Manar Moursi

Looking at Cairo from the eagle eye of Google Earth, one is struck by the diversity of urban fabrics encountered in this city. The street level view confirms and clarifies these variations. In the span of a hundred meters the pattern and texture of the city can change dramatically, as if the city was a gigantic patchwork of different fabrics: green islands, cliff-side settlements, cemeteries transformed into residential areas, old neighborhoods in medieval Islamic quarters, endless rows of raw red brick buildings developed along striped agricultural land, and gated communities with malls and wide highways sprouting out of the desert onto the outskirts. How can we explain the diversity and singularities that exist in this city?

The workshop Mapping Cairo organized by Studio Meem took place in November 2015 and was an attempt to analyze and understand the evolution of the city through visualization exercises. Participants worked with local architects, GIS experts, graphic designers and geographers to create original maps based on data on Cairo. The topics they studied ranged from economic activity, public space, transportation, land use, housing and population. Participants were encouraged to think of creative ways to visualize and document their data-sets correlating between different phenomena, therefore hinting at core problems and potential target areas that can be tackled in future plans for the city.

The mappings and visualizations developed through the workshop contributed to the exhibition “Struggling Cities: from Japanese Urban Projects in the 1960s” which opened in December 2015 at the Gezira Art Center.In our mapping, we attempted to visualize the shifts and contrasts in the city, to highlight the diversity of fabrics and patterns of growth over time, both through the lens of the physical overall plans, but also zooming in on the floor plans of each of these neighborhoods, revealing at times, the inequalities and differences between the different districts. Along with our attempts to understand the formal and historical justifications for the differences in patterns of development, our mapping sought to show, using GIS tools, the discrepancies amongst neighborhoods in broader socio-economic terms including rates of illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and school enrollment. Further, our mapping exercise compared contemporary Cairo to other cities. As our work is being shown in the “Struggling Cities” Exhibition coming from Tokyo, we chose Tokyo as the example of a developed city, while Delhi and Mexico City were selected due to their current similarity with Cairo in terms of struggles to develop and accommodate, transport and feed mega populations. We tried to reveal differences in density, average income, number of newborns per minute, as well as green space per capita.

In addition to comparing Cairo to other cities, and then comparing within Cairo itself, different neighborhood fabrics, we moved to the wider realm of public space in the city. Here, we attempted to highlight the scarcity of planned open green spaces in Cairo in an overall map of open public space. We also compared public services available across 4 different neighborhood fabrics.

This exercise was conceived with an understanding of the problematics of mapping, and we viewed these representations as drawings related to a very specific moment in time rather than an as a document that measures or reveals an absolute or unchanging "truth."

Project Team - Conceived by Manar Moursi
Workshop Participants: Engy Khaled, Ahmed Morsi, Hana Saidk, Noura alNaggar