MasterBuild Africa

Once upon a desert city….

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Since its foundation more than 1000 years ago, Cairo continues to be the political, economic and urban centre of Egypt. Like many other cities, the population of Cairo multiplied in the last few decades. Traditionally situated in the Nile-Valley, the city is surrounded by desert plains to the east and to the west.

In 1956, when the Cairo Master Plan was released; these desert badlands used for training by the Egyptian military were to be used as settlement areas. After about two decades, the first desert-city was officially launched. The free trade policy by President Sadat visualized these new towns to be self-efficient with their economic basis. This was aimed at attracting population and industrial development alongside public and private investments.

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Egypt’s financial crisis in the 1980s and Mubarak’s rapid liberalisation under the conditions of the International Monetary Fund marked the end of public-housing programs. This led to an increasing number of newly founded desert cities. The land where these new desert cities have been planned was sold at discounted prices to real estate developers, while the access roads to these remote areas were constructed and paid for by the state.

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Most of the developments consisted of upper-class residencies and were therefore somewhat inappropriate to cope with the ever growing demand for affordable living-space. This led to the situation of enormous vacancy-rates and high homelessness. New Cairo was announced as a new town in 1989, and the foundation of Al-Shuruq dates back to 1993. Already stressed with patchy development the situation got even worse after the revolution in 2011.

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Even though the American University recently relocated to New Cairo and the construction of some gated communities still continues, the considerable reduction in building activity due to uncertain conditions for private investments and the end of Mubarak’s system of clientelism is evident. Nowadays only three to five percent of Cairo’s population live in these new towns.

Together, with extremely high vacancy rates of between 64 and 79 percent and a geographical disconnection resulting from the lack of high level public transport services, it seems like desert cities are doomed to remain a dream of a better life yet to come.

culled from HERE

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