Cairo, sidewalks stories.
If any city has proven the importance of public space in the last years, it’s Cairo, where Tahrir Square firstly became the gathering place for protesters, then a vibrant public space and a global symbol of democracy and social engagement. After 2011, Cairo's streets and open spaces also created new communication opportunities and trust among communities, between residents and public authorities.
Today in Cairo public parks are fenced, waterfronts are privately owned, heritage sites are forgotten and roofs are rented as upright fifth façades for advertising. Tahrir Square is a large traffic roundabout with a military-controlled park that is always empty. In a megalopolis of nearly 23 million inhabitants, (public) space is a commodity and a property. But in order to understand the real potential of streets and public spaces in Cairo we need to get closer, and see different manifestations of activities and spatial overlaps.
Over the last week, in partnership with Megawra (Built Environment Collective), the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute and 10 Tooba, and in collaboration with InterazioniUrbane, we mapped , observed and analysed urban dynamics inside the Khalifa area, located just outside Cairo citadel. Our aim was to develop an heritage strategy for the neighbourhood. These streets and open spaces are the manifestation of a continuous negotiation for space; they are a daily exercise of vague ownership, verbal and visual control, voluntary and involuntary interactions. Often shops are not called "farmacy", "greengrocery" or "bakery" but simply "Mohammed" or "Nour", in reference to the shops owners, in a communication comprensibile only to the locals.
From alleyways to main streets, pedestrians mix with tuk-tuks, cars and street-vendors, in a succession of un-designed spillovers of ground floors, temporary kiosks, chairs for shisha smokers and improvised cafes. In Khalifa streets the car horns blend into children voices and muezzins' songs. We are developing an effective strategy taking into account of these layers, rhythms, and local stories. We are focusing on temporary public spaces and walkable areas, as well as activities or opportune interventions, rather than a permanent, centrally designed, space.
Still a lot to think. And do.
Rethinking Vila Pedreira
Solutions for an informal neighbourhood market
by its stone pit