Urban Planning – the Heart of the Matter
Investment in new towns, impractically distant from urban centers, has been a proposed solution to the housing crisis in Egypt. Economists, however, explain that such developments evidence a lack of understanding of the urban process. The informal housing sector in Egypt grows as a direct result of government policies that fail to offer viable alternatives or provide responsible egalitarian distribution of land.
A recent article in Business Today by Amr Aref, discusses just this. Aref speaks with Khaled Abdelhalim, Executive Director of the Local Development Observatory Unit at the Ministry of Local Development.
Abdelhalim explains that the high percentage (60%) of Cairo’s informal area is due to the fact that the government does not offer reasonably priced land – and as noted in other posts sells it to investors below market price – making informality the only alternative.
The article also describes the government’s dual approach in which it jockeys between ignoring and recognizing informal areas, depending on the election cycle. The government did not begin to offer basic services until 1992. According to Abdelhalim, the government used the provision of services to their advantage as “political machinery”.
Abdelhalim criticizes the increasingly infamous Cairo 2050 visioning document, saying the revolution “erupted in the right time to scrap this nonsense.” Although Cairo 2050 has been abandoned, word of a similar document, an Egypt 2052, surfaced in July of last year. A Facebook page, Urbanism Revolution follows these developments closely.
Each informal area is characterized by a different type of informality and therefore faces diverse issues with equally complex solutions. For this reason Abdelhalim rightly supports participatory approaches, so that each solution is catered to each area.
There is interesting work being done to improve and develop informal areas across the globe. One project designed by Urban-Think Tank focuses on creating flexible public space in the Paraisopolis favela in Sao Paulo. The project is financially supported by the city and solicits feedback from residents, two elements that have not been seen simultaneously in projects in Cairo.
As Cairenes struggle on persistently towards their vision of the city they want, as parliamentary figures and presidential candidates discuss their priorities and agendas, and as the laws and policies are drafted, it is imperative that the urban planning debate is at the heart of discussions on the future of Cairo, just like it us at the heart of how people live out their everyday.
Look out for an announcement in the near future of an Our Urban Futures competition sponsored by Cairo from Below through which we seek to stimulate debate around how plans and decisions are being made in the city as well as to invite comment and new ideas about the planning and the process of planning as it exists.
Dana Kardoush is a member of a team analyzing governance over land in Cairo and a co-founder and contributor to Cairo from Below. Follow her @DanaKardoush.