Levan Asabasvhili 2021
Levan Asabasvhili 2021
Book Egypt’s Housing Crisis: The Shaping of Urban Space 2020
Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this book?
Yahia Shawkat (YS): Ever since I can remember, there has been a housing crisis in Egypt in one form or another. Now, many cities all over the world go through housing crises and, for some, they end. Egyptian film has portrayed the housing crisis as a main plot almost non-stop between the 1960s and the 1980s, with the subject continuing on in various guises. What surprised me when I dug deeper was how official rhetoric—from government officials, parliamentarians, all the way up to presidents—mentioned it. Through this time, language was carefully chosen, using the then popular “housing problem” in the early 1950s, before moving on to the “housing crisis” within that decade, and then reverting back to the “housing problem” in the mid-1970s until this day. Film and news on the other hand, have stuck with “housing crisis.” Here, I felt that the “housing crisis” was a story that needed to be written as such. I felt that this should be in a form that speaks to a wider audience, rather than the reports or policy notes that I am more used to writing. And since nothing just happens to be, but is the product of a trajectory of events, I needed to dig into history.
J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the book address?
YS: In Egypt’s Housing Crisis, I try to present the spectrum of how people access homes. In the beginning of this project, I mainly looked at renting and buying, but I quickly found out that self-building is the main method of making a home in Egypt, while over the years housing provided by employers or as social welfare have waxed and waned. Within this main narrative of housing access, the book looks at different dimensions of these methods: the policies, politics, and social demands behind them.
And since nothing just happens to be, but is the product of a trajectory of events, I needed to dig into history. For instance, serious steps to build public or social housing started to be taken in the 1940s after a few decades of half-hearted attempts. Most literature on housing on the other hand starts with 1952, the birth of the Socialist era. For government intervention in villages, and arguably the forerunner to modern urban planning, I had to go all the way back to the 1840s.
Readers will get an overall impression of housing in Egypt over the last century or so, with case studies on rent, informalization, and government housing.
J: How does this book connect to and/or depart from your previous work?
YS: In one way, my book builds on my usual method of using both qualitative and quantitative data to analyze housing. For example, in past articles I have written or edited on the Built Environment Observatory, to work out or explain how housing is becoming more unaffordable, I gather housing price data, read laws on real estate, and speak with people that are looking for a home.
With this book, however, I had the time and the writing space not afforded to generally short and real-time articles to explore the history of housing by looking at the development of policies over decades instead of years. There is a trove of primary sources out there that very few people have touched, at least those researching housing. For example, I was able to find many speeches and writings for Gamal Abdel Nasser on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Archive that mentioned his views on housing in much detail. There were even once-private government documents such as cabinet and committee minutes that showed candid views and debates on rent and social housing. Similar documents for later presidents are not available, which means that the book may be a bit unfair on Nasser.
And while I am used to reading through statistics, it was quite an adventure digging up more historic data on housing, such as tenure—renting versus buying and self-building, for example—which, compared to most countries, covers a relatively recent period from the 1960s and 70s. Here, the statistics helped give an idea of whether government promises were kept and whether plans succeeded.
Özgür Sayın, Michael Hoyler, and John Harrison
Moving beyond siloification in urban studies
The first two decades of this century have been characterised by the emergence of a global urban studies. Despite the development of a critical body of work that has contributed to the globalisation of urban thinking, this has been accompanied by a diversification in approaches to understanding cities and the urban condition. In this paper, we focus on four of the most influential and long-standing theoretical perspectives underpinning global urban studies, namely global cities, state-rescaling, developmental and postcolonial.1 Each of these approaches has originated from very different intellectual starting points and subsequently developed its own conceptual vocabulary, methodological tools and empirical preoccupations. Despite each approach representing a diverse set of ideas, sometimes overlapping with other approaches, the result has been a siloification around different schools of thought, often constructed and collapsed (by others) into a simplified core idea and perspective. There is a growing recognition that the constant attacking and defending of what constitutes a legitimate approach to current urban theory making has led to an intellectual environment in which it is difficult to engage in meaningful exchange (Brenner, 2018; Hoyler and Harrison, 2017; van Meeteren et al., 2016).
