AUC’s Sustainability Discussion: What’s the future of our Downtown campus?
Cairo, a city that is over 1,000 years old, was originally developed in the late 19th century to be home to a maximum of six million inhabitants. Since then it has undergone numerous development and expansion projects becoming Greater Cairo, the 16th largest city in the world with a population of 18-22 million.
But as development projects focus outward with the establishment of new cities, there is a concern that downtown Cairo may be overlooked.
Last week, AUC hosted this semester's final sustainability discussion about the future of downtown Cairo, which examined how to transform downtown, and at the same time maintain its history, spirit and unique culture.
The fourth and final session's core points were to know what people value about downtown, to share insights about the many challenges facing downtown, and to develop ideas about how to make downtown a better place to live.
According to Mohamed Elshahed, who blogs on urbanism and urban development issues in Cairo, Downtown does not only include the Tahrir area and peripheries. It encircles Shubra, El-Sayeda Zeinab, and a number of poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
Most of the attendees believe that the main challenge currently facing downtown Cairo is poor administration; they said this was likely because most of the governors in charge are retired military personnel.
"Cairo needs home rule, planning bureaucracies that are headed by qualified planners and, most importantly, a "bottom-up" instead of "top-down" redevelopment process that takes into account the needs and the local knowledge of the communities impacted by redevelopment schemes," said AUC's sustainability coordinator and moderator of the session, Marc Rauch.
Apart from governance, there was consensus that Cairo is in desperate need of major reforms in its public transportation system.
Other problems mentioned also include population density, pollution, corruption, and rent control and laws.
Elshahed believes that the first step to overcoming these challenges is to improve housing and then move on to increasing public spaces.
"It needs careful manoeuvring. It's not a one-size fits all solution," he said when referring to adjusting the laws.
Many of the attendees agreed with the idea of "legal re-shuffling" as the first step toward real improvement of any city in Egypt. This re-shuffling includes adjusting laws related to rent, property inheritance and public space usage.
The proposal to move government business outside central Cairo was seen as too cumbersome because it would cause another transportation problem. Another argument was that having access to those offices is important and so they need to remain located in the center of Cairo.
According to Rauch, the discussions are very beneficial as they challenge one's mind set. "That is the whole point of having open, free-wheeling discussion sessions like this. People learn things, myself included."
The discussions only started this semester targeting AUC students, faculty and staff who are interested in sustainability.