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 Fire Brigades Union’s statement on Theresa May’s resignation is completely damning

Grenfell Tower. Image: Getty.

Just after 10 this morning, Theresa May announced that she would resign as Britain’s prime minister on 7 June. A mere half an hour later, a statement from Royal Institute of British Architects president Ben Derbyshire arrived in my inbox with a ping:

“The news that Theresa May will step down as Prime Minister leaves the country in limbo while the clock ticks down to the latest deadline of 31 October. While much is uncertain, one thing remains clear – a no deal is no option for architecture or the wider construction sector. Whoever becomes the next Prime Minister must focus on taking the country forward with policies beyond Brexit that tackle the major challenges facing the country such as the housing crisis and climate change emergency.”

I was a bit baffled by this – why would the architecture profession try to get its thoughts into a political story? But then Merlin Fulcher of Architects Journal put me right:

Well you know construction is a larger contributor to GDP than financial services, and most of the work UK architects do is for export, and at least half of the largest practice (Foster + Partners) are EU, so there's a lot at stake

— Merlin Fulcher (@merlinfulcher) May 24, 2019

So, the thoughts of the RIBA president are an entirely legitimate thing to send to any construction sector-adjacent journalists who might be writing about today’s big news, and frankly I felt a little silly.

Someone else who should be feeling more than a little silly, though, is Theresa May herself. When listing her government’s achievements, such as they were, she included, setting up “the independent public inquiry into the tragedy at Grenfell Tower” – a fire in a West London public housing block in June 2017 – “to search for the truth, so nothing like it can ever happen again, and so the people who lost their lives that night are never forgotten”.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, is having precisely none of this. Here’s his statement:

“Many of the underlying issues at Grenfell were due to unsafe conditions that had been allowed to fester under Tory governments and a council for which Theresa May bears ultimate responsibility. The inquiry she launched has kicked scrutiny of corporate and government interests into the long-grass, denying families and survivors justice, while allowing business as usual to continue for the wealthy. For the outgoing Prime Minister to suggest that her awful response to Grenfell is a proud part of her legacy is, frankly, disgraceful.”

A total of 72 people died in the Grenfell fire. At time of writing, nobody has been prosecuted.

Jonn Elledge is editor of CityMetric and the assistant editor of the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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