Cairo’s Informal Areas Between Urban Challenges and Hidden Potentials

The Egyptian-German Participatory Development Programme in Urban Areas (PDP) has released the publication Cairo’s Informal Areas Between Urban Challenges and Hidden Potentials.

Published in July 2009, the book provides a comprehensive look at development in the informal areas of Cairo, Egypt.

It combines academic and journalistic articles, interviews and speeches as well as photographs by photojournalist Claudia Wiens depicting the daily lives of residents.

One of the world’s largest cities, metropolitan Cairo is home to some 17 million residents, according to the 2006 census. Around 60 percent of Cairenes live in informal settlements.

Cairo’s Informal Areas aims to provide a better understanding of the residents of the informal settlements and stimulate further dialogue on urban development in those areas.

It does this by presenting the perspectives of the various stakeholders involved in the process: residents of the informal settlements, governors, ministers, academics, consultants, and development cooperation staff.

Cairo’s Informal Areas also encourages decision-makers, investors, planners and academics to see the advantage of coordinated implementation that takes the needs of residents into consideration instead of top-down, separate planning efforts.

The PDP was established in 2004 following a request from the Egyptian government for cooperation with Germany on developing sustainable solutions for informal area management in Egypt’s growing urban areas.

The programme is implemented by the Egyptian Ministry of Economic Development (MoED) with the support of the German Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the German Development Bank (KfW). It is financed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

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Highlighting Challenges for Decision-Makers

Cairo’s Informal Areas also includes a speech delivered by Cities Alliance Programme Manager William Cobbett at an international symposium on informal settlements held in Cairo in October 2008.
In his remarks, Mr. Cobbett noted that many of the problems Cairo faces—rapid urbanisation, the growth of informal settlements—are shared by large and small cities throughout the developing world.
He issued five challenges to local authorities:
  • Know their city. Local authorities should to know as many facts as possible about the city and its population in order to plan effectively.
  • Make the housing market work for the poor. If 60 percent of the city is informal, then that is the nature of the city. The informal sectors cannot simply be ignored, and ways should be found to allow the poor to contribute to that city.
  • Adopt a long-term planning framework. Cities should think 20 to 25 years ahead and engage in planning that can outlast election cycles.
  • Ensure that change is city-wide and systemic. Cities generally do not change with a project here and there. Also, planning should include all residents and not focus exclusively on the elite.
  • Be clear about institutional arrangements. Many cities have competing jurisdictions, and often no decisions are made because no one knows who is in charge. It must be clear who has the authority over budget, decision-making, resources, revenue and investment decisions.
  • Promote the systematic integration of the urban poor into the city. Cities that fight their own populations and try to stop them from trading or building cannot make progress.




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