People & Sustainability


Two contrasting urban fabrics in Cairo, Egypt

People shape their cities in many ways and on many scales. Describe how socioeconomic factors can shaped the built environment from the entire city to the single public space.  Discuss the most relevant example from the class/reading material and bring your own example from your own experience and observations

(Sustainable Development in Cities, USP 514 Class Discussion)

Urban Forest of Africa | Johannesburg, Lagos & Cairo

By: Joe McBride

The urban forests of Johannesburg, Lagos, and Cairo were surveyed to provide a data base for a comparison of their composition, structure, and condition.  Tree species diversity in these three urban forests was compared to the species diversity of trees in each biome in which the city occurred and to climatic parameters of each biome to measure the correlation between urban forest characteristics and the characteristics of the biomes.  Structure of the urban forest was examined in relation to historical precedents for urban design in each city.  Current problems of urban forest condition and management are discussed.

To obtain a copy of the presentation, click on the link below:

Urban Forest of Africa (Johanesburg, Lagos & Cairo)

Building within the flood plain, Lake Naivasha | Kenya


Picture taken 29th March 2014 in Lake Naivasha, Kenya.

If this is the situation for a development occurring within a park that is full of environmental researchers and park rangers, then what is the fate of other development that is occurring in absence of any environmental or climate change considerations.

Sustainability of Buildings in Nuweiba Village, New & Ancient Building Techniques | Egypt

By: Mamdouh Sakr


One of the project’s clusters after the external plastering (still under construction)


Architecture students and architects in Egypt and elsewhere seldom have the opportunity to study and understand the various techniques of Earth Construction. The majority of the architectural educational systems ignores such a topic completely, and restricts it to anthropological studiesThis severe neglect of teaching the ancient yet sustainable building techniques is contemporaneous to a ruthless erosion of the Egyptian vernacular architecture, with all its architectural elements, decorative motifs and structural techniques.

Nowadays a number of projects are trying to benefit from the timeless building techniques and local materials to create sustainable, environment friendly and economical buildings.Most of these trials are a direct result of the efforts of Hassan Fathy, the late Egyptian architect who spent his entire career looking for and developing means of rebuilding communities that would allow people to live with self-respect despite their economic status.

The Project… The Idea

I was asked to design a touristic camp on a piece of land north of Nuweiba, which is a coastal town in the eastern part of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. An area, which is well known for its numerous “Bedouin-Style” camps, where tourists stay in cheap huts made of palm reeds and recycled plywood boards.

The “Bedouin- Style” hut seemed like a nice idea that has been abused by bad taste and limited budgets, and what started as an environment friendly, economical and aesthetically pleasing simple lodge turned to be an ugly ramshackle heap of different materials. After almost two decades of labeling the area as a “Hippie paradise”, things changed for a number of reasons and a camp composed of huts would never generate any income or even sustain the ownership of the plot. Sothe owners of the camps were obliged to build permanent rooms in addition to the simple huts.

The owner who was mesmerized by the beauty of the site wanted to respect the environment and create buildings that enhance the visitors’ experience of the sea, the desert and the mountains. The piece of land had a narrow frontage on the beach (90 meters), and this required a different design approach than the typical spreading of the rooms in rows parallel to the shoreline.Therefore the design gradually developed as a number of rooms clustered around courtyards that varied in size and form. These room clusters were placed organically in the natural desert landscape, ensuring natural lighting and ventilation to every unit.

Building Materials and Techniques

The use of natural materials and traditional building techniques was the main criterion, which influenced and guided the design of the camp. The available building materials in the site and the region were: stone shingles, silt, gravel and sand. Apart from these materials anything else had to be brought from the cities of the Nile Delta (almost 350 km away).

As the local volcanic and granite stones radiate large quantities of heat, they were unsuitable to build living spaces, but were easily used tobuildthe foundations. The presence of good-quality silt and sand encouraged the use of adobe, where only dry straw was needed to strengthen the mixture. So it was decided that adobe will be prepared in site, and used to build the walls, and the question was what will be used for the roofs. Unfortunately using reinforced concrete to create flat roofs became the norm in Egypt that most of the architects and clients do not even think of other options. I was trying to provide other environment friendly alternatives, however using wooden joists would not be that appropriate, as the materials, its preparing to withstand the harsh climate and the skilled labor involved would be extremely expensive. While I wanted to use adobe domes and vaults for environmental and aesthetic reasons, fortunately the owner accepted the idea because of its economical advantages and the overall ambiance, which would appeal and attract tourists visiting the camp. So we were simply using natural building materials and reusing Ancient Egyptian building techniques in the 21st century.

