Four decades ago Egypt embarked on the most ambitious new cities building programme in the world. Their boom shows no sign of stopping
Seen from space, Egypt is a vast dusty land with a green Y opening into the Mediterranean Sea a fertile valley that makes up 5% of the country yet is home to 95% of the population.
This pattern of human occupation had characterised the country for thousands of years, but in the 1970s, as ever more precious green land was eaten up by urban growth, an idea that had been taking shape in the national consciousness for decades was finally put into policy. Egypt would conquer the desert and redistribute its burgeoning population across the white sands of the Sahara an Egyptian version of the 19th-century US manifest destiny to move west, no matter how punishing the consequences.
With Cairo bursting at the seams, plans were drawn up for satellite cities to take the strain. After many failed attempts 10th of Ramadan a blue-collar industrial city was the first experimental new city to take shape in the 1970s. Later new cities such as Sheikh Zayed City turned away from these working-class roots to become gated communities for the privileged high income cities in a low-income country.
For four decades the new cities programme has remained the only vehicle for Egypts urban development. Today there are 22 built or part-built Egyptian new cities and the New Urban Communities Authority (NUCA) has plans for 19 more. Around 7 million people now call these new cities home. It is arguably the most ambitious new cities programme the world has ever seen a dream of bustling cities in an almost lunar desert landscape that outstrips the visions of even China and India.