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.

 
 
 
 

What’s the constitutional status of the Isle of Man, then?

...what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

Amidst the tumult of Brexit negotiations, away from questions about the integrity of the Union itself being asked by wearied bureaucrats in Edinburgh, Belfast, Brussels and London, the constitutional uncertainty of our times has washed up on the shores of the Isle of Man. Now it threatens the slumber of policymakers in Douglas, too.

The ten-by-forty mile island in the Irish Sea is best known internationally for its annual TT motorcycle races and tax haven status. If you haven’t been you should go: the variety of scenery is breath taking, as are the economics. Lamborghinis emerge from the back of slate cottages, a seaside dwelling can set you back more than an Edinburgh duplex, and the gilet prevalence index is off the charts in certain localities.

The reason for the disconnect is the constitutional relationship between the Isle of Man and the UK. For centuries the island supplemented threadbare revenue streams from subsistence farming and fishing with a robust smuggling sector. The IoM government homepage clearly, maybe even proudly, states that it has never been part of the UK: in the 1700s plans to buy it out and make it part of England were shelved after local unrest, while the current arrangement of Home Rule dates to the early 1800s.

Today the IoM government is based in Douglas, the island’s largest town. Its funding comes through a revenue sharing agreement, the “common purse”, with tax gathered locally on behalf of London and returned to the island according to an unpublicised formula. The agreement has been a source of contention for about as long as it’s existed, but ire has grown proportionally with the island’s pre-eminence as a tax haven. Its detractors point out that the UK consistently gives back to the IoM government more than it gathers, effectively subsidising the island’s status as a tax haven; while its supporters are wealthy.

A map of the Isle of Man. Image: Eric Gaba/Wikimedia Commons.

In a world gripped by economic injustice, the IoM drives social change with a programme of support to welcome the huddled masses of oligarchs yearning for freedom from autocratic tax regimes. Income tax tops out at 20 per cent but, fear not, it’s capped at £150,000. Corporation tax is nil, until your firm earns £500,000 a year; then it has to pay 10 per cent on everything over that. For mega-wealthy émigrés forced to flee odious obligations like capital gains, inheritance or wealth tax, there are opportunities to invest in local property, to get back on your feet: proceeds are taxed at 20 per cent.

The Isle of Man enjoys the same constitutional status as the Channel Islands: the UK handles its accountancy and defence, but aside from the constant vigilance required to keep Dublin at bay the only international hassle comes from Brexit. In the same way as the IoM has never been part of the UK, it’s never been part of the EU – it enjoys all the benefits (or unconscionable infringements) of membership by virtue of a legal protocol which doesn’t bestow membership. Crucially, the IoM doesn’t have any representation with the EU – it can’t, being the kind of Schrödinger jurisdiction which is neither part of the UK nor its own recognised area.


That distinction brings other problems. Regardless of how Brexit pans out, the EU has shown signs of going to war on tax avoidance – a rare political argument which unites populists and progressives. The EU now maintains lists of high risk money-laundering and tax compliance jurisdictions, and the IoM’s prominence in the international sector was part of the reason some MEPs have pushed for including the UK as a whole.

The IoM experiences the paradox of autonomy without representation. Its relationship with the UK has often been hamstrung, too, such as in 2009 when the Treasury slashed common purse funding in an attempt to nudge Douglas away from its tax avoidance platform.

Domestically, the distance between the plutocracy and everyday islanders is stark. Most people on the island are not wealthy: they rely on public services and work jobs like anywhere else. After the IoM’s funding was cut by London at the height of the financial crisis, lower and middle income earners were worst hit. Now the island has to maintain a favourable tax code for plutocrats while supporting public services used by the people who need them. It’s a difficult balance to strike, and likely to become more so if the EU pursues its anti-tax avoidance agenda post-Brexit.

Simon Jones is a writer based in Glasgow.