Alexandria – City of Layers
The book Alexandria – City of Layers documents the New Urban Topologies project with summaries of workshop presentations and interviews with participants. It also includes essays on Alexandria, and a rich assortment of images. Translated into English and Arabic, the book was launched both in Alexandria and Stockholm during 2012. The electronic version is now available for free down below.
City of Layers
The meeting with Alexandria in Spring 2011, after the big upheaval that the whole of Egypt had been through, was an experience in many ways. The city is worn-down with an intense life, lots of people and ideas—everything in a complex blend where the past meets the present. You could feel it in the air that there had been a change in the Egyptian society. It was liberating to see happy and proud people who had just had the chance to vote in the first round of fair elections.
Situated by the Mediterranean Sea, Alexandria has been a center for thoughts and ideas for millenniums. Here, different cultures and religions have met and been inspired by and confronted with each other. The traces of these trails of thoughts can still be found today in different layers, both physical and mental. It was this process of movement and meetings that we wished to high-light when, in co-operation with Gudran Association for Art and Develop-ment, Alexandria University, and the Swedish Institute Alexandria, we decided to organize the first New Urban Topologies in the Middle East.
When we came back to Alexandria six months later to carry out the New Urban Topologies program, the atmosphere in the city had changed. The euphoria from the past months had turned into uncertainty about the future, and impatience with the fact that a new Egypt seemed to take its time to be formed. Who and what groups of people would take over power?
On our way to the Swedish Institute, walking along the beautiful Cor-niche, we passed the courthouse where the trial against two police officers accused of the death of young activist Khaled Said had just begun. The web page We are all Khaled Said had led the way for the revolt, and the ten-sion in the air was obvious. The Military was present and a number of combat vehicles were parked on the street. I saw gripping scenes with people who expressed a deep sense of despair; people who fought for their rights.
Change takes time, and Egypt will eventually find its way forward. How, and in what way, is at the present moment hard to tell. During days of seminars, excursions and intense workshops, the temperature rose. Through meetings, discussions and working together new ideas took shape.
The questions were related to the planning of the city and a possible path to democracy. Alexandria worked as a catalyst for a future Egypt. It be-came an important experience for all of us, both the ones active in Alex-andria and the ones who traveled in from Stockholm, Amman, Istanbul, Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo. We all had different experiences from work-ing with culture, entrepreneurship, universities and the public sector. The diversity created energy.
The first cities were founded almost six thousand years ago, today they symbolize our civilizations. The cities will outlive most of us, but, while we are active in them we have a unique opportunity to create conditions for functioning and exciting urban environments, both for ourselves and for generations to come. We all have a responsibility and we must use it in a clever way. We, who represent Färgfabriken, believe that new struc-tures and new contexts can arise as we work with different sectors of the society and create informal meetings between different groups and wills —with and without power.
During this period that we are referring to as the Arab Spring we have seen clearly that it is in the public spaces that debates take place and where the people challenge the political structures. In Sweden, as in many other countries around the world, there has been a discussion about how these “lungs” should be managed so that they can continue to exist and expand. This important question, along with many other issues that came up during the intense days in October 2011 will be discussed further in this book.
Alexandria has something special. In cities where everything has not been designed and processed in detail, there are many opportunities for an intense dynamic life. This is in strong contrast to my own hometown, Stockholm. I cannot help compare with the present Swedish situation. In our eagerness to plan and structure everything, have we in the process lost what is informal and coincidental, the things that give our cities a soul?
The purpose of New Urban Topologies in Alexandria was to create a mental sphere for a new inventory of the many creative resources that exist in the city, all within a framework of history, culture and future possibilities.
To download the electronic version (PDF) of the book, just click the icon down below.
New Urban Topologies (NUT) is supported by the Swedish Institute and by the Swedish Institute in Alexandria.