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Egypt’s New Capital Will be the Largest Planned City in ...

Egypt’s New Capital Will be the Largest Planned City in History. But is it Possible?

Cairo’s thousand year reign as the capital of Egypt is under threat by a new capital. Set to rise from the desert sand just east of Cairo, the new capital is estimated to cover an astonishing 270 square miles and cost $45 billion. Already being dubbed as the “new New Cairo” of Egypt, not to be

View of city density from Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt

Cairo’s thousand year reign as the capital of Egypt is under threat by a new capital. Set to rise from the desert sand just east of Cairo, the new capital is estimated to cover an astonishing 270 square miles and cost $45 billion. Already being dubbed as the “new New Cairo” of Egypt, not to be confused with existing “New Cairo,” the development will be the largest planned city in history.

How long does it take to build a city? Egyptian Housing Minister, Mustafa Madbouley, is currently projecting the completion date in 2022. The masterplan, by architecture firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP), is geared towards core concepts revolving around education, economy, opportunity, and quality of life, especially for the younger generations.

A few notable highlights include:

  • Housing for at least 5 million residents.
  • Schools, hospitals, shopping, an airport, community and religious buildings to support the new residents and visitors.
  • A park which is double the size of New York City’s Central Park.
  • A theme park four times larger than Disneyland.

Busy street in downtown Cairo, Egypt

With greater Cairo’s population estimated at 18 million, the intent of the project is to alleviate issues with congestion, pollution, and overcrowding by providing housing and points of interest for residents. The thought is that this will historically preserve the city and shield it from any more wear and tear that may ensue with a rapidly growing population. The catch? Unless they belong to the government elite, no one can afford to live here. Current residents of Cairo express that they would like to live in the new city, but they cannot afford to relocate their families or the expensive commute into the city center.

A clean slate to innovate is a rarity. It provides the unique opportunity to reinvent not only a city, but the ways in which we utilize city planning, architecture and design. Nevertheless, architects and planners see the viability of constructing a city the size of Singapore from the ground up in seven years with much skepticism. There have been worries about what will be jeopardized at the expense of hasty construction, primarily in regards to the overall sustainability of the city. Despite critics seeing the project as a kid carelessly wielding an open flame, project architects say that it will be an environmental showcase through its means of preserving the existing topography and developing passive cooling systems by utilizing natural breezes.

Aerial view of neighborhood surrounding historic mosque, Cairo, Egypt

Aside from critique around its carbon footprint, the new capital is an eerily close mirror to the already existing New Cairo which was intended to house two million residents but has barely attracted 100,000 residents. Since the gaudy columns and faux gold balconies of New Cairo’s suburbanite villas have failed, maybe the 200 meter-high skyscraper resembling the iconic pyramids will attract residents in droves. Even after the built up allure of a new city, fears still reside in the possibility of the new capital becoming another vacant Egyptian city reserved as a nesting ground for the elite.

Do you believe in the viability of building a new capital at such a grand scale? Or should alternative measures be taken to preserve Cairo’s history and provide for the future of young Egyptians?  

Credits: Images by Lauren Golightly. Data linked to sources.

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Lauren Golightly is a graduate of the University of New Mexico with a degree in Architecture and Art History. Her studies in art history are based in architectural history, theory and criticism, and focus on modern and contemporary influences. A back...

  • This reminds me of Palmas, the last planned city in Brazil in the 20th Century. Not even close to this scale, but a state capital city located in a hot climate where climate was not a design concern. The average temperatures in the city are much higher than the surroundings and surrounding cities. Moreover the city over-provides infrastructure for a population which – 20 years later – has never arrived, it is still 80% under the expected numbers. It is a beautiful and sad utopia. Unfortunately I have not seen the work climate mentioned in the text or in the SOM page, despite temperatures in Cairo reaching up to 47C during summer. I honestly thought in 2015 we were over this type of climate denial, especially considering the importance of scale of this project.

  • Lauren Golightly

    Thank you for your comment Silvia. I will definitely have to look into Palmas. This seems to be a reoccurring theme throughout the World. There are multiple cities in China which were built in the same fashion. One of these is a development called Tianducheng in Hangzhou, China. It was intended to house over 10,000 residents and is mostly abandoned, but it comes fully equipped with an Eiffel Tower replica. For now their only future lies in serving as a subject for dystopian films and art. We can only hope that the World can open its eyes to sustainability rather than going down a path of greed and hollow visions.

  • Yehya Serag

    First of all many thanks for your article and raising such an important question. Having my background as a professional urban and regional planner, I am for sure totally against the project. To most of the planning society the sheer size of the project as well as its location came as a surprise to most of us. I would say that there are three opinions concerning this project:
    1- The concept of a new capital is accepted yet its location to the East of the urban agglomeration of Greater Cairo region, is a joke! There are already 18 million people in the GCR to the East there is the suburb of New Cairo city which is already suffering from shortages in water supply and public transportation, to many people having another urban mass attached to this one will for sure have further impacts on the service provision to the existing mass as well as the new one. Moreover, I do agree with your opinion that this is a catch for the elite, which following the recent history of new cities and suburbs, will pass through a long phase of being a ghost city, unless there are indeed strong pull factors and incentives to attract job hunters and residents to the new city. For that, it would have been more accepted if the location for a new capital was selected by the sea coast for example or somewhere at the edge of the Nile valley. As such a new development magnet /pole would have been created (again providing that proper jobs, services, quality of life and affordable housing are provided) hence, pulling some population from the already congested Nile Valley as well as Cairo itself.

    2- The second opinion opposes the idea of having a new capital altogether. The argument is that with the 45 Billion $ other strategic development interventions could be made along the Nile valley specially in the poorer south. The main and strong reason for having Cairo (and other regional capital cities) boom in such a striking way is the internal migration from the South of Egypt and Delta where the level of services, education and jobs are very inferior if compared to the large cities , specially Cairo. Accordingly, the argument goes on by saying if proper regional development interventions are made with proper strategic projects with the said 45 Billions, proper services, housing and jobs will be created and made available, hence no need for the migration , hence m no further booming of Cairo.

    3- The third opinion goes for the project with its announced characteristics, and that I won’t elaborate more on it because , many supporting writing have been already put forward for that.

    My personal stance goes against the project and I am more for the second option that I have explained above.

    Once again , thanks for bringing this issue up for discussion

    Dr. Yehya Serag

    Associate Professor of Urban and Regional planning
    Ain Shams University – Cairo – Egypt

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