In less than a decade, a new Egyptian capital may rise out of the desert. Last week, Egypt’s housing minister Mostafa Madbouly announced plans for a yet-unnamed development just east of Cairo, between the current capital and the Red Sea. According to plans, it would cover 270 square miles and be home to 5 million residents.
Cairo is a notoriously crowded city, sometimes dangerously so. The population of the greater metropolitan area around the city is approaching 20 million people, according to the U.N., and this isn’t the first time the Egyptian government has attempted to spread that population out a little bit with a bold design to “modernize” and revitalize the ancient region. This latest grand scheme is one of many shiny PR stunts from last week’s Egyptian Economic Development Conference seemingly designed to attract foreign investment.
The $44.3 billion capital development would include more than just administrative services; a new parliament, 1.1 million residences, 1,250 mosques and churches, 663 hospitals, and a theme park within a total of 46 city districts are scheduled to arrive within the next five to seven years. The new proposed capital would be pedestrian-friendly, with mixed-use developments and plenty of public plazas, connected by transit to other places in the region, and built to minimize its environmental footprint.
At least that’s the idea. With plans this ambitious, there’s plenty to be skeptical of. According to the promotional site for the project, shifting the capital city “will provide a catalyst for creating synergistic job opportunities for the country’s youth”–a buzzy statement that might not amount to much, if the history of such developments in Egypt is anything to go on. There’s already a New Cairo, one of a few satellite cities built to alleviate massive congestion in the historic city center. The suburban development amounted to little more than largely empty houses in the desert, disconnected from public transportation networks and too expensive for most Egyptians. Other real estate investments have been concentrated within the city itself, like the GrEEK Campus, a venture-capital-funded startup hub on a 269,000-square-foot-site just off Tahrir Square. Madbouli also recently announced plans to build an 8.5-million-square-foot pyramid skyscraper in neighboring Sheikh Zayed City.
Can a vibrant new city–built to replace Egypt’s largest metropolis, founded more than 1,000 years ago–be built from scratch? Case studies elsewhere in the world suggest it would be an uphill battle. Futuristic, one-off cities built from nothing tend to resemble ghost towns more than economic powerhouses. Just look at Masdar City, the eco-friendly tech hub in the United Arab Emirates, which remains practically empty seven years after groundbreaking. It’s easy to build a bunch of houses in the desert. What’s harder is bringing infrastructure, transportation, jobs, and the sense of urban vitality that draws people to urban centers.
[via the [i]Guardian[/i]]