Cairo, a city packed with cars, is remaking its downtown into a pedestrian-friendly plaza, writes TreeHugger. The city’s urban planning authority has announced that plans will be complete within a year, and implementation will take another 10-15 years.
Currently, the well-known thoroughfare Sharia Al-Mu’izz Li-Din Allah as well as other parts of downtown are already “daytime pedestrian zones.” Witnessing their success, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif drove a process of expanding these pedestrian zones and asked the country’s housing ministry to generate a plan for remaking downtown for pedestrians. “[Initial] 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.” Fast Company adds that revitalization plans also include “landscaping [...] and forcing people to walk or take public transit into the city center.”
The areas targeted for improved street design may benefit tourists more than local residents though. TreeHugger writes: “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.” Local blogger The Boursa Exchange also said: “We hope the redevelopment plan, when implemented, creates an open space accessible to all of Cairo’s residents. While we enjoy al-Azhar Park (see an earlier post on the 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.’”
Fast Company says car-free central plazas aren’t new phenonema. “Plenty of streets in Copenhagen restrict vehicles. Same story in Siena, Italy, and Freiburg, Germany.” In the United States, Times Square recently became a pedestrian mall (see earlier post). However, these cases still seem rare (or at least we aren’t hearing about them). Also, as Fast Company notes, the pedestrian zone will ban cars, but there is no broader plan yet to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) throughout the city so local air pollution levels as well as the climate impact of cars are expected to remain high.
Image credit: Al-Masry Al-Youm