FAILURES OF URBAN SUCCESS
With its rising reputation, the population of Greater Cairo continued to grow rapidly. It was 500,000 in the 14th century, escalating to just under one million in the 20th. Today, the ancient metropolis has a population of almost 20 million people. Undeniably, Cairo is a mega urban centre and its population growth cycles are in line with those in Mumbai and Mexico City. In fact, Cairo has more people than Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait put together. And its population is expected to double in size before 2030, reaching an epic 40 million, in a city designed to accommodate just a tenth of that number.
Currently, inner Cairo is a bustling downtown barely sustaining its urban obesity. To ease the pressure in old parts of town, previous Egyptian governments had ambitious plans to push the city’s nucleus outward into secluded satellite towns. But Cairo had already started to crumble under the weight of its multiplying poor fringes. For centuries, Cairo has been building multi-storey residential towers with urban roof gardens on the top floor, complete with ox-drawn water wheels for irrigating them. The first capital of Egypt under Arab rule, Fustat, built insulae to solve problems relating to the growing demand for accommodation.
Cairo’s urban growth has always been dictated by its geography. Residing on a highland along the Nile River, the city is clogged between a narrow fertile strip of land and an expanse of desert. The colony of urban dwellers who descended on Cairo in search of wealth and prosperity, found themselves priced out of the soaring real estate market, and started to build an unequivocal galaxy of slums.
Cairo’s slums have a density of 90,000 persons per square mile; three times the average of slums in Calcutta or Djakarta. People built shacks on rooftops, made homes on garbage dumps, agricultural parcels, and built illegal multi-level housing for permanent shelter.