These cities that do not easily fit, and therefore fall between the gaps of international urban theory making, are increasingly the subject of researchers’ attention.2 A first grouping of cities, such as Doha, Panama, Manila and Beirut, have capitalised on their in-betweenness to develop niche economies (Kleibert, 2017; Krijnen et al., 2017; Sigler, 2013). What we might usefully identify as interstitial cities leads us to consider a second grouping, including Moscow, Budapest and Istanbul. These former imperial interstitial cities sit at the interface of what Müller (2020) has termed ‘Global East’–‘suspended somewhere in the shadows between the Global North and the Global South, not quite belonging to either’ (Müller, 2020: 734). This is true in particular for Istanbul, which ‘[l]ike its geographical location, […] resembles both West and East [and] has been characterised generally by the less-developed attributes of the Global South but also has certain modern, developed aspects of the Global North’ (Yetiskul and Demirel, 2018: 3338).
Using Istanbul as an illustrative case, this paper proposes an alternative approach to doing comparative urban research that brings different theoretical perspectives into conversation. Recent convention has it that there are two principal approaches to comparative urbanism: ‘The first is a multi-city comparison, while the second deals with multiple sites within a single city’ (Ren and Luger, 2015: 153). We argue that collapsing comparative urbanism into debates about site selection is counterproductive to the type of meaningful exchange required to understanding the multiple ways of seeing cities (section ‘Doing comparative urbanism differently’). Our approach is grounded in a belief that to engage in meaningful comparative urban research we must explore the extent to which different perspectives (can) come together as complementary alternatives in explaining processes of urban change. We do this in two ways. We begin by stress-testing the capacity and limits of global cities, state-rescaling, developmental and postcolonial perspectives in making sense of cities, and in our case, Istanbul (section ‘Explaining Istanbul: Stress-testing urban theories in an interstitial city’). Arguing that Istanbul can only be partially understood through adopting a single epistemological perspective, we proceed in section ‘Conjunctural cities as both city type and approach’ to examine whether interstitial cities require a new theoretical starting point, or are best served by bringing together existing perspectives as complementary alternatives? From this we argue that there is a strong case to extend a conjunctural approach to urban theory making by proposing ‘conjunctural cities’ as both a distinctive type of city and as an approach to analysing cities. Attaching particular importance to the latter proposition, we demonstrate how a conjunctural approach is capable of establishing the potentials and limits of individual perspectives, ascertaining which different perspectives may usefully come together to go beyond these limits, and thereby establishing an urgently required open analytical framework. We conclude that conjunctural cities as an approach to analysing cities is a necessary step in moving beyond siloification in urban studies and toward putting engaged pluralism into practice.
Tbilisi Architecture Biennial – Birzhastation – Talk by Evgenya Zakharova
JosephSalukvadze and OlegGolubchikov
*Tbilisi has been strategically positioned at the intersection of major geopolitical interests in the South Caucasus.
*Transition to a market democracy has been a painful period, causing ethnical homogenisation and economic impoverishment.
*In the wake of economic recovery, state government has focused on flagship projects and urban regeneration.
*Old Tbilisi is losing its heritage due to historic buildings’ replacement and gentrification.
*There is a growing demand for a new kind of relationship between the city and the citizens.
Published by AEON
The ancient city of Alexandria lies on a narrow strip of Mediterranean coast to the west of the Nile delta. To the south is Lake Mariout, which once hemmed in the city rather closely, but has been reduced over the past century as land has been reclaimed for agriculture and for Alexandria International Airport. In 1921, during the period of British rule, a new masterplan was put in place for the city. It was prepared by William H McLean, a Scot who had an urban planning career across the colonial Middle East: he was town engineer in Khartoum, and also prepared a masterplan for Jerusalem. In his vision for Alexandria, McLean plotted its expansion to east and west, convinced that any land reclaimed from Lake Mariout would be needed for farming rather than housing. The fact that the city now straggles along the coast rather than sprawling inland is partly a result of this plan.
