Friday, January 25, 2008

A quick trip to Cairo, and beyond

For those in Boston, I want to recommend a marvelous exhibition I saw last night at the Boston Architectural College on Newbury Street. But hurry, because it is only open until January 27. (I think it then travels to other cities.) As someone trained in urban planning, I found it particularly engaging, but I think it has general appeal, too.

The show is put on by the Aga Khan Historic Cities program of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. This program was established in 1992 to carry out conservation and urban revitalization projects in culturally significant sites of the Islamic world, undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic, and cultural development. In addition to restoration of buildings and monuments, the program engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It also carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions.

Here's one example. The picture above shows the creation of a huge urban park in Cairo. This link gives you more information about this project, a 74-acre park in the city's historic district. The site was previously a rubbish dump and landfill, which had grown so much over the centuries that it actually buried the city's external wall. A beautiful park has been constructed, which is visited by over 1 million people per year, and the wall and surrounding buildings have likewise been rehabilitated. Local workers, previously unemployed or underemployed, have been trained in reconstruction and rehabilitation and were hired to do the work.

Here is an excerpt from the exhibition brochure:

The exhibit provides insight into how the preservation of historic cultural and religious monuments serves as a catalyst for socio-economic development and how the revitalization of architecture can build bridges, not only between the past and the present in the Muslim world, but also between the Muslim world and the West.

“From Afghanistan to Zanzibar, from India to Mali, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture’s support to historic communities demonstrates how conservation and revitalization of the cultural heritage – in many cases the only asset at the disposal of the community – can provide a springboard for social development. We have also seen how such projects can have a positive impact well beyond conservation, promoting good governance, the growth of civil society, a rise in incomes and economic opportunities, greater respect for human rights and better stewardship of the environment.”
-His Highness the Aga Khan


The Happy Hospitalist said...

I've been to that park. It is an absolutely incredible park in the middle of a city of millions surrounded by bricks and concrete.

It is a wonder how they turned a city dump into this beautiful park.

I have been to Cairo years ago before that park was built and remember the giant trash heap that was the site previously.

Cairo is a city of dichotomy. The very poor and the very rich. In the last decade I have noticed a remarkeable influx of western ways with satellite dishes everywhere, cell phones and laptops becoming ubiquitous. Something unheard of just a few years ago.

Maybe it's all the oil money migrating in from surrounding countries. What ever it is, the times they are a changing.

You can be assured that the people of Egypt are some of the friendliest people around. I would not hesitate to go back many times over.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that addition, HH!

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Levy,

Your post was linked to by the Ismaili Mail website and that is where I read it:

I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks.

Easy Nash

Anonymous said...

Beautiful transformation- I love the idea that something once so broken can evolve and thrive!!

....feels familiar- sorta like Beth Israel