Downtown Cairo to Go Car-Free... Eventually


These kinds of scenes could become a thing of the past in downtown Cairo. Photo by Daveness_98 via Flickr.

When it comes to crazy drivers, traffic congestion, and all the air and noise pollution that come along with massive amounts of cars jammed into one place, Istanbul, I've heard, has nothing on Cairo. But the Egyptian capital is apparently moving to remake its entire downtown into a place where pedestrians won't fear to tread -- a place where they might even happily (and safely) stroll around.According to the news website Al-Masry Al-Youm, the city's urban planning authority has announced that a design will be completed within a year for a plan to turn downtown Cairo into a pedestrian zone, a project that will take between 10 and 15 years to implement. Officials hope the change will help revitalize an area in decline, the magazine Egypt Today writes:

Created by Khedive Ismail Pasha in the latter half of the nineteenth century to be a Nile-side imitation of Paris with wide boulevards and spacious squares, the belle époque architecture now crumbles onto sidewalks lined with gaudy, neon-lit storefronts and streets deafened by the crawling mass of honking traffic.

Parts of downtown, including a mile of the well-known thoroughfare Sharia Al-Mu'izz Li-Din Allah, have already been declared daytime pedestrian zones, and the idea to transform the whole area has been kicking around for a while. Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif commissioned the country's housing ministry last fall to hold a limited competition to choose an international firm that will work with a local one on the project. Plans include building multi-story underground garages outside of the center city so people can "park and ride" into downtown on streetcars, encouraging the establishment of open-air restaurants and other venues, and turning old government buildings into museums, hotels, and art galleries.

A Playground for the Rich?
Some concerns have been expressed that the focus on creating a historical tourist area full of restaurants and museums could lead to downtown becoming the exclusive province of wealthy Egyptians and foreigners. As local blogger The Boursa Exchange wrote when the design competition was first announced:

We hope the redevelopment plan, when implemented, creates an open space accessible to all of Cairo's residents. While we enjoy al-Azhar Park, we sometimes rue the fact that it is almost exclusively the preserve of foreigners, relatively well-to-do locals and groups of schoolchildren on field trips. We also hope that the new downtown is developed with an eye toward easing pollution, not just by banning cars but also through the creation of an "urban lung."

While it could also be argued that the funds could be better spent addressing Egypt's widespread poverty, "city or national governments are always going to spend money on prestige projects," The Boursa Exchange added. "This one at least has the potential to benefit all of Egypt's citizens."

More about pedestrian-friendly areas around the world:
Sweet! Broadway Pedestrian Plazas in New York City Made Permanent
World's Largest (Solar Powered) Tensegrity Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge Opens
Beautiful Chinese Pedestrian Bridge
Video: The Making of a Pedestrian-Only Street in Curitiba, Brazil
7 Things I Wish Every City Would Do to Make Urban Living Even Greener
Toward a More Pedestrian-Friendly Mexico City
Reclaiming the Streets for Pedestrians: The Indianapolis Cultural Trail

Tags: Car-Free | Cities | Egypt | Urban Life | Urban Planning