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Renegotiating Downtown developments to include communities

Published at: 30 October 2017


Omar Nagati is an architect, urban planner and university lecturer whose interest in informal urbanism has lead him to find the urban research studio 'Cluster' in Cairo. His interdisciplinary approach interrogates issues of urban history, design, and urbanization processes in developing countries to find design solutions to social issues.

Nagati’s approach seeks to counter rampant gentrification, which has acquired a rather tarnished reputation of late due to its erosion of local communities and the dilution of vibrant neighbourhood cultures. In extreme cases urban renewal leads to rent hikes and forced evictions - the evidence of which has recently caused outrage closer to home in Cape Town. But, often capital and politics go hand in hand - In Cape Town the urban landscape is etched deep by apartheid city planning and the displacement of communities as result of downtown gentrification has come to represent a capitalist form of forced removals. In the words of Muhammad Zaid Gamieldien:

“In a country [South Africa] whose progress is defined by its ability to rewrite a history of racial exclusivity, the notion that some neighbourhoods are experiencing displacement along racial lines by way of rent hikes and forced evictions is an emotive one”.

On the other hand, in Cairo the government’s "Reclaiming Downtown" campaign is suspiciously regarded as ‘a politically motivated drive against any form of opposition and civilian autonomy’ following the Arab Spring.

Nagati argues that it should be the role of civil society to establish an alternative before classic gentrification led by private enterprises takes hold. He does however concede that it is not a process that can succeed without government support and private capital: “it’s important to find the common ground, how can we push it forward in a more critical way. They have resources that we don’t have, and the money comes from the private sector.”

For more insight into Nagati’s interventions in Cairo, click here

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