as well as a freeway of 75 meters (246 feet) width cutting through the heart of the city. That is not the whole story. There are also specialised hospitals, schools and other urban facilities planned. All poor areas are to be removed and the city in general would be a paradise on earth. But what about social resistance?

Click here for the full article: http://thisbigcity.net/giza-2030-from-deterioration-to-gentrification/

Abdelbaseer A. Mohamed is an architect and urban planner. Mohamed received his MSc in Urban planning and Design from Ain Shams University, where he is currently working on his PhD. He is mainly interested in studying the influence of urban space on society adopting a configurational approach, space syntax. Mohamed is currently a Carnegie fellow at American University in Washington.

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