In many ways, Cairo exhibits the extreme examples of how fast a city can change. Concrete frames filled with slightly crumbled red brick and topped with ragged rebar are sprouting in every pocket possible. Older buildings bulge with the signs of an ever louder commerce, shouting out for the pedestrian’s attention, who often now sits inside one of hundreds of cars that use the paths for parking and reroute other forms of traffic. In its recent history, Cairo has dealt with its bursting population often by adding satellite cities at its edge, to relieve pressure on the center. I managed to look at 4 of these cities while in Cairo, which span the course of the 20th (and a little of the 21st) century: Heliopolis, Mohandiseen, Nasr City and 6th of October City. I have already described Heliopolis and the others should come later.
Mohandiseen is an upmarket area on the west bank of the Nile. Begun as a garden city suburb to support Cairo’s growing population, the area was filled with green lots and bungalows: a smaller version of the town layout in Tel Aviv. But Cairo grew right around Mohandiseen, and property values sky rocketed. Now it sits in the middle of the city, and most of the bungalows (really all except 3 or 4) have been bulldozed to make way for taller, bulkier, more lucrative projects.
This once-planned city is now a district driven by commerce, played out at all scales. On the major commercial streets, even the second generation brick buildings have given way to glass. Oversized ads cover facades and the structure for signage creates a new skin on buildings.
Small shops soak up the street front (and sometimes first story), severing buildings from their bases. Most of these buildings, once residential, now house a mixture of offices and homes, often just across the hall from each other! When the shop is smaller, or the space isn’t enough, structures also grow from the sides of buildings, moving out through side lots, eating the parking areas and jumping into the street.
And to support the people’s patronage of a growing commerce, cars reorganize the street. Streets become parking lots and parking works as a road divider. Pedestrians watch out!
The plan in Mohandiseen hardly remains, aside for the structure of the main streets. But the place does feel different than other areas of Cairo, if only slightly. But who knows…maybe 10 years from now this area will again be entirely remade.