Egypt is building a brand new capital. Brasília highlights the dangers

An official points to a plan of the new administrative zone in 2017. Image: Getty.

Egypt is the latest country to build a new capital city from scratch, with ambitions to move parliament away from Cairo as early as summer 2019. With nearly 24m people living in Greater Metropolitan Cairo, the current Egyptian capital suffers from severe congestion and overcrowding – problems which the government claims the new capital will resolve.

Egypt joins more than 30 countries or regional states, which have relocated their seats of power to new cities designed from scratch: Brazil, Australia, Kazakhstan and Nigeria are among the most famous examples. Built on a site located 45k, east of Greater Cairo, the city will feature a new presidential palace, a new parliament, a central bank and business district, an airport and a massive theme park, alongside housing for 6.5m people.

Egypt’s new capital, marked in yellow. Image: Google Earth.

But while new political capitals can be symbols of national identity and tools for development, the successes and failures of these mega projects have always been topics of much debate. Perhaps the most famous example is Brasília: designed to embody the progressive, egalitarian ideals of 1950s Brazil, today the city is marred by urban segregation and inequality.

Brasília: a split city

The metropolitan area of Brasília has two distinctive areas: the Pilot Plan – the well known urban design by Brazilian architect Lúcio Costa – and the satellite cities, which have replaced the many informal settlements built by the construction workers who worked on the Pilot Plan.

Less than 10 per cent of Brasília’s population lives in the Pilot Plan. The area was carefully planned to host the federal government, its civil servants and the intellectual elites. Costa dreamed of creating a just city, where the different socioeconomic groups of Brazilian society would be represented and share equal access to the city.

The plan failed to live up to Costa’s vision. Poorer families were forced to move out from the Pilot Plan as early as the late 1950s. The government set forth relocation plans, using environmental, health and even construction issues as technical justifications to locate new satellite cities further away from the Pilot Plan, while showing little regard for those affected.

For example, residents of the Amaury settlement made their homes on the site for the planned artificial Lake Paranoá – in the knowledge that they would one day need to move. But rather than being relocated by the government in a fair and organised way, residents were forced to flee their homes with only a few days warning, as the lake began to fill. To this day, kitchen utensils and other household objects can be observed among the ruins under the lake – evidence of the rushed escape of residents.

Amaury favela, with the Congress and the Alvorada Presidential Palace in the background. Image: Paulo Manhaes.

Relocated to satellite cities such as Ceilândia, more than an an hour and a half from the Pilot Plan by public transport, low-income families had a harder time finding work and taking part in civic life. A 1987 proposal by Costa to review the Pilot Plan and include neighbourhoods of affordable housing was never fully delivered.

The lack of access to basic public infrastructure and the spatial segregation – imposed first by the relocation programmes, and later driven by the private housing and job markets – were and still are the main drivers of inequality in the city.

History repeated

Egypt’s as yet unnamed new capital is intended to have a range of different land uses. Phase one is focusing on the government district and residential areas, with a large supply of public facilities and green and transport infrastructure. Although the plans include affordable housing, average prices are beyond the reach of an average public worker.

The attractive character of the developments in the new capital will make housing developments near the new city increasingly unaffordable. The government has a policy in force to control the price of land every six months. So far, the price of land has only increased. This approach is not an effective way of ensuring that housing in the new capital remains affordable for Egypt’s lower income citizens. There’s a real risk that the new city will replicate the historical trend of spatial segregation, which can still be observed in Cairo today.

Historical spatial segregation in Cairo. Image: Aya Badawy, Hassan Abdel-Salam and Hany Ayad.

As a result, low and middle-income families will search for housing on the peripheries of the new capital, leading to the development of poorly planned, poorly connected settlements, which will only reinforce urban inequality.

A different design

The excitement of a brand new capital and its image as a clean, organised, smart and sustainable city must not overshadow the need for a balanced, diverse and fair community.


The planners and authorities involved in the new Egyptian capital should look to Brasília: there, it is evident that policies to provide affordable housing and access to jobs and opportunities within the new capital could have avoided the relocation of the poorer in the peripheral satellite cities.

If it’s to succeed, Egypt’s new capital must stick to the principles of an inclusive city, where all citizens can come together and share the city and its opportunities. This was the most important design principle for Costa – but without meaningful policies to support low income residents, it could not endure in the Brasília he so beautifully created.

The Conversation

Nuno Pinto, Lecturer in Urban Planning and Urban Design, University of Manchester and Aya Badawy, PhD Candidate, University of Manchester.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.