The Architect and the Mason

I can claim that earth building construction and traditional building techniques depend on the experience and ingenuity of the mason more than the creativity of the architect. The masons deliberately made some slight modifications, such as the sizes and location ofsome of the alcoves and a few decorative brick formations, where they felt that their modifications added a distinctive flair to the buildings.

I believe that such flexible relationship between the architect and the masons is peculiar to the earth building construction and is rarely present in the conventional building processes. This remark might raise an important question, whether these buildings are considered examples of “Vernacular” or“Neo-vernacular architecture?

Conflicting Visions of Sustainable Development: Struggles over the Production of Eco-Cities in Dakar | Senegal


The concept of sustainability has been invoked to advocate a wide variety of environmental and economic development projects. Most recently, calls for the ‘sustainable development’ of urban centers in the global South have sought to address environmental and social problems associated with informal housing settlements. This presentation examines debates –among a variety of public and private actors- over how to counteract the proliferation of informal housing settlements and manage natural resources in Senegal’s rapidly urbanizing Dakar Region. In doing so, I draw from ethnographic research and textual analysis to examine conflicts that have developed over how sustainable development should be practiced in urban Dakar. Through an examination of several conflicts that have developed from recent efforts to plan and construct ‘eco-cities’, I argue that actors are struggling over a/how to best preserve urban farmland and floodplains and b/the extent to which middle-class and elite housing estates should be integrated into urban development strategies. In addressing the outcomes of these struggles over sustainable urban development, I contend that these conflicts are reconfiguring Dakar’s urban landscape and increasing urban poverty and inequality.

Can Africa survive the current food system crisis? | Africa

UntitledIntroducing the debate around the issue of systemic crisis of global food system in relation to global hunger, climate change, and sustainability; particularly, its ramifications on the African people and continent. Moreover, it is crucial to shed lights on three folds: (a) the political question of huger and food distribution, (b) the debate around the food system and climate change vis-à-vis land grabs which will include examination of large scale food production, and (c) alternative solutions of the current food system that rural farmers and social movements advocating for.

Red Sea: From Mass-Tourism to Ecotourism | Egypt


The Red Sea is a very unique resource that is not yet being utilized to its full potential. Since 1980s till today the mass tourism has destroyed large areas of coastal stretches of the northern Red Sea region and the city of Hurghada is an example for such environmental deterioration.

Innovative initiatives have taken place in order to protect the remaining parts of the red sea (From Marsa Alam city to South) including several guidelines by the Red Sea Sustainable Tourism Initiative (RSSTI) in 2000-2004 that focused on developing ecotourism and coastal planning for the region, followed by another pilot programme named Livelihood and Income From Environment (LIFE) in 2005-2008 which supported implementing pilot projects in national parks to demonstrate examples of the appropriate process. Since 2008 to date there has been several initiatives to introduce sustainable practices (i.e. Solid Waste Management, Mooring Buoys,..and other practices) lead by local NGOs such as HEPCA.

Despite all these attempts, the development pattern did not change much and the knowledge gained remains within a limited number of people, the main obstacles are: (i) An intuitional problem where the responsible authorities (both tourism and environment ministries) do not coordinate especially with such complexity of stakeholders, (ii) Practitioners are more inclined to utilize the Nile Valley architecture as the local and appropriate one for the Red Sea, and (iii) The lack of the understanding of the Red Sea system (i.e. drainage, soil, marine life,…and habitat) resulted to several inappropriate land subdivisions and allocating development in vulnerable areas

The solutions for such complex problems can be summarized as follow:

(i) Elevate the planning exercise above the ministry level, where planning is not limited to one ministry (housing, tourism, … and environment) that has a very specific mandate and will encourage mono-type of development, but rather an over arching exercise that is a product of a higher level proposed committee on the prime-minster level.

(ii) Improving the education (mainly architecture and planning) to incorporate appropriate planning tools and building technologies and not limit this arena to the Nile Valley architecture. Learning from the local tribes knowledge about best site selections criteria and building styles. Seeking guidance from relevant experiences in the region rather than copying western countries

(iii) Need for suitability land use maps that can guide development in the region without harmful intervention to the environment and being locally implementable within the local market dynamics

Also posted on the Berkeley Tourism Studies Working Group, (part of TSWG colloquium): 

Government Failure in Providing Housing Solutions for Urban Poor | Kenya

By: Brandon Alexander Harrell:

