Capital of Egypt, Cairo is one of the largest cities in both Africa and the Middle East. The city is situated in an area where the flat floodplain, surrounded by the deserts hills to the East and West, opens up to the Nile Delta. Cairo, with a population close to 16 million inhabitants, representing a quarter of Egypt’s population, contributes close to half of the country’s Gross Domestic Product.
Cairo’s expansion began up the Nile and West of the historical city, later moving to the South towards Giza and North towards Shubra el Kheima Governorate during the postwar period.The majority of Cairo’s expansion has been on agricultural land. Only Eastern districts such as Medinet Nasr, early Heliopolis, etc. have been developed on what was previously desert land. For a little history on the urbanization:
In the early 1800s, Mohammaed Ali initiated the “modernization” of Cairo following a European paradigm. This transformation of the city was continued by his grandson Khedive Isamail (1863-1879), earning Cairo the nickname “Paris of the Nyle.” Western planning strategies continued to shape the city in the early 20th century, witnessing an explosive growth for the city in the immediate post-World War II period. With the free-spending on the Allied armies, the city’s economy boomed and the industrial base expanded rapidly, also leading to the development of many informal areas. Following the 1952 revolution, under the socialist government of Nasr there was further acceleration of the city’s expansion, including a large number of massive public housing projects (15582 new government units were built between 1960 and 1964). The city’s expansion from 1947-1967 was mostly on agricultural land, achieving 3.4 inhabitants by 1960 (compared to a population of 2.8 million in 1947). The main axis of growth was to the North were the delta plan invited easy conversion to urban use and where the industrial hubs located various factories and public housing projects.
The 1967 war with Israel froze formal development in the city, but it did not stop the demographic growth, leading to an explosion of informal developments (Boulaq al Drakour, Waraq el Hadir, Bassatiin, Embaba, etc). In 1974, the oil boom opened up the economy, once again allowing Egyptians to travel freely, and also providing the main financing and acceleration for the informal areas of the city. Studies show that close to 80% of additions to the housing stock built during the 1870s were considered illegal, and thus informal. At this point, there was little official commitment to tackling the issue of informality.
In 1977, Sadat introduced the New Towns, creating planned desert settlements as the ultimate solution to absorb the projected population growth of the city. Marked by a strong shift from socialism to capitalism, the 1980s witnessed increases in land prices and a construction boom. Cairo also began to grow vertically, also becoming a strong center of modern manufacturing with the industrial developments in the New Towns. Although New Towns were expected to absorb the projected population growth between the 1990s and 2017, their distance from core towns and the lack of services and economic opportunities have made them unattractive for low-income settlers. For this reason and despite some coercive measures taken by the government against informal settlements, new informal districts continued to appear.
The 1990s saw massive infrastructure projects (such as elevated roadways, bridges, tunnels, etc.) not only connecting but also fragmenting the urban fabric of the city. During this decade, the upper classes began to flee to the suburbs to gated communities and “dream villas” searching for a “New Cairo” and leaving Classic Cairo behind. Today, 2010, with gated communities in boom, Cairo enters the new millennium with something other than comprehensive planning. The direction today is one embracing the Dubaization of the city, centered on grand and utopian visions: “Cairo 2050”.