New Urban Topologies – Alexandria III
– Sustainability, security, recycling and the specific needs of children and women.
New Urban Topologies (NUT) is a dialogue project that in principle inspires a democratic and participatory process about urban planning. During more than three years, Färgfabriken-Center for Contemporary Art and The Swedish Institute in Alexandria, SwedAlex in collaboration with Alexandria University, brought together official decision-makers from Alexandria Urban Planning office, experts, architects, students, activist, academics, researchers and others from the civil society. Furthermore the workshops have always brought together participants from Stockholm, Sweden, Balkan and from MENA region.
From the 29–30th of September 2014 Färgfabriken in conjunction with the Swedish Institute Alexandria and its Egyptian partners Gudran and Alexandria University carried out an extensive session on the neighborhood of Kafr Ashri within the New Urban Topologies (NUT) program. In focusing on this specific case study Färgfabriken continued its previous work in engaging municipal representatives, architects, urban planners, scholars, students, activists and ordinary citizens from Alexandria in a common dialogue that is now directed towards concrete results and actions.
The participatory planning process that was initiated by Färgfabriken during the previous NUT sessions in 2011 and 2013 has not only led to a new dialogue between different stakeholders in the city but also to concrete initiatives by the cultural organization Gudran and the municipality in the residential area Kafr Ashri, a site chosen as a case study in 2013. The university has furthermore continued the process by mapping the neighborhood and its needs. This third NUT session built upon these initiatives.
The aim was to move the dialogue towards the stage where concrete small scale actions could be discussed and prepared for a quick implementation. A site visit to Kafr Ashri and a seminar on the needs and history of the neighborhood was complemented with lectures on successful examples of public participation and interventions in Beirut, Cairo, Riadh and Doetinchem that has led to effective results.
The theme of the following workshop was “Developing Kafr Ashri from an economic, social/cultural and environmental perspective”. Each group was designated to suggest one project or more at one of the unused open spaces in the area with a particular focus on women and children. The overall theme was chosen on the basis of previous NUT sessions and the ideas and needs raised by the inhabitants of Kafr Ashri .
In the previous session of NUT Alexandria Kafr Ashri’s community representative Adel El Said stressed that the inhabitants have seen students of architecture and activists coming in before, but that nothing has occurred that has changed their situation. He urged that the NUT participants must listen to what the inhabitants have to say – if they do he promised they will do everything to help make change happen, but if the people of Kafr Ashri are given false promises their trust in authorities and outsiders will disappear.
With this in mind the organizers set out guidelines to make the final recommendations easily and quickly implementable. Of vital importance was to foresee sustainable alternatives that could be realized in times of insufficient government capacities. The result was eight pragmatic suggestions for future interventions, among them a new pedestrian bridge over the Mahmoudia Canal, a new public market space under the neighboring over path and modern recycling handicraft classes. These design solutions will be an important part of the holistic action plan for Kafr Ashri that all stakeholders consider necessary.
As with the previous sessions, Alexandria III was documented. This will result in a film produced by Gudran and an interview series appearing on Färgfabriken’s website. Participants in the third NUT session were also interviewed for an article on Alexandria’s development in Arkitekten, the journal of the Swedish Association of Architects. An episode of the Swedish podcast Staden discusses the history and current challenges for Alexandria and Färgfabriken’s initiatives at the site.