Cairo 2050: public parks, a little green and some controversy

Cairo 2050: public parks, a little green and some controversy

One of the government’s most ambitious projects to date is already receiving controversy over the treatment of citizens in impoverished areas across Cairo. The project, Cairo 2050, aims to have a “cleaner, greener, better Cairo” by the mid-century mark, but in the process, thousands of people are being forced from their homes under the guise of development. It is irking many, who see the project as an attempt to displace people in favor of increasing tourism.

Cairo 2050, spearheaded by the ministry of housing, intends to redistribute the city’s population, create 50,000 feddans of green area, move industry outside city limits and add 15 metro lines and two new railway stations in order to improve the quality of life and allow the capital to enter the global cityscape of the world’s best.

According to the ministry, each Cairo resident has only 30 square centimeters of green space, far below the international standard minimum of 12 meters square. Needless to say, the city wealthiest residents are looking at the project with optimism.

“If we leave the situation as it is, in the year 2022 we will probably be living in a city of 28 million people. We have to do something, this is not a choice, this is not something we can wait on. We must move now,” Housing Minister Ahmed el-Maghraby told a conference at the American Chamber of Commerce in 2007, even before the project was fully initiated.

Cairo’s population has been burgeoning over the past few decades. Government statistics show that the capital accounts for 22 percent of the country’s total population and 43 percent of all urban population. The housing ministry attributes much of this growth to the fact that over half of all Egyptian universities lie in the Greater Cairo area, 43 percent of all jobs are in the capital and 46 percent of all hospital beds.

One of the minister’s aides said that the projects are not aimed at one particular individual or one single government. “It is for everyone and it will make for a better city and country,” the official said, asking that he remain anonymous as he was not authorized to speak with the media. The minister was unavailable for comment.

Despite the optimism that Cairo 2050 has established in the city, controversy in recent months has been growing after the government announced last year the relocation plans of shantytowns near the pyramids and residents of al-Warraq and al-Dahab islands in the Nile across from the lush Maadi suburb.

This is part of the project, to relocate cemeteries, create housing programs, make Old and Islamic Cairo as well as the Giza pyramids an open-air museum and build a new airport west of Cairo. However, in almost all these areas thousands of people are currently residents with nowhere to go.

The ministry says adequate compensation will be granted to those forced to relocate. They cited the current open-air museum project in Luxor as an example of how this process would work. According to the ministry, those individuals and families will be compensated with an apartment equal to where they were living.

In Luxor, this process has gone all but smoothly, with families forced to cramp into one apartment, although they had previously lived in their own separate apartments.

Likewise, near the pyramids, the government wants to dismantle the shantytowns and horse and camel stables nearby. This fact worries Salah Abdel Salam, a 55-year-old stable owner who earns nearly all his income from tourists.

“What do they expect me to do, move to a new area? Where am I going to keep my horses and how am I going to make my income? It is ridiculous,” he says, as the massive stone edifices loom in the distance. Already by 8 in the morning dozens of tourists have paid the fees to ride horses in the sands around Egypt’s most famous structures.

“The idea is fine, but at what cost are they going to create this new Cairo? I want to believe this will turn into something good, but at this point, I don’t see anything good coming from the government’s efforts to make our city better. It hasn’t happened in the past 50 years, so why in the next 50?” he asks.

Down the Nile lie two islands, al-Warraq and al-Dahab. The green revealed on their lush banks is where the government hopes to create massive public parks, but for the 4-5,000 residents, the question of survival is on their minds.

For them, their worries are similar to Abdel Salam’s. They wonder where they will go and what they will do. The ministry says the compensation they will receive will be enough for them to continue their way of life, but with little or no details emanating from the ministry over money, it is unclear what the next move will be for the people.

However, not all residents near the pyramids and the islands are pessimistic about government efforts. One man, referring to himself as Ali, said he welcomes the opportunity to go somewhere new “in order to make a better life.” He argued that life is hard on al-Dahab and he wants his children to have more opportunities.

“We don’t have a school. We don’t have a hospital, so it is a chance for us to start a new life. I know there are people here who do not agree with me, but I think it will help create a new destiny for our lives and I want that for my children.”

Like many government projects, trust and faith in the powers that be continue to remain strained. Residents in the proposed relocation areas are yet to believe in the government’s claims to implement proper compensation. Others are concerned over the implementation of proper urban-planning, something that has left Cairo cramped and crowded for decades.

The ministry has attempted to calm worries, saying that the new project will “benefit all Cairenes equally.” Time will tell whether the ambitious project will improve Cairo or continue the stark lines that separate the rich and poor in Africa’s largest city.