CAIRO: Traffic congestions, pollution, internal migration, the invasion of construction at the expense of dwindling greenery are starting to shed a dark shadow on the capital’s future.
Cairo’s urban future has imposed itself on the state’s agenda, and as an initial step towards finding solutions to the metropolis pressing problems, the government organized a conference featuring local and Japanese experts to discuss the issues and the studies that have been conducted to resolve them. On Wednesday, senior government officials and Egyptian construction and planning experts met with their counterparts from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jaica) to set guidelines for a major long-term strategy aimed at developing Greater Cairo.
Under the title “The Strategic Urban Development Master Plan Study for Sustainable Development of the Greater Cairo Region, Existing Condition, the meeting built on a series of extensive studies that kicked off last March.
The conference highlighted that throughout the last 50 years, urban development strategies were laid down. But due to continuous challenges, the government has opted for a long-term vision for the capital.
The Wednesday meeting is the first of a series of meetings aiming to seek immediate and long-term solutions.
“All the projects that tackled the question of urbanization in Cairo over the last 35 years had to end at certain geographic boundaries, said Cairo Governor Dr Abdel Azim Wazir.
“But looking forward to the future, we have to determine the target of a future strategy while maintaining the positive aspects of past projects, he added. “Do we really want Cairo to be a commercial center, a cultural capital, an industrial city or a populated metropolis?
The governor noted that the Shoura Council is currently discussing a “major legislation bound to regulate the new urban planning strategy. “Some of the ideas that have emerged in the studies of the Japanese team will certainly be taken into consideration.
The Japanese ambassador to Egypt, Kaoru Ishikawa, compared the Egyptian urbanization plans to the Japanese. “When Japan began to urbanize the capital Tokyo in mid-19th century, their model was no other than Cairo, he said.
“Like in Egypt, as we turned from feudalism to urbanization we had to start from scratch, the ambassador added. Egypt, however, could work around the mistakes of the Japanese experience especially what the ambassador described as “the environmental deterioration, which could have been avoided with minimal efforts.
“Currently environmental hazards in Egypt are not as serious as in Japan. Measures have to be taken before the issue goes beyond all control, he said
So far, the Japanese team’s task is restricted to analyzing the current situation.
The Japanese view focused on four major issues: first, the absence of sufficient land necessary for accommodating businesses operating with international standards as well as the concentration of industrial zones in certain areas, which augment pollution problems.
Secondly, the team studied the population density in the north and the possibility of diverting it to other suburban areas. They also studied the demographic and population distribution over the capital.
The final issue was public transport and how the setting up of a new network of roads and metro lines would boost constructive urbanization.
After explaining these studies, the attendees of the conference started questioning whether developing Cairo as an urban center would come at the expense of other provinces.
Highlighting Cairo’s position as a hub for investors, job-seekers and educational institutions, the participants said that any new strategic planning for Cairo cannot be undertaken in isolation from its counterparts in other provinces.
The main issue that should be addressed, according to urban planning expert Dr Alain Bertaud, is the management of the city not its size. Governments, he said, have never been able to prevent people from moving to big cities.
“I am not speaking in favor of massive urban centers, said Bertaud. “But I would like to draw attention to the fact that size would pale in comparison to the question of management. How to run the center is really what matters.
“Urbanization could figure as a positive phenomenon or a real disaster, all depending on how you view it. But it has become a world phenomenon and we should be able to know how to deal with it, he added.