New desert cities: Attracting the poor?

Parallel to the flight of the rich, there is very little within the new cities to actually attract lower- or middle-income groups. The vast majority are satellite cities that continue to rely on existing cities tor jobs, requiring long (and costly) commutes. Adding insult to injury is the fact that public transportation networks to the new cities have lagged considerably, and walkability in many of them is almost nonexistent.The cities seem to be largely designed for car owners, as even crosswalks are few and far between.

Despite the lack of attractiveness for the poor, the vast majority of subsidized housing offered by the state has been located in these remote towns. An overview of the state’s current housing projects can shed light on the centrality of the new cities policy in Egypt. State housing projects in Egypt are classified by the MHUUC into tour categories:

  • • Social Housing: offering small apartments at highly subsidized costs, targeted at lower- income families
  • • Middle-Income Housing (Dar Masr): offering mid-sized apartments below market cost, targeted at middle-income families
  • • Sakan Masr Project: offering apartments 106—118 square meters in size, targeted at upper- middle-income families
  • • Beit Al-Watan Project: selling land plots (starting from 600 square meters) to Egyptians living abroad, targeted at upper-income families.

Looking specifically at the housing projects that target lower- and middle-income families, the locations ot all units ot the Social Housing project are in Shorouk, Badr, and 15th ot May.3 The construction of public schools to serve the residents ot the Social Housing project is concentrated in 10th of Ramadan, New Nubareya, New Tiba, Badr, New Assiut, and New Suhag. Similarly, the Middle Housing project states outright that it is offered only in the new cities. Thus tar, Phase 1 of the project has entailed building units in 6th of October, Sadat, Shorouk, 10th of Ramadan, Ubour, New Cairo, Badr, and New Damietta, while Phase 2 has offered units in the same eight cities as Phase 1, with the additional cities of New Minia, Sheikh Zayid, New Burg Al-Arab, and 15th of May. Phase 3 will offer units in largely the same cities, with the addition of New Mansoura.This means that all housing units that are offered for lower-income groups are exclusively in the new cities, where there are limited economic opportunities and transportation networks. Furthermore, NUCA’s practice ot selling land to real estate investment companies has driven a surge in real estate price inflation both in the new cities and in existing adjacent urban areas. As shown by Shawkat (2015), land prices rose at a rate ot 148% annually between 2007 and 2011. NUCA is mandated to become self-financing, and thus it has a direct incentive to steer its resources toward lucrative land deals with private investors and cities that cater to the wealthy.

Some claim that the flight of the rich toward new cities in Greater Cairo indicates the success ot the new cities policy in attracting a substantial number of people to inhabit the desert, which is, after all, the policy’s ultimate goal. However, the cities within Greater Cairo are not representative ot the reality of new cities more generally. Even so, it is not uncommon to find the media conflating the relative success ot the desert cities around Greater Cairo with the situation of the other desert cities across the rest of Egypt (see Enterprise, 2019; Keeton and Provoost, 2019). Greater Cairo’s desert cities are actually faring relatively well with respect to attracting populations in comparison to in the rest ot the country.

Table 21.2 presents target and actual population sizes in the 19 new cities listed in CAPMAS (Tadamun, 2015).4

As shown in Table 21.2, while some new cities have been somewhat successful in attracting residents, many can still be described as “ghost towns” (Rabie, 2019).

The success of the new cities policy has been widely debated, and many analyses have shown that the policy has seen more failures than successes (e.g. Metwally and Abdallah, 2011; Tadamun, 2015). It has not met any of its population targets, nor has it succeeded in housing lower-income groups. The policy has not achieved its goal and the result has been a phenomenon of “nearly empty new towns” (Fahmi and Sutton, 2008, p. 277) that surround many ot Egypt’s cities. The following section addresses the question of new cities’ success in combating the spread ot informal housing.

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