Problems on hold
The 20th century saw Cairo’s population grow exponentially, the outcome being that the city expanded in all directions. Save for a few suburbs that were the epitome of urban planning, such as Heliopolis which was founded in 1906 east of Cairo, the city’s expansion was generally random and unplanned. Today, it appears to be the fate of architects and urban planners to exert arduous efforts to rectify the disastrous consequences of random urban expansion.
Even so, it looks like we have learnt nothing from our mistakes. “New cities” have been springing up on the outskirts of Cairo; “new” in the sense that they have been built relatively recently, but not in the sense of modern urban objectives, traffic axes, or legislation regulating the redistribution of growing populations and the economic activities that would attract them.
Addressing Cairo’s problems always involved obvious planning objectives, and the means to attain these objectives were never insurmountable. First, the urban growth boundary of the capital had to be defined and encircled by a ring road that would ease traffic between highways entering and exiting the capital. This urban growth boundary had to be secured through legislation that would ban the sale of land situated on the outer periphery of the ring road. Simultaneously, satellite towns would be planned around the capital, to be erected along the main traffic axes leading from and to the capital, at predetermined distances that would ensure residents of the satellite towns would not seek to commute back and forth to the capital on a daily basis. The capital city would thus be effectively relieved of a portion of its dense population, and pressure on its various facilities lifted, so that residents of both the capital and the satellite towns could lead happy, peaceful lives.
Planners stressed that, for the plan to work, legislation had to be enacted to ban the trade in land overlooking the main roads and axes connecting Cairo to the new satellite towns. Planning experts warned that, unless this prerequisite is firmly respected, spontaneous urban sprawl would invade the lands overlooking the highways until the boundaries between Cairo and the new satellite towns fade out. Congestion would block traffic on the highways, and confusion and disarray would plague overloaded services and facilities, creating a general sense of unease and agony. Deplorably, this is just what took place, given that the necessary legislation was never enacted.
Anyone not aware of the legislative predicament might be tempted to lay the blame on the planning experts, and accuse them of focusing on superficial aesthetic considerations rather than urban and legislative core requirements. It should come as no surprise that there is a legislative aspect to urban planning, a science not only concerned with land distribution and road networks, but also related to social, residential, economic, environmental and legal aspects that all join together to provide a better quality of life for people.
In case of the satellite towns around Cairo, I can assert that planners are not guilty of any shortcoming; but that Cairenes and residents of Cairo’s supposedly satellite towns are paying the price of serious administrative sins committed under a neglectful political eye.
The alleged satellite towns around Cairo expose scandalous political laxity, absent legislation, and lack of vision in tackling the random expansion of Cairo and its surrounding ‘new small Cairos’ instead of ‘satellites towns’.
On the Cairo Ismailiya highway, the satellite towns of al-Obour, al-Shorouq, and 10th of Ramadan City were erected simultaneously. Each of them had its own urban boundary, architectural style, and economic activities. In no time, however, legislation to ban the sale of land along the highway connecting these satellite towns to Cairo took a back seat to a decision to sell that land to various projects to construct schools and universities, or for trade and entertainment. So much so that the Cairo Ismailiya Road turned into an extended urban scene interrupted by new so-called satellite towns, its main feature being traffic congestion. I cannot help wondering which culprit authority allowed the sale of land along the highway.
The Cairo Suez Road is now home to many residential compounds which were subsequently erected on it, such as the 5th Settlement, Badr City, and Madinaty. Farther down the road, some 40km east of Cairo, is the New Administrative Capital, now under construction. It promises an ultra-modern capital for Egypt, and the plan is for all administrative authorities, ministries and embassies to move out there, thus freeing Cairo of the heavy burden and easing traffic congestion. But the price of land on the Cairo Suez road is spiralling and is being sold to development projects that stand shoulder to shoulder over the length of the road. These are sure to slow down traffic, and obliterate the special features of the satellite towns around the capital.
Some 30 years ago, construction started on the satellite town of 6 October City, 25km north of Giza, with the aim of attracting industrial activity and establishing an urban base to ease some of Giza’s population density. The 26 July Traffic Axis was constructed to connect Giza with the new town and to ease transport back and forth. It was hoped that this axis would create traffic fluidity and respect the urban boundary of the new town. But this was not to be. The city of 6 October is now nearly connected to Giza, and the land on both sides of the 26 July Axis houses all sorts of projects, including schools and trade activity. So much so that traffic during peak hours, some 18 hours a day, is sheer agony. Today, even before the urban development of 6 October City is complete, authorities are forced to consider erecting a new axis parallel to the 26 July Axis.
These are but a few examples of the political and administrative sins that some take for gross planning mistakes.
18 August 2019