Sunday, January 22, 2012

"A city so large that it had to turn itself inside out."

Driving east or west out of Cairo, one used to see endless desert, broken only by a few sleepy settlements and austere power lines. But in the past few decades, endless stretches of apartments and mini-palaces have sprung up, sometimes seemingly overnight, to cover vast swaths in patchy layers of brick, steel, and asphalt.

During the Mubarak years, developers purchased massive holdings of land around the city in opaque deals. The government decided to leave the inner-city, with all of its poverty and structural decay, alone and promote a movement quite similar to American “white flight,” albeit more about class than race. The new suburbs, alternately called “satellite cities” and “compounds,” go by names as striking and openly referential as Dreamland, Utopia, and Beverly Hills. Houses are built with an overblown, dramatic sense of design, with coliseums, fountains, and intricately carved woodwork. 

Cairo Divided is a new publication by Jack Shenker, The Guardian’s Cairo correspondent, and photojournalist Jason Larkin that investigates these new “satellite cities” and their role in the unprecedented and rapid urban development that now surrounds Cairo.

According to Shenker, developments ranging from the major hubs of New Cairo and 6th of October City to smaller, posh areas like Cairo Festival City and Palm Hills are “reshaping the political and psychological contours” of Egypt’s capital. “This is a story about a city so large,” he writes, “that it had to turn itself inside out, transforming its periphery into a core whilst condemning the previous centre to a life on the margins.”

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