Parralel Practice, Alternative models

Maspero Parallel Participatory Project, as a case study

Ahmad Zaazaa, 2018

Transgressing traditional views for urban planners to help establish new standards of acceptability for the use of urban space and promote a more heterogeneous public sphere and sensitive to cultural specifies. This view is more comprehensive than perceiving the city as a map and enforce communities to accept standardizations and unified approaches. Also the crucial need to integrate the informal with the formal more effectively and present several case studies that highlight process of planning that has no fixed end, but unfolds several directions over time.

Through presenting different cases of different scales and conditions, I will be focusing on participatory practices and processes, in four upgrading projects in Cairo. One of these projects is Maspero Parallel Participatory Project, as it is a neighborhood scale project, as a case study that has a high level of complexity to pinpoint more challenges and limits in the parallel practice model.

According to the German Cooperation Agency, GIZ, 65 % of Cairo’s built environment is (made of) informal settlements, like ‘Ezbet Khairallah or Dar as Salam. Traditional planning process initiated by the state is always associated with public-private developers such as NOUH (the new urban communities authority). They share a same vision, and they assign a planner or an architect to apply the same vision again which, most of the time, does not fit with most of the people. We can see it in the new cities and the public housing projects and Cairo 2050 for example.

Another process is happening, which again could be one of the roles mentioned in Kareem Ibrahim paper, which can be called a parallel practice because it works in parallel with what the state is undertaking. It starts with the people and deals with the architect, planner, sociologist, depending on the case, and what people want to work on, and civil society as well, in order to form some kind of a collective groups of work. These groups should be backed up by the academia, all together should start to work on a model, a project, start marketing, reaching the media to speak about this project, until it reaches the state. The later funds the project and is engaged as part of the team to give opinions, resources, information, and legalize the whole process. And if this doesn’t happen, there is always a public pressure that can be held. And this is exactly what happened in Maspero project.

Maspero project is a platform project with several partners, as gateway, Magawga egyptian centre for civil and adjustment of reforms (ECCLR), and ministry of urban renewal and informal settlements (MURIS) that will be mentioned later.

Why did we choose Maspero? Zaazaa’s graduation project in university was the re-planning of Maspero project, his father too. It was astonishing to imagine that the story is going back to the seventies. The neighbourhood is about 82 acres (feddan), 3500 families and 14 000 inhabitants, four different generations lived in this area. It has significant architecture value and building technologies for eclectic and art-deco buildings. It’s a Nile front area that is actually connecting the old medieval Cairo from the north, and the Khedivian Cairo.

The neighbourhood was built in the 1890’s. But in the 1973, Gulf investors (Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) started to find a very good potential for investment in such location, and started to buy the land plots from some owners. People who were renting their houses found a new owner and kept paying the rent starting from 1973, but in 1985 the rents were so low that it prevents anyone in the old city to renovate their house. As this area was built a hundred years ago, so of course it needed a lot of maintenance. This was how Maspero looked : when a huge earthquake that hit Egypt made 80% of the buildings collapse, because of the lack of maintenance.

Until today, some buildings are collapsing whenever it rains. In 2008, the state started to have a look on Maspero and begin to realise that it has potential as it is in the Nile front. They looked at it as a potential for re-planning in their own way, and integrated it to plan Cairo 2050. This is how they planned to do it: they would remove all the buildings and replace everything with, glass towers and so on.

But in 2009, there was another project that wasn’t so far from the one before. In 2010, Cairo governorate and the GOPP (general organisation for physical planning) assigned a professor, the head of the department in Cairo University, to re-plan Maspero. In 2013 people started protesting against all that was happening in the area, about their status and the collapses of the buildings. That is when the team started communicating with the residents and the human rights organisations (CCLR). The team started working of finding ways to re-plan the whole area, putting people as a main given of the development equation. The main framework that Madd team started working upon is a preplanning phase: participatory research out of a team composed by planners, architects and different other skills of the people of the area. It was followed by participatory design (how exactly do they see their area). In parallel, there was a process of empowerment through the human rights organisations working with Madd platform team on the advocacy planning to raise awareness to local community on how such a process can reach the officials and get support from the government.

