The house I never had…

I wonder about our tendency toward wanting an ideal society and what that would involve.
How might it be achieved?

Dreaming of an Utopia. Utopia society does not exist, yet Despotic does.
How do despotic ones develop? What do they look like? Answers are available from a real experience. We have never had a real utopia, or at least we’ve not had an odd utopia example since Egypt has a poor record when it comes to prefab city-making, to offering an ideal life that provides at least the basic needs.

In Cairo, the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, half the population live in slums. It is hard to imagine utopias that are not construction attempts of community alternative lifestyles. Therefore the context socio-historical and the size of the community is a crucial factor. Poverty measure beyond income alone that encompasses the many dimensions of well being – such as housing quality, access to basic infrastructure and services. The danger of underestimating urban poverty was that policymakers would not appropriately address the issues faced by this fast growing population and direct necessary funding to them.

The failure of the Egyptian government’s housing policy to provide affordable housing, has led many to build homes either semi-legally or illegally. With an estimated one million inhabitants, Cairo’s huge slum, Manshiet Nasser, sits on the rocks where Egypt’s Eastern Desert plateau meets the Nile valley. In Cairo and other mega cities that are home to millions of urban poor, slums typically develop on wasteland or the most precarious environmental zones. Unstable, sub-standard housing in areas that lack any formal provision of services is the norm for most of the world’s one billion slum dwellers. The urban poor often have little choice but to take shelter in ramshackle structures constructed in the most polluted, dangerous or marginalized areas. Typically illegal, they are usually excluded from city infrastructure and planning even if they have existed for decades and house hundreds of thousands of people who may constitute the backbone of the city’s economy. It is always difficult to draw conclusions on this rapid survey, but it raises some interesting questions especially for communities that are based on faith. Some fundamental issues are emerging: the sharing of work, taking into account the well-being of individuals and the question of the form and the exercise of power in the particular context of utopia.

Many people in Egypt live under humiliating conditions. Shelter and housing for the urban poor is a necessity, not only for the obvious reasons of people needing a home of their own but because titled land rights and security of tenure offer a key foundation for potential prosperity and inclusion in the national economy. Without it, the millions of slum-dwellers are effectively sitting on “dead capital”, it is argued. Urban housing is inextricably linked to planning and governance, and the basic human needs – and rights – of the urban poor for shelter and basic services are critical dilemmas for their reluctant metropolitan hosts. Easily overlooked in the list of priorities for the urban poor, security of tenure, property and land rights need to be reappraised and seen as a potential key that can unlock other economic and social solutions.

Unfortunately, the architectural and urban condition in Egypt are useless cases, whether adopted by the specialists or the state. The urban situation is collapsing, and will continue to do so. Yet we are keeping hope, we will continue dreaming. We would like to see Cairo a station along the way in a long journey towards a better world in which more and more human beings will be able to actualize their human potentials.

The house I never had… Is an art project being built right now with children from the communities around Darb 1718.

More to come…

DARB 1718 is a contemporary art and culture center located in Old Cairo in Egypt. Its long-term vision…