Satellite cities have emerged nationwide, and on the outskirts of major cities in particular, since the late 1970s and early 1980s. With a focus on social housing initiatives primarily catering to the middle- and lower-income segments, Invest-Gate takes a look at the varied types of communities influenced by the urban sprawl and how their lifestyles have been affected.

Professor of Architecture and Urban Theory at the American University in Cairo Basil Kamel is baffled by why billions of dollars are being invested in the New Administrative Capital when, historically, “new cities” have often turned into ghost towns.  

“If you look at cities like Sadat City, 10th of Ramadan, 15th of May…major investment has been made in all of these places, yet they are left to decay although they are young cities-[not to mention], the mechanism of economic structures is poor,” he says. “There are major problems in these cities, and in my opinion they are easy fix.”

“[The National Housing Initiative] is good, and I think there needs to be something like that to provide better prospects and what not, but please don’t tell me that people living in very tight-knit communities want to go live in 12-storey towers where they don’t even know their neighbor—it has failed, it will not work. We should look at how people live and build for them, as opposed to enforcing a certain way, thinking that this way is what will upgrade their life, this is not true,” Kamel also mentioned.

Moreover, Kamel believes that launching any more new cities is no longer sustainable, particularly as they only make life more difficult for those who have jobs in the informal sector. The informal sector, Kamel adds, constitutes over 50% of the Egyptian economy and “nobody cares to make use of it”. As such projects are incompatible with the “the needs of the people”, be it the dissolving middle classes or the masses, it becomes clear that satellite cities perhaps do not adequately cater to all the communities they are home to.

As Cairo has expanded dramatically during the last three decades, the government has improved transportation in the form of a subway network and motorcars. Additionally, the government has built ring roads, which led to the creation of planned urban settlements on the periphery of Greater Cairo, notes a report in the Journal of Housing and Built Development titled the role of advertisements in the marketing of gated communities. Gated communities for the wealthy and social housing blocks initiated through government projects flourished as mass transportation grew and offered more extensive routes.

Authored by Rana Tawfiq Almatarneh and Yasser Mohamed Mansour, the report also states that population growth, suburban growth, and economic growth are considered the determining factors that contributed to continued, housing demand in Egypt.  The pollution and heavy congestion of the city, as well as the traffic congestion, crowds, dust, and noise would seem to attract huge numbers of consumers to the idea of moving outside the city.  Marriage rates, among the stated factors, contribute to raising the total demand for housing in Greater Cairo to 600,000 per annum. Demand for housing in up-scale gated communities amounts to approximately 85,000 of that figure.

In spite of all the arguments for migration to the outskirts, several residents of new cities, particularly in the social housing blocs targeting the middle and lower-income segment, echoed Kamel’s view that the makeup of these areas is far less compatible with their lifestyles.

One resident of the social housing blocs in Sheikh Zayed on the West of Greater Cairo says transportation networks to the area are so ineffective that, in times of crisis such as a health emergency, she has no method of transportation to the nearest hospital. The microbuses and other methods of public transport only run on the main roads, an entire 25-minute walk from the apartment she shares with her husband and three children, she says, introducing herself as Umm Ahmed, a house cleaner in her thirties. However, when she lived in the city, it was easier to lean on neighbors or other contacts for help, not to mention that tuktuks were readily available at every corner. Umm Ahmed tells Invest-Gate the horrifying story of how, towards the end of her pregnancy with one of her children, she almost gave birth at home with little assistance from a neighbor or a makeshift doula.

Zeinab, a housewife in her late forties residing in the same area, adds that the hospitals in Sheikh Zayed are few and far in between, particularly the public hospitals. “Also, there are no small privately-owned clinics in the area, and even in terms of schools, we have limited options. My son attends the only elementary school here, which is a 15-minute walk from our home,” she sadly notes. “Incidentally, rents here spike far more than in the city.  My rent has gone up to EGP 1,200 from EGP 700 in mere months.”

Basic services such as food and transportation are also more expensive for the less privileged classes in the satellite cities as opposed to areas in the city center, where subsidized goods are more readily available. “Foodstuffs, cooking oil, and related products are very expensive here, and when you complain, they tell you that it’s because of transportation costs added to the prices of products…and there aren’t any associations selling them at discounted prices as there are in Shoubra or near Downtown,” according to Zeinab.

In response, NUCA’s Director of Public Relations says there is “little” the authority can do to limit vendors’ “greed”.  “We can’t do much to control the market dynamics of supply and demand; vendors want to cover their costs and achieve margins. [The authority] tenders the stores, and the vendors later set prices based on their view of the surrounding community’s purchasing power. Consumers should speak to the authorities responsible for subsidized goods or report to the Consumer Protection Agency if prices are being exaggerated.”

Safety is yet another issue; “I would never let my daughters leave to go buy something or play downstairs as they did in Imbaba…there’s barely any lighting in the streets at night,” Mohamed, a schoolteacher and resident of the social housing bloc in Sixth of October City said. “In any case, there are few spaces for entertainment such as football fields or youth centers here.”

“Our strategic vision is very much based on the needs of the community in question, and our model is flexible,” says Deputy Head of Development of New Cities at NUCA Alaa Abdel Aziz. “When we think of services, these are very much based on what is best for the community. If one of the new cities requires additional schools to be built, we put that in place. With that in my mind, a new presidential decree was issued this year to extend Sixth of October City and Sheikh Zayed.”

The satellite cities of Sixth of October and New Cairo have only attracted about a quarter of their targeted populations, although they remain far more popular than those further away from Greater Cairo such as the 10th of Ramadan City or Obour City. With the quality of services and transportation in need of amendments while the government is preoccupied to build additional megaprojects, one can’t help but wonder: what plans, if any, are being made to amend the problems in place and fix them going forward?