A new heart for Cairo?

Kerry Boettcher
18 Mar 2015

Egypt’s Housing Minister, Mustafa Madbouley has announced a proposal to build a new capital city

Cairo has been the capital city of Egypt since AD969, however, this could change in the new millennium. Egyptian Housing Minister, Mustafa Madbouley, unveiled a proposal at last week’s Economic Development Conference for a brand new capital city to be built from scratch on undeveloped desert, east of Cairo. “Egypt has more wonders than any other country in the world, and provides more works than defy description,” he said to hundreds of potential investors. “This is why it is necessary for us as Egyptians to enrich this picture – and to add to it something that our grandchildren will be able to say enhances Egypt’s characteristics.”

The ancient city of Cairo’s population has grown over the centuries to 20 million, with a projected rise to 40 million by 2050. Currently, there are major problems with congestion, overcrowding and pollution, and building a new city would ease the strain. 

The new city, to be partially funded by the Emerati businessman behind the world’s tallest building, is tipped to be the new administrative and financial capital of Egypt. It would cover over 700 sq km, with a huge theme park and new airport. 

The Minister hopes the new mega city could be completed by 2022. Its main function would be to house government departments, ministries and foreign embassies, with 21 residential districts, 663 hospitals, 1,250 mosques and churches and 1.1 million new homes. 

The vision is a product of the collaboration of the Egyptian Ministry of Housing and Capital City Partners Ltd, a private fund of global investors, aided by the internationally renowned design firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). 

SOM partner, Phillip Enquist said: “While we are at the earliest stages of design, the new city will be built on core principles that include places of education, economic opportunity, and quality of life for Egypt’s youthful population. The new city will be designed and built in harmony with nature as a showcase of environmentally sensitive development.”

However, sceptics are not convinced that the new city will be a success. Quoted in the Guardian, Brent Toderian, Vancouver’s former chief planner stated: “Trying to build a new city from scratch is a massive gamble. The most concerning thing for me was the speed at which this is intended to be built – five to seven years. That’s incredibly fast. And if you build it that fast it will be a ghost town.”

Looking at other ‘new towns’ that have been built in Egypt previously to help solve the overpopulation problem have revealed thousands of empty homes. New Cairo, a suburb built to the east of the city, was meant to house 1 million residents but has failed to attract more than 100,000. 

Many people say that although they would love to live in a nice new town, they simply cannot afford to relocate, or they blame lack of employment and affordable transportation. The Egyptian government, historically, have forced some people to move. However, the impact on small businesses and cottage industries that people run from specialised premises like workshops or garages, was that many businesses failed as they could not function from the tower blocks where the owners had been relocated. 

This has led to claims that the new city will become an exclusive, private city for the government elite who can afford to move there. 

There have also been questions asked about how to develop a new infrastructure from scratch. David Sims, Cairo-based urban planner, quoted in the Guardian, has asked: “How are you going to get water? How will they move all of these ministries?”

There have also been worries about the carbon footprint of a new city, and that in the rush to build it, sustainability has not been priority. The architects refute this, saying that the unique environmental site will be taken into consideration and that, “the topography will be preserved and enhanced for future generations. The future city will be in compact form and anchored by concentrated development with sensitivity to the land, with vegetated wadis embracing natural breezes for passive cooling of buildings and city places.” 

There are obviously going to be some big challenges for the architects, developers and planners in building a brand new capital city, but by moving the financial and government infrastructure there along with some of the population, it is predicted to ease the strain on the ancient city of Cairo and aid in preserving its historic character. Could the new capital in Egypt set the precedent for creating more new cities around the world to address the problems caused by the growing population of our planet?

Kerry Boettcher

News Editor

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