UNDERSTANDING CAIRO: THE
LOGIC OF A CITY OUT OF
(Cairo: American University in Cairo
Press, 2011), 304 pages.
Most of the drama of Egypt's Arab Spring transition from authoritarianism to democracy has played out in the megacity of Cairo--not just Egypt's capital, but the largest city in Africa and the Middle East, and arguably the cultural center of the Arab and Muslim worlds.
David Sims, an urban planner with three decades of experience working in Cairo, wrote Understanding Caira: The Logic of a City Out of Contral before Egypt's January 25 Revolution in 2011. Like the Egyptian protestors, Sims triumphs in demonstrating the Egyptian government's decades-old disconnect from the needs and desires of the majority of Cairo's population.
In Cairo, informal processes, those beyond the realm of government control, dominate. Almost two-thirds of Cairo's population live in informal neighborhoods, and almost half work in the informal sector. Even some means of transport, like the Indian-imported tuk-tuk, serve Egypt's population while remaining outside the realm of legality. The "serendipity" of it all is that these informal processes, guided by everyday Cairenes, actually work, making Cairo an efficient, functional city. Official development plans, on...