The other striking thing about the form of Alexandria is its two bays. The site of the city was, when Alexander the Great founded it in the 4th century BCE, one large bay with an island at its centre, called Pharos. In the 3rd century BCE, a road was built to the island. Over time, the Mediterranean has added to the original earthworks to such an extent that Pharos has become the head of a peninsula rather than an island. On each side of this peninsula are the two bays of Alexandria. Before the Nile was dammed in the 19th and 20th centuries, its annual flood dragged silt from the length of the river to the delta. Along the way, the silt deposited in the riverbanks and in the delta itself created some of the world’s most fertile soil. This process also expanded the delta into the sea each year, and the earth that was carried westwards by the waves of the Mediterranean to add to the land connecting Alexandria and Pharos was also part of this cycle. The watery land of the delta held such agricultural value because of this rich earth carried north by the river, and so the reason that the land around Lake Mariout was claimed for farming rather than urban growth is embedded in a complex set of land and water movements.
The Alexandria that you see on a map or satellite image today thus bears the long marks of actions by humans and nonhumans, its form emerging from centuries of collaboration between sea, land, river and people. But this is not generally how we imagine urban spaces.
The city is a lie that we tell ourselves. The crux of this lie is that we can separate human life from the environment, using concrete, glass, steel, maps, planning and infrastructure to forge a space apart. Disease, dirt, wild animals, wilderness, farmland and countryside are all imagined to be essentially outside, forbidden and excluded. This idea is maintained through the hiding of infrastructure, the zoning of space, the burying of rivers, the visualisation of new urban possibilities, even the stories we tell about cities. Whenever the outside pierces the city, the lie is exposed. When we see the environment reassert itself, the scales fall from our eyes.
Of course, cities are physically identifiable sites that are often clearly separated from the space around them. They might be surrounded by walls that define their limits, or green belts in which building is prohibited or heavily controlled. Even when large suburban districts surround the city, these often have separate governance systems. Nonetheless, all cities depend on a much wider territory beyond these boundary markers. Some or all of the following need to be brought in from outside to support an urban centre: food, water, building materials (wood, stone etc), workers, traders and their goods, raw production materials (wool, cotton etc), energy (in the form of material to be consumed, such as oil or coal, or on cables connected to a production centre such as a power plant or wind farm). This is the case irrespective of whether the city concerned has a clear physical edge or not.
Much debate about cities, at least in English-speaking cultures, reproduces the confrontations between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs in the mid-20th century. Moses is portrayed as the archetypal planner, seeking to control New York’s urban scene through the built environment, pushing through highways in the face of opposition on the ground. Jacobs, meanwhile, is thought of as the champion of street life, arguing that ordinary people, given freedom to mingle in their daily lives, are best-placed to bring order to the city. This ongoing confrontation between top-down and bottom-up models of urbanism is central to contemporary urban thinking, but it leaves out the nonhuman. Both Jacobs and Moses view the city, fundamentally, as an entity made by people, the unfolding of a human vision. It is this underlying assumption that I wish to reconsider.
This is not to say that all 20th-century urban thinkers have been blind to the nonhuman. The philosopher Henri Lefebvre distinguished between urban spaces and urbanisation as a process; he foresaw a time when the latter would shape all modes of life at a planetary scale. The architectural historian Sigfried Giedion and the urbanist Lewis Mumford similarly saw essentially urban technologies conquering space and time. The literary scholar Raymond Williams traced the cultural separation between city and countryside. But all of this work has not succeeded in shifting the popular idea of the urban as human space, with a nonhuman outside. In fact, by claiming that urban processes or technologies might expand to dominate the rest of the world, some of these thinkers reinforce an imagined historical distinction between the city and nature.
Taking advantage of a lack of governmental regulations, many Ukrainians turn to their balconies to compensate for the shortage of space in prefab-Soviet housing, rebuilding them in a variety of shapes and sizes. The short documentary Enter Through The Balcony explores this phenomenon in Ukrainian architecture, revealing a compelling image of post-Soviet history through local everyday life and culture.
In addition to showcasing a unique attitude towards private versus public space, the makeshift balconies phenomenon is also a symptom of the dramatic pendulum swing from mass uniformity and anonymity, to freedom of expression and ownership of private space, which shaped attitudes and architectures across the former Eastern bloc after 1991.
Across Central and Eastern Europe, the socialist political regime manifested itself architecturally through mass standardization, expansive collective housing estates, and a specific architectural expression, defined today as socialist modernism. The informal architecture that sparked around this type of architecture in Ukraine (as well as elsewhere) reflects the complicated relationship of the individuals with this architectural heritage, a symbol of an equally convoluted past. The Ukrainian makeshift balconies phenomenon also highlights the shortages of the housing schemes developed in the period between 1955 and 1991.