Developing the land around Imbaba Airport

15-12-2011 09:04 AM

Mervat Ayoub



 The district of Imbaba is one of the most densely populated in Giza. A survey by the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) revealed that the area surrounding Imbaba Airport as well as the nearby al-Amal and Bashteel districts are home to 17,533 families (68,851 people) and 29,920 residential and business units. The total area surveyed amounts to 231 feddans—a feddan is 4,200 square metres of land. Residents suffer from inadequate public transportation, heavy pollution, poor health services, electricity cuts, and rampant crime leading to a lack of security.

It was not always so, however.


 Squeezed out


Imbaba Airport was built 56 years ago on an area of one million square metres of what was then non-residential agricultural land, and was used for glider aviation. With the steady rise in the populations of Cairo and Giza and the ensuing urban sprawl, housing spread to the area around Imbaba airport and, in 1999, a fence had to be built around the airport at a cost of two million Egyptian Pounds to protect it from encroachment. By that time Imbaba had become the unplanned, thriving, overcrowded urban net that it is now, with back-to-back houses and streets too narrow to accommodate traffic. Three times the fence was broken down by teenagers who wished to use the airport area as a football pitch. In November 2000, a child who had crept in was hit by a plane. The airport was closed for two months for investigations. An aviation safety committee decided then that the airport was no longer fit for use, and it was closed down.




Alternative plan


Ever since that decision, wide controversy has raged on regarding how best to make use of the airport’s huge area. An initial idea which gained huge public backing was to use the land to build parks, schools, healthcare centres and other public utilities. But since the government dragged its feet on the project and made no clear public move to materialise it, fear set in that it might be planning to sell the land to investors. In all cases, it was obvious that a comprehensive development project would have to be carried out for the full surrounding area and this, in turn, was bound to involve the demolition of many of the existing buildings to make place for modern roads to accommodate the increasingly difficult traffic. Imbaba residents have been steadily complaining about the all but impossible task of having to navigate the alleys and park their vehicles in the neighbourhood of their homes.


When people were asked about what they would like to see as replacement should their homes be demolished under a development project, 26.9 per cent wanted to live in the same area, 20.8 per cent wanted a home in one of Egypt’s new towns, 19.7 per cent wanted a home in another area in Giza. While all these counted on the government to provide them with new housing, 15.9 per cent chose to take financial compensation and themselves look for a new home.






In accordance with the survey finds, a development project was planned to improve living conditions and establish a network of roads to facilitate traffic inside and surrounding the area, and to upgrade educational and health services.


Among the most relevant issues concerning the new project is that it is a self-financing scheme. Residents whose homes will be demolished will either be re-housed in a building complex inside the airport area, or will be compensated with sums of money that should allow them to find alternative housing. The rest of the airport area will be used for a public park, supermarkets and buildings for health and educational services.


At least, this was what the government broadly announced. As the saying goes: the devil is in the details.




Rights of the people


Watani contacted Mohamed Salah, coordinator of the newly-founded Popular Committee for Defending the Land of Imbaba Airport. “The committee seeks to defend the rights of the people,” he said. “When we founded the committee we did not expect these huge numbers of participants. We have thousands of supporters. The problem with the project is that it was planned without civil society organisations or even local councils being consulted, which represents a violation of the law. We filed a lawsuit before the court because we want to be acquainted with the details of the project.”


The committee issued statements urging the government to clarify the exact number and location of buildings expected to be razed and the financial compensation to be given in return.


Khaled Naguib, head of the Sanabel Society and area youth secretary of the ruling National Democratic Party, told Watani: “We are definitely not against improvement … but it should not be to the detriment of the residents. We feel there is a plan to evict the residents. After the scheme was announced, the sale of land in the area surrounding the airport abruptly halted. A few months ago, the government stopped introducing new services to the region, a situation that augmented our worries. We met the governor of Giza two days ago but he was not clear about the details of the scheme.”




No place for investors


Giza governor Sayyed Abdel-Aziz said in a recent session of the local council that the Imbaba Airport grounds, which are the property of the Civil Aviation Authority, would be improved within the framework of a broader scheme to develop the area of north Giza. The project would cost four billion Egyptian Pounds, he said, and would be completed in four years. Aziz pledged that agricultural land would be protected and private property would be preserved. He affirmed that investors had nothing to do with the project.


The former dean of faculty of urban planning, Abdel-Mohsen Barada, told Watani: “The scheme reflects good scientific thinking as it is based on offering people places with developed services. The scope for using the area for investment purposes should be as limited as possible since the main objective of the project is to improve people’s lives.”




Where to go?


Fatma Mohammed, a sports trainer who lives in al-Amal, an area with wider streets and better services, queried: “Where are they transferring us?” All that is needed to improve the area, she said, is to pave the streets and bring in natural gas.


Ezbat al-Matar resident Khalaf Ismail, however, said life was very difficult. “We live in a street that is no more than two metres wide,” he said. “We would like to have proper clean houses.” Another resident of the same district, Othman Gaber, said: “I live in a four-story building and I do not know what will happen to me if my house is to be demolished.”


Mohammed Abdel-Sattar, who owns a local supermarket, said he pays some EGP12 in monthly rent, and asked how people with an income of EGP300 a month could afford the rental of an alternative home that would normally cost no less than some EGP150, particularly as some said that an alternative apartment would cost EGP65,000.



WATANI International 

9 November 2008




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