In the film The Yacoubian Building, Zaki – the film’s protagonist, played by Adel Imam – stumbles through Talaat Harb Square in the early hours of the morning, commanding people to come look at the “apartment buildings that used to be better than the ones in Europe.”
Although Zaki’s comments are part of a drunken diatribe, he has a point: the iconic square is an aesthetic has-been, its once-white French neoclassical buildings browned by dust and smog and its streets teeming with motor and pedestrian traffic.
But it is not just Talaat Harb that has deteriorated. A multitude of other districts throughout Cairo are also far cries from their former selves.
Many attribute the decline of Cairo’s aesthetic lure to the ails of overpopulation – overcrowding, traffic, poor infrastructure and rampant garbage.
Speaking at a press conference in July, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab spoke of a possible solution to these issues that would relocate government ministries to an administrative capital outside of Cairo on the Cairo-Suez road, a move he said would loosen traffic congestion.
The proposal – one of many recent urban planning projects announced by the government to reduce overcrowding in the capital – has been touted by many as the solution to Cairo’s deterioration.
But is it possible for Egypt to take on another capital?
For Ahmed Zaazaa – urban designer, researcher, architect, and cofounder of Madd platform, an independent institution that works on issues related to urban development – the name “capital” in itself brings with it a stigma that is counterproductive.
“It doesn’t even have to be called a capital,” the architect said, “it can be as simple as an ‘important city’ that is exclusively for government and administrative activity.”
Zaazaa feels that while such an “important city” can thin the traffic and pollution that plague Cairo, its ability to do so depends on two requirements: being a critical distance of at least 100 km outside of Cairo and not being constructed from scratch.
The architect believes that government-sponsored urban development projects aimed at easing overpopulation in Cairo have historically violated these conditions on several occasions.
Source : Ahram online