Government Failure in Providing Housing Solutions for Urban Poor in Kenya: According to UN-HABITAT, Nairobi has some of the most densely populated, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world. About 60% of the city’s population lives in the more than 100 slums and squatter settlements around the city. The excessive and expansive slums which pervade Nairobi’s periphery serve as proof of a history of turbulent governance and the consequential housing market failure. The market failure can be attributed to poor governance, high cost of housing finance, a complex land tenure system, stringent planning and building standards, and rapid urbanization compounded with poor economic growth. The lack of affordable housing options for low-income and no-income residents of Nairobi is particularly important due to the fact the new Kenyan Constitution 2010 guarantees every Kenyan the right to decent affordable housing. An estimated 60% of Nairobi’s 3 million person population are low-income, urban poor living in slums which constitute less that 5% of the Nairobi’s total land.  As these slums continue to grow due to a migrating rural populations and internal natural population growth, it is in the interests of Kenya, and the entire Horn of Africa, to see to it that the urban poor are housed.

Our analysis of the various housing interventions spearheaded by the (Government of Kenya) seeks to highlight their strengths and weaknesses and to suggest ways in which they might be improved to ensure maximum benefits, especially for the poorest of the poor. Such projects include: Kenya Slum Upgrading Project currently under way;  Umoja II and Dandora Site and Service schemes and Pumwani- Majengo resettlement; Kibeta High Rise.

What we find is that the GOK has failed to provide access to affordable housing solutions and instead, all interventions by the government to improve access to housing have ended up benefiting the middle and upper-middle income classes. Historically, these programs have failed due to mismanagement and corruption, and lack of political will to provide jobs and resources for the ever growing low-income population.Through an analysis of changes in housing policies, cost-effectiveness of housing projects, level of public/ private partnership (PPP), we hope to shed light on the current trends in slum upgrading and on future possibilities. Alternatives to explore include project management of PPP in the production of low income housing, NGO intervention and community led housing production/upgrading.

Snippets from Nairobi | Kenya


Nescafe Plan Farmers’ Nursery – Karatina, Central Kenya

One of the key factors for rural development is the sustainability of its farmers. Countries whose farmers have invested in education and technological knowhow have progressed at a much faster pace and as a result have grown economically stronger and sustainable. Having had the experience of working with rural/ farming communities across two continents – Asia and Africa, I can say with confidence that farmers in Africa, especially in Kenya are more conscious of improving their lot. In my extensive interactions with coffee farmers across central Kenya, ranging from small to medium sized farmers, all had one thing in common; all of them are educating their children. No doubt that there is strict implementation of Universal Primary Education across Kenya, which helps in ensuring that children acquire basic schooling. But when a struggling farmer proudly tells you that his daughter is studying in the Nairobi university for a degree in Agriculture sciences, you know that it requires a higher level of consciousness and vision. This reflects the hope of a nation that sees value in equipping its future generations with skills that will ensure a sustainable source of income generation.

Sustainability has many facets which play an equally important role in making our planet a better place to live in!

By: Unjela Kaleem

Greening & Opening the Banks of the Nile, Cairo | Egypt


Picture taken from the Nile in Cairo looking at its western bank, Nov2013

The Nile, in general, and particularly in Cairo, is an ecological, cultural and social corridor that is not yet fully utilized. The 2011 Cairo workshop “Connecting Cairo to the Nile” identified the potential to increase accessibility to the river, suggested longitude trail system, proposed connecting the waterfront with adjacent neighborhoods and proposed expanding the ferry system. I studied a 2-km reach of the east bank in Maadi, a wealthy suburb about 10 km upstream of the city center, with relatively greener banks, availability of resources at the district level, higher awareness of local residents, physical setting allow for banks re-use, existence of community organizations (i.e. Tree Lovers and Midan). Findings of fieldwork and interviews show that: (i) species of native vegetation found are Phoenix Dactylifera, Jacaranda, Cortedarea and Papyrus alba; these are concentrated in 115 meter in southern part of the study area. (ii) Public access was categorized into: public space (accessible), private or semi-public space (accessible with conditions), and prohibited (inaccessible). Along this representative stretch of the Nile, the public access was limited to 16%, the private or semi-public makes 29% and the prohibited zones are 55%. (iii) Boating operations found to be in three categories, floating hotels (Nile cruises), motor boats (including ferries) and sailing boats, all are scattered along the banks without an overall plan or organization, which affects water flow and block public access to the banks. To better develop the banks, I recommend (i) maintaining existing riparian vegetation and expand it to other areas with healthy banks or planted nurseries, (ii) connecting open public spaces to create a pleasant walking trail along the banks in addition to improving public access by relocating government buildings (such as the police or military facilities) and facilitate access to the river for general public, (iii) reducing the anchoring points to two locations and redistribute boating operations to group all motor boats to use the ferry anchoring points and all the sailing boats to use Al-Yacht club marina.