Egypt embarked on a host of national projects some seven years ago to lay out the new infrastructure required for a modern state. The efforts started with an extensive network of roads to connect all the country’s cities with each other, followed by the building of new fourth-generation cities that will provide living areas and services for all social brackets.
“Until 2012, all Egyptians lived on seven per cent of Egypt’s land. Increasing the amount of urban land was one of the key goals of the national plan,” Alaa Abdel-Fattah, head of the General Authority for Urban Planning (GAUP), told Al-Ahram Weekly.
The plans have been implemented not by building on agricultural land, but by expanding in new areas that are promising for their natural resources and economic infrastructure. These can generate job opportunities to encourage people to move there, Abdel-Fattah said, adding that the new cities also have to be accessible.
The locations of the new cities have been selected according to studies conducted in coordination with several authorities, such as the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Defence, and the National Centre for Planning and Land Use, he said.
A presidential decree then gives the green light for the building of a new city, with the implementation being the responsibility of the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA).
The NUCA oversees the execution of the GAUP plans, detailing the housing areas and types, leisure zones, streets, service areas, and areas designed for utilities and industrial activities, Abdel-Motaleb Mamdouh, deputy head of the NUCA, told the Weekly.
The idea of building new cities in Egypt first surfaced in 1977. Cities such as Salam, 6 October, Borg Al-Arab, 15 May, and 10 Ramadan were constructed as integrated cities comprising industrial, agricultural, leisure, and service zones. Abdel-Fattah said these elements were the pillars of economic and urban planning and the keys to the success of cities not only in Egypt, but also worldwide.
“The main target of Egypt’s new cities is to expand in desert areas and to avoid building in the Delta and the Nile Valley, particularly after the takeover of some agricultural land due to illegal construction,” he said. “It was necessary to provide jobs and services in the new cities, which was the case with the first, second, and third generations of them.”
“10 Ramadan City is a success story, for example. It has been able to achieve self-sufficiency and to provide job opportunities for residents. It has become one of the most successful new cities in the Middle East,” Abdel-Fattah commented.
Planning and constructing the new cities are implemented according to a timeframe, but their growth can take many more years. “The growth of cities is the result of social and human factors, such as people’s attachment to the places where they are brought up. In moving from one place to live in another, people may be worried at first, but their need to start a new life and form a family urges them to move,” Abdel-Fattah said.
Construction is underway in New Alamein (photo: Hassan Ammar)
Selecting the location for the new cities is preceded by comprehensive studies to ensure the optimum use of natural resources. Studies are carried out on underground water resources, pinpointing land that is rich in minerals and that is most suitable for agriculture. Based on the results of the studies, land is designated for different activities, such as agricultural land and residential plots, he added.
The road networks connecting the new cities in the east and west of the country and from the north to Upper Egypt are one of the main reasons that have helped in the extensive urbanisation of the past seven years, Abdel-Fattah said.
SELF-SUSTAINING CITIES: The new fourth-generation cities have almost doubled the urbanisation rate in Egypt, which for decades stood at around seven per cent of the country’s total area.
The road networks established in recent years have facilitated access to areas targeted for development and encouraged investment by decreasing the cost of transportation. The new cities provide for diverse activities to support their inhabitants.
“Having different activities that provide sustainable job opportunities, be they in the agricultural, industrial, or tourism sectors, supports the creation of new urban communities that can be self-sufficient,” Abdel-Fattah continued.
On the pre-construction phase, Abdel-Fattah said that the GAUP was authorised to contract experts and academic specialists in different fields, including housing, the economy, services, or environmental matters, to collaborate on producing studies.
“The secret to success is committing to deadlines. This was the case for the roads network, the projects of the Egyptian Tunnels Authority, and the projects for the new cities, the housing complexes, and reviving historic areas,” he stressed.
“The state is building new cities and developing existing ones in an effort to improve the livelihoods of all Egyptians. The goal is in line with Egypt’s Vision 2030 strategy for sustainable development,” Walid Abbas, assistant to the minister of housing and supervisor of planning and projects at the NUCA, told the Weekly.
The fourth-generation cities have been established to reduce congestion in other areas, provide the services and activities the public need, generate job opportunities, and introduce the use of artificial intelligence in smart cities in a manner in line with the state’s vision of the future, he added.
“At present, there are 37 fourth-generation cities spread over around 167,000 feddans of land, including 17 cities under construction, such as the New Administrative Capital, New Alamein, and New Mansoura. Strategic plans are being drawn up for a further 14 new cities, such as New Suez, New Rosetta, and New Beni Mazar, while six cities are still in the planning phase, such as New Gerga, New Esna, and New Hurghada,” Abbas said.
“Overall, there are 61 new cities nationwide built on a total of 2.5 million feddans, or 12.8 per cent of the country’s inhabited area.”
As part of the strategic vision for 2050 and Egypt’s Vision 2030, the NUCA is creating opportunities for development through the construction of fourth-generation cities, especially those in Upper Egypt such as New Mallawy, New Fashn, New Aswan, New Beni Mazar, and New Naga Hammadi, and on the Mediterranean coast from New Borg Al-Arab to Salloum, Abbas added.
He explained that the economic foundations of each new city differ according to their natural and economic potential. The new cities should generate jobs, attract investment, and offer appropriate housing.
In each new city, different housing projects are established to appeal to all economic groups, Abbas said. “For residents of informal areas, alternative housing projects have been constructed using modern architectural designs,” he added.
“There are social-housing compounds, middle-income housing projects like the Sakan Masr projects, upper middle-income projects like the Dar Masr projects, and luxury projects under the Ganna label. There are also the Beit Masr projects that appeal to Egyptians who have been residing abroad and fulfil their social and leisure needs.”
The New Administrative Capital with the Iconic Tower in the horizon
“According to a recent presidential directive, a new housing type has also been added called ‘Housing for all Egyptians’ that will attract middle-income brackets willing to acquire real-estate loans.”
Some have criticised the government for directing its efforts at construction and housing instead of developing resources to increase incomes more directly.
But Abbas rejects such criticisms, pointing out that “construction and housing are crucial sectors in the state budget. They offer job opportunities and decrease unemployment rates. According to statistics, public investments increased by 23 per cent from July 2019 to March 2020 as compared to a year earlier to record LE113 billion,” Abbas said, adding that “20.9 per cent of public investments are directed to the housing sector.”
A social-housing unit costs LE280,000 to build, to which should be added the cost of the land and utilities, which are shouldered by the government. This offers cash support to a maximum of LE50,000, said Abdel-Mottaleb Mamdouh, deputy head of the NUCA.
A set of regulations drawn up by the Ministry of Housing, the Administrative Control Authority, and the World Bank determine the amount of cash support each citizen can receive, he added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 July, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly