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?
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.
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.
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.
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.