Media round up on the city : December 2012 and January 2013
As the year 2013 starts, many new initiatives, news and events related to urbanism begin in Egypt. The CEDEJ’s new media round up, going through December and January, covers the main points. Once again, suggestions and comments for future editions are most welcome.
News and the City
Several important events have taken place lately, which are of interest at the urban level. Firstly, new appointments have been made, with a promising new Environment Minister – Khaled Abdel Aal, who has worked at the National Planning Institute, and has expertise on pollution-reduction and waste-management – as well as a the board of the Informal Settlements Development Facility (ISDF), appointed by PM Qandil in early January.
More dire news pieces come in from the transport sector. After the most recent rail-track accident, leading to the death of 19 conscripts in Badrashin, enlarged the number of train-wrecks in Egypt – recently reported to an appalling average of 142 per year – the government announced a new plan to upgrade the railway. Nevertheless, as it is not the first time this dynamic takes place, many raised doubts over the prospects of improvement in this area. As the Egypt Independent reportage shows, the lack of renovation in infrastructure is often coupled with the difficulty of running a low-cost service in informal areas – pointing to the example of Boulaq el Dakrour, where malfunctioning of the railway line is worsened by the number of people illegally crossing the rail-tracks, as the ‘ashwa’yat has severe accessibility problems. Yet accidents are not exclusive of the railway system, and extend to its natural private-sector competitor – microbuses – with a recent accident in Upper Egypt leaving 14 casualties. Also on the topic of micro-buses, Abou El Foutouh’s party launched, in what may be a pre-campaign stunt, an initiative for ‘ladies-only micro-buses’ to prevent harassment, which received mixed opinions from activists.
Follow-up on previous issues
A number of the topics covered in the previous months have also resurfaced recently. In Alexandria, a massive building collapse has lead to a large number of casualties, as well as a controversy over the responsibility of the government (the residents had allegedly complained to local authorities about a sewage leak undermining the building’s foundations).
In another long-standing conflict, that over land tenure on Qursaya Island, residents and activists staged a protest earlier this month against military trials for those imprisoned in the November clashes with the army. The military followed by announcing it would ‘not give up an inch of military land’, citing the island’s strategic position in the defence of Cairo, and later presented copies of title deeds to prove the legality of their property claims.
Analyses of specific issues
Moreover, a number of publications have touched on sensitive matters with in-depth reviews. Al-Ahram turned to the crisis of housing in informal settlements with a well-rounded account that includes the work of watchdogs and civil society (though the article insists on referring to these areas as ‘slums’). On Jadaliyya, Maha Abdelrahman writes a compelling dissection of the Egyptian state’s traditional approach to street vendors, all the way up to the current government’s attempts to evacuate them from public spaces. Lastly, Time Magazine analyses the logic and results of the policy of walling and barricading Egypt’s capital.
Useful websites of government agencies
In our previous media roundup, we presented a number of Internet pages blogging on urban issues in Egypt. In this edition, we have reviewed the websites of the main government and state-affiliated agencies working and planning the city; hopefully, this will help facilitate finding information on a subject that is often difficult to research.
Firstly, the General Organisation of Physical Planning (GOPP), the main urban planning agency under the Ministry of Housing, has a rather large site, entirely in Arabic. Some areas are well-developed, with descriptions of goals, projects, and partnerships, and most links lead to long PDF documents, resembling power-point presentations (usually with many maps and figures). However, much of the information is outdated or unclear (for instance, the most recent article on the ‘current news’ section is from over four months ago). Furthermore, the site does not seem to provide any details on ‘Cairo 2050’ (the City Plan developed by the GOPP before the Revolution) or more recent plans such as ‘Egypt 712’.
Perhaps a more detailed source is the site of the ‘National Urban Observatory’, a unit under the GOPP, with a focus on their two areas of work (development indicators on the state of the built environment in 7 ‘regional capitals’, and a monitoring system to evaluate land development policies in Egypt). This is done through a number of project reports (often compiled together with international donor agencies), an explanation of their indicators, as well as a list of maps providing, at times, detailed and useful urban indicators (see, for instance, the maps for Alexandria).
Another valuable website is that developed by the Informal Settlements Development Facility (ISDF), exclusively in Arabic, that provides much information on their work – partnerships, reports on specific areas, conferences – as well an updated news section, with press articles and many videos.
Other agencies with websites include the Housing and Building Research Centre (HBRC), with rather general information, no news, though with more precise details on the training seminars they provide; the Cairo governorate page (only in Arabic), lacking much detail and often outdated, with a section on ‘statistics and indicators’ that leads to no actual figures; and finally, the New Urban Authorities website, which bears some information on new cities and the housing available, though mostly a few years old, and does not seem to have any accessible list of housing prices.
Lastly, the Housing Ministry itself has an online page that, though often riddled with IT problems, presents some news about the work of Minister Tarek Wafik as well as tenders and offers for real-estate investors.