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Understanding Cairo

Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control

David Sims
With a Foreword by Janet Abu-Lughod
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 388
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  • Book Info
    Understanding Cairo
    Book Description:

    This book moves beyond superficial generalizations about Cairo as a chaotic metropolis in the developing world into an analysis of the ways the city’s eighteen million inhabitants have, in the face of a largely neglectful government, built and shaped their own city. Using a wealth of recent studies on Greater Cairo and a deep reading of informal urban processes, the city and its recent history are portrayed and mapped: the huge, spontaneous neighborhoods; housing; traffic and transport; city government; and its people and their enterprises. The book argues that understanding a city such as Cairo is not a daunting task as long as pre-conceived notions are discarded and care is taken to apprehend available information and to assess it with a critical eye. In the case of Cairo, this approach leads to a conclusion that the city can be considered a kind of success story, in spite of everything.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-388-8
    Subjects: Sociology, Population Studies, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Abbreviations and Acronyms
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  8. Foreword
    (pp. xix-xxiii)
    Janet abu-Lughod

    Cairo is perhaps the city that above all others has captured the hearts of writers and inspired prose ranging from the journalistically sensational to the seriously scholarly. The best of the latter tries to reconcile the city’s rich history of religious and political changes with what appears to be the persistent essence of its people’s character. Especially challenging has been the task of describing the protean shape of the city as a coherent geographic whole, since Cairo’s urbanized region has expanded (and sometimes contracted) over many millennia of political change without losing its centrality or coherence. The exponential growth of...

  9. [Map]
    (pp. xxiv-xxviii)
  10. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Why try to understand a metropolis such as Cairo? Greater Cairo is certainly important as the home for over seventeen million people, as the engine of the Egyptian economy, and as the largest city in Africa (and, by some measures, the seventh largest in the world).¹ But an understanding of Cairo is crucial for other reasons. There is a need to move beyond the stereotypical generalizations that many are quick to apply to Third World megacities. There is so much clutter out there, so much cavalier commentary and superficial analysis, that it is frustratingly difficult for the simple realities of...

  11. 1 Imaging Cairo
    (pp. 9-24)

    Modern Cairo is certainly no backwater, judging by the amount of commentary that has been and continues to be poured out about it. The attention Cairo receives is found in books on Cairo itself, in articles, in television programs, on websites, in films on particular aspects of the city, and in works about Egypt and the Middle East, in which Cairo figures more or less prominently. Efforts range from serious journalism to guidebooks and travelogue impressions and from obscure academic material to obtuse development reports generated by aid agencies. There is also a large body of fiction whose stories are...

  12. 2 Cairo is Egypt and Egypt is Cairo
    (pp. 25-44)

    Understanding Cairo first requires a short look at Egypt. All too often the city is treated in the literature as a stand-alone metropolis, something disembodied that can be seen in isolation from the rest of the country and immediately compared to other world cities, ignoring the fact that Egypt is in many ways not a typical developing country. There are also a few widely held misconceptions about Egypt that need to be set straight, and this chapter gives a background sketch that will make Cairo more readable. It covers Egypt’s unique geographical space, its population dynamics, the income levels of...

  13. 3 A History of Modern Cairo: Three Cities in One
    (pp. 45-90)

    To understand how Cairo got to where it is now, it is best to start in the middle of the twentieth century, roughly in 1950.¹ (See Map 3.1.) At that time the city had just emerged from its wartime restrictions and the literal as well as figurative hangovers of the massive Allied Forces armies. Cairo was bursting at its seams, since large migrations from the countryside had already commenced, while all urban projects had been frozen by the war. The metropolis contained roughly 2.8 million inhabitants, less than one-sixth of the number today, but the population was expanding at over...

  14. 4 Informal Cairo Triumphant
    (pp. 91-138)

    From the previous chapter it should be abundantly clear that the informal mode of urban development in Greater Cairo has been dominant over the last decades, that it continues to be so, and that all trends point to its continued importance. Of the 17 million inhabitants living in Greater Cairo in 2009, a conservative 11 million or 63 percent inhabit areas that have been developed informally or extralegally since 1960, a few short decades ago. And a large majority of future additions to the population of the metropolis will inevitably be absorbed in existing and newly forming informal areas, especially...

  15. 5 Housing Real and Speculative
    (pp. 139-168)

    On 25 May 2009, a third Egypt Housing Finance Conference was held under the interesting title “Affordable Housing in Challenging Times.” Like the previous two housing conferences held in 2007 and 2008, it was organized by an events outfit called Euromoney Conferences, took place in the glitzy Semiramis Intercontinental Hotel, and was hosted by the Ministry of Investment and the Mortgage Finance Authority. A visitor arriving at the conference lobby was immediately assaulted by a bewildering array of booths with floor-to-ceiling displays and glossy brochures, all promoting housing schemes, almost all of which were to be located in the new...

  16. 6 The Desert City Today
    (pp. 169-210)

    These days a visitor to Cairo could be excused for thinking that the surrounding desert was practically the only property game in town. Billboards and advertisements announce in glowing terms the schemes of private developers promising a quality of life in the desert that is the antithesis of the crowded, polluted, and noisy life found inside Cairo. There are big players, such as the Talaat Mostafa Group, with large developments such as al-Rehab City and now, Madinaty, “a world city in the land of Egypt,” and Sodic, with its Beverly Hills compound and now, East Gate and West Gate; but...

  17. 7 Working in the City
    (pp. 211-226)

    Greater Cairo is without a doubt the central pivot around which the nation’s economy turns.¹ As with any megacity in a developing country, especially one that is also the nation’s capital, Cairo captures more than its share of investments and higher-order economic activities, and it is where there is a disproportionate representation of the well-to-do and political as well as cultural elites. Whether or not this concentration constitutes an ‘ urban bias’ or simply reflects urban economic logic can be long debated, but it is a given that is well understood.

    What is less understood is how the nearly five...

  18. 8 City on the Move: A Complementary informality?
    (pp. 227-250)

    Every large metropolis lives by its transport. Much is said about information technology and the wired city of the future, where trips and the workplace are made largely redundant, but so far—even in the west—getting people and goods from place to place remains the key to a functioning city. Highways and bridges and streets and rail lines and metros are the blood vessels of the city, and these need to be kept flowing. Thus the question is: how is Cairo able to cope? How can a huge and growing urban agglomeration, one whose development is so chaotic and...

  19. 9 Governing Cairo
    (pp. 251-266)

    How is a huge, complex, and dynamic city like Cairo governed? The short if cavalier answer is: not much. In previous chapters, various aspects of the city have been presented, and it should be apparent that some government actions have had an important impact on the city, but also that for every effective action or policy there has been a host of inactions, false starts, suspended initiatives, and pure negligence. Some actions have actually had consequences opposite to those intended, and for the most part there is a huge and pervasive gap between government pronouncements and legislation on the one...

  20. 10 Summing Up: Cairo Serendipity?
    (pp. 267-274)

    In this book an attempt has been made to understand Cairo and to show that, in spite of everything, the metropolis functions moderately well and has not become the urban nightmare prophesied by so many. The preceding chapters have made this point and also have tried to uncover and explain the modes or logics, internal to the city itself and its people, which are operating to make Cairo, at least compared to many megacities in the developing world, a kind of success story.

    And success story, with qualifications, it certainly is. Greater Cairo has not collapsed under its own weight,...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 275-306)
  22. Glossary
    (pp. 307-310)
  23. Bibliography
    (pp. 311-322)
  24. Index
    (pp. 323-336)