In Pictures: In Cairo, the streets are your sitting room

Image: Sidewalk Salon.

In Cairo, huddles of people lounging outside shops or on street corners are a common sight. For those whose jobs require it – doormen, street sellers, guards – or for those who don't work, sitting outdoors takes up the majority of their day (when they're not stuck in traffic, anyway). 

Crucial to this outdoor economy is the city's collection of outdoor chairs. Sometimes, these belong to shops or cafes. Others were abandoned long ago and have simply become part of the public street furniture. Fascinated by the sheer number and variety of chairs, and what they tell us about the city and its residents, a pair of Cairophiles spent three years documenting the chairs and their users, and now are turning their efforts into a book, 1001 Street Chairs of Cairo.

The authors, Manar Moursi, an urbanist and designer, and translator, diplomat and publisher David Puig, told Pop-Up City that they feel the chairs play an important role in city life:

The shift of social life from indoors to outdoors is more of a practical matter (small, crammed apartments and rare public spaces and jobs that require being outside).

Moreover, it also has a good effect on the side — the fact that there are always people outside contributes to the security of the city. Jane Jacobs would be happy to hear so! 

The book also includes 11 interviews with the occupants of some of these chairs. One is with a man named Mohammed, who works as a designer of "artistic games". 

Here's an excerpt:

Interviewer: Do you sit here often?

Mohammed: My work is here, and my friends are here. 

I: How long do you sit here with them?

M: For work, maybe nine hours... If there's nothing I need to do, I sit here outside and drink Pepsi or something.

I: What's the most impressive thing that happened, or that you saw while sitting here?

M: A wonderful surprise is that I fell in love with my wife on this street – I met her here. She was walking by. 

Below are a selection of photos from the book. Some chairs, like this model, are hybrids, produced from two or more broken ones:

While this one uses a handy nearby tree to make up for its lack of a backrest:

These folks seem to really be enjoying their street chairs:

While this one seems to have its own filing system:

And, just for the LOLs, here are some more chairs.

You can find more information on the project and book here, and order it here.


This election is our chance to treat housing as a right – but only if we listen to tenants

The Churchill Gardens Estate, Westminster, London. Image: Getty.

“You’re joking, not another one... there’s too much politics going on at the moment..!”

Brenda of Bristol’s televised comments in 2017, when told that another election was to take place, could just as well have been uttered when MPs voted to call a general election for 12 December this year. 

Almost immediately the politicking began. “A chance to transform our country”. “An opportunity to stop Brexit/get Brexit done”. ‘We can end austerity and inequality.” “A new revitalised parliament.” “Another referendum.”

Yet dig behind the language of electioneering and, for the first time that I can recall, there is mention of solving the housing crisis by all the major parties. I can welcome another election, if the result is a determination to build enough homes to meet everyone’s needs and everyone’s pocket.

That will require those who come to power to recognise that our housing system has never been fit for purpose. It has never matched the needs of the nation. It is not an accident that homelessness is increasing; not an accident that families are living in overcrowded accommodation or temporary accommodation, sometimes for years; not an accident that rents are going up and the opportunities to buy property are going down. It is not an accident that social housing stock continues to be sold off. These are the direct result of policy decisions by successive governments.

So with all the major parties stating their good intentions to build more homes, how do we ensure their determination results in enough homes of quality where people want to live, work and play? By insisting that current and prospective tenants are involved in the planning and decision making process from the start.

“Involved” is the key word. When we build new homes and alter the environment we must engage with the local community and prospective tenants. It is their homes and their communities we are impacting – they need to be involved in shaping their lived space. That means involvement before the bull-dozer moves in; involvement at thinking and solution finding stages, and with architects and contractors. It is not enough to ask tenants and community members for their views on plans and proposals which have already been agreed by the board or the development committee of some distant housing provider.

As more homes for social and affordable rent become a reality, we need tenants to be partners at the table deciding on where, how and why they should be built there, from that material, and with those facilities. We need them to have an effective voice in decision making. This means working together with tenants and community members to create good quality homes in inclusive and imaginatively designed environments.

I am a tenant of Phoenix Community Housing, a social housing provider. I am also the current Chair and one of six residents on the board of twelve. Phoenix is resident led with tenants embedded throughout the organisation as active members of committees and onto policy writing and scrutiny.

Tenants are part of the decision making process as we build to meet the needs of the community. Our recently completed award-winning extra care scheme has helped older people downsize and released larger under-occupied properties for families.

By being resident led, we can be community driven. Our venture into building is small scale at the moment, but we are building quality homes that residents want and are appropriate to their needs. Our newest development is being built to Passivhaus standard, meaning they are not only more affordable but they are sustainable for future generations.

There are a few resident led organisations throughout the country. We don’t have all the answers to the housing situation, nor do we get everything right first time. We do know how to listen, learn and act.

The shocking events after the last election, when disaster came to Grenfell Tower, should remind us that tenants have the knowledge and ability to work with housing providers for the benefit of all in the community – if we listen to them and involve them and act on their input.

This election is an opportunity for those of us who see appropriate housing as a right; housing as a lived space in which to thrive and build community; housing as home not commodity – to hold our MPs to account and challenge them to outline their proposals and guarantee good quality housing, not only for the most vulnerable but for people generally, and with tenants fully involved from the start.

Anne McGurk is a tenant and chair of Phoenix Community Housing, London’s only major resident-led housing association.