Delivering housing, particularly affordable housing, is a critical topic that we all need to address in a constantly urbanising and population- growing world. Delivering affordable housing theme is of a great concern to many governments, urban professionals as well as the population at large. This is particularly critical in large, urban and fast growing agglomerations such as Cairo, Mexico City, Rio or Mumbai that are reaching well above 20 million people and are characteristic of both formal and informal urban production processes. It is therefore important that the scholars and practitioners of urbanism begin to understand these processes and forms of housing production in order to be able to find solutions for making better places in these regions.
Housing Cairo provides an interesting perspective on the housing crisis and solutions in Egypt by first introducing a perspective on what are formal and informal processes of housing production and delivery. Through the background of the national and local politics of urbanism in Egypt the authors explain how various decisions made during different political regimes impacted on the spatial and urban character of Cairo. They then show what works and what doesn’t through detailed explorations of case studies. This is well illustrated and explained through the discussion of the state of the so-called ‘desert cities’, planned and built as a group of new towns, resembling housing schemes in Paris or London, that are devoid of the variety of employment or other uses, and as a result, only attract upper classes and remain lifeless and half-empty. In contrast, urban areas developed through the so-called informal processes by plot subdivisions of the city’s rural edge, employing small-scale builders who learned their craft in Dubai and other Gulf countries, provide the necessary and affordable houses, but frequently lack infrastructure provision, and are built without the necessary permits. However, these areas benefit from the informal economy of street vendors, and over time evolve new building types that incorporate retail, offices and other uses.
Through an interesting case study of Ard el Lewa, an informally built neighbourhood, the reader is introduced to many creative solutions developed by local families. Through trial and error, as well as employing local knowledge of the construction techniques, it becomes obvious that what is formal (as in desert cities) and what is informal (as in Ard el Lewa) are two binary opposites, not clearly defined; they both have advantages and disadvantages, and are complementary in delivering Cairo’s housing. The authors warn us that we need to understand the processes of these types of production with a critical eye and not idealise these forms of neovernacular, new urban aesthetics or pop-up urban solutions, as seen in some other large cities. Urban design and architectural education should embrace this type of urbanism, in order to be able to find appropriate solutions when upgrading existing schemes or designing new urban extensions.
The book is nicely produced, supported by photographs, analytical drawings and diagrams. It is the result of the work of the academics and students of the Masters of Advanced Studies in Urban Design Programme at ETH Zurich, supported by Something Fantastic and CLUSTER groups. The book will be useful to both academics and practising urban designers and other professionals.