Madd team started in June 2013 working on the process of preplanning and participatory research phases, until reaching a common understanding between the team as alien to the area and the local people, a common ground understanding of the area so that we can work as a team. Our arguments were divided into 5 different points:

Where do these people work? Madd team found that 78% of the inhabitants worked inside Maspero, and most of the costumers are from there. A huge majority of those who are working outside Maspero go to work by foot, which means that they go around the area. All the economic routes around and inside Maspero are connected with different fields, like clothes sale, car repairs and furniture.

Maspero aerial view, 2009

In the participatory project, Madd team tried to integrate people’s needs to stay in the area, to stay connected to the economic routes and downtown, and to have access to the Nile. The main problem was the land ownership.

Of course, some people are staying there without legal papers, but a majority do own the land they are living in, or are tenants with valid contracts. Back in this time, the team was working on their own without official backup. Madd team started working on the land ownership and how to redistribute it so than we can have a huge chunk of land for people’s relocation back. The plan left the major streets to the investors, leaving the area in the middle for Maspero’s inhabitants. Under these conditions, it was found that 100% of the inhabitants could remain in the area. This very ambitious partnership that we were thinking about, the one between the state and the people. Madd team started to go on the medias to say that there is another way, it is not solid until now, but there is a way it can be worked upon, but don’t remove the area. By this time in may 2014 the participatory design process was finished.

In June 2014, a Ministry of urban renewal and Urban Settlements was created. Professor Laila Iskandar became the minister (in the former minister of environment, she has worked on one of the low income areas in Cairo, working closely with people, in a bottom up process) . It was really the best option Madd team could get, talking with a person who knows the meaning of participatory and bottom up planning was really important. She pushed it to the prime minister and the president, convincing them it was a good project.

Public Conference in Maspero to Present the Project Outcomes to the Residents. Prime minister and government representatives attended the conference (September 2014)

The team started working together with the government, and the Maspero Project was not parallel anymore, because it became part of a state project. A conference was held with 75% of the inhabitants, we presented the content of one and half year work, and all the outcomes. Madd team had a lot of trust from people as a consequence to the presence of officials and minister, about the effectiveness of the project’s implementation.

Madd team printed a book with UCCLR containing all the outcomes from the research and the participatory design, and the legal parts for the community. It was distributed as a manual to deal with the project. After a month, the prime minister himself went to the area for another conference. People’s ambition raised to the ceiling because they believed that the project will be done. Madd team started working in a very intense schedule within the ministry, with the different sectors from the state, so that the team crystallise the project bit by bit, until they reached the final outcome that the people will have this part to be connected with the rest of Bulaq, where the rest of the relatives and the economic routes are The rest of the area would be for investment and again the guidelines for investments are constrained by heights and use.

The process was to have everyone on the same table: the community representatives, investor representatives, and the state. We had 3 or 4 different workshops together, so Madd team could discuss every aspect of the project. The minister of Urban Renewal made this charter, attached with the zoning, so that everyone could sign it (inhabitants, investors and prime minister himself). It’s a very important document so that the project would be implemented one day. Then, the team wanted to continue working on the design with the people to have a final master plan for the area. The state didn’t want Madd platform to work on that, so they gave the team two options: participate in an international competition, or write terms of reference for the competition. Madd team chose the second one, so that they could include all the principles we worked on over two years.

But in 2015, Laila Iskandar was forced to resign, and they closed the ministry. This was a problem Madd team fell in, now the file is in the hands of the man who was the brain for Cairo 2050, and Madd team totally don’t trust him. They are now questioning if the project will be implemented or not, and there is no answer. Everyone was depending on Laila Iskandar, so that someone from the inside will back us up. Up till now, Madd Platform doesn’t know exactly if the project will be implemented at all. But capitalising on this, there are gains that we already got. First of all, the project created one precedent. A lot of people now can petition to the government and refere to Maspero and understand that this process of participation can take ground. Community representatives became empowered and started to have an NGO in 2015, to have a legal status to take care of the area. The gain for the community was that the whole 2 years process made lots of raising awareness for different issues. So Madd team just published a book online that presents all the process and research.