by Craig Page-Lee (@cpl_ignite) There is an abundance of large-walled communities and small cities springing up around the outskirts of old Cairo, specifically to the east of the city along Suez Road, the main corridor heading out of Cairo towards the Suez Canal.

I’ve recently been travelling on a regular basis to Cairo to work upon a few projects, specifically that of the branding and identity development of a visionary new city outside the amazing city of Cairo. Some of these wall-enclosed developments are visible from the sky when approaching Cairo International Airport, looking like a tapestry of desert-sand patches interwoven with man-made green landscaped gardens. Once on the ground and heading into the old city along El-Nasr Road, it’s hard to imagine that such oases exist in this incredibly dense, at times rudimentary, and over-populated city.


It’s important first to contextualise Egypt, the country, and then make some comparisons between Cairo, Egypt’s biggest city, and Johannesburg, South Africa’s biggest city.

Egypt has been divided for administrative purposes along a complex set of rules and, instead of defining the geographic layout along the principle of provinces, Egypt is divided into “governorates”. Governorates are either fully urban or a mixture of urban and rural areas, with urban areas having a population density in excess of 1000 people/km2. Greater Cairo, consisting of Cairo Governorate (of which Cairo City is the capitol), New Cairo City, Giza, Shubra El-Kheima, 6th of October City and Obour City, collectively house a population estimated at 20.5m people. This area is also the largest metropolitan area in Egypt and the largest urban area in Africa.

The current population of Egypt is estimated as being around 84.73m people and is expected to grow to about 103.742m by 2025, with an average annual growth rate of 1.6. Cairo, the national capital of Egypt, is dusty, dense and chaotic, with around 9m residents living in the city and about another 2m commuting in and out each day. It is the most-densely populated city in Egypt, followed by Giza with close on 8m residents and then Sharqiya with close on 7m residents. Cairo houses in excess of 25% of the country’s employed population and contributes about 34% of Egypt’s total GDP. The Cairo Metro extends across the vast land mass in three different lines and carries almost 4m passengers a day


Compared to SA, Joburg has an estimated population of about 4.4m people, while the Greater Johannesburg Metropolitan Area has a population of about 8m. Even when including the outlying areas of the West Rand and Lenasia, the collective population is only in the region of 10.5m people, half of that of Greater Cairo.

As the 27th largest city in the world (2013), and commercial centre of not just SA, but Africa as a whole, Jozi contributes about 46.4% of Gauteng’s GDP, 17% of SA’s wealth and 7.7% of Africa’s GDP. It’s obvious to see that the abundance of natural resources and mining activities plays a huge role in positioning Johannesburg, and Gauteng, at the top of the Africa rankings.

Even though Egypt is still in a state of economic flux, entering into political uncertainty after the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, there is a sense of energy, pride and self-belief that permeates the air. I can only assume in a region still facing so many economic challenges, and with population figures so high, that this positive attitude is driving the population to seek self-betterment and, inevitably, making is lifestyle changes — such as moving away from the densely, overpopulated, grid-locked parts and seeking refuge in the new walled and gated communities that are advertised along every main road and vantage point across the city. These so-called ‘new cities’ all promise an integrated lifestyle, supported through the inclusion of different residential densities and housing types, office parks, retail precincts, schools, hospitals and dedicated green belts and parklands.

Sheer magnitude

One such city under construction in Cairo is the project that I have been working on from a brand and identity development point of view. Spanning some 562 500ha in area, “the mixed use project aims at creating a well-integrated and harmonious urban environment, primarily encompassing residential units in addition to green public areas, retail, entertainment, commercial and service zones, all of which contribute and offer all the requirements of a suburban life, yet is represented as a self-sufficient urban community.”

What is so incredible about this project is the sheer magnitude of the developer’s vision and the careful consideration taken in designing the town-planning aspects of the masterplan, thereby ensuring a fully integrated and self-sufficient community with all amenities catered for — from schools and hospitals, leisure and entertainment to retail and commercial and finally a mix of residential zones and building types, interwoven with parks, green belts and waterways. This is only one of many such developments being undertaken, or envisioned, including those by developers for the UAE.

The only truly integrated lifestyle community development that I can think of that compares to this development in Cairo is that of Waterfall Estate near Midrand in Gauteng. Although not an entirely walled and gated city (only residential zones are gated), the full extent of this mixed-use development most definitely imbues that of a small city. With over 2000 residential lots (including the retirement village), a hotel, the Mall of Africa (over 131 000m2 in size and the biggest single-phase-build retail mall in SA), an office park (over 38 000m2 of gross lettable area), hospital, schools and other mixed retail, entertainment and leisure activities in a predefined area, this most definitely symbolises what one would expect a small city to consist of. While slightly smaller in total land area (not necessarily total bulk or density), the development that I reference most definitely compares favourably in vision and objective.

For a country in such a state of flux and somewhat economic instability, the dream is becoming a reality and people are working hard to better themselves and move into a different economic status. Walled and gated communities represent this aspiration and hope, and are evidence of achievement for those living there. A far cry from the desperate need to move into such environments as a means of security and self-preservation, as is the case in SA. May Egypt continue to grow and prosper.



Craig Page-Lee 2016Craig Page-Lee (@cpl_ignite) is the former group managing director of Posterscope South Africa and is now an independent consultant servicing the broader brand, marketing and communications industry. His monthly column on MarkLives, “Beyond Borders”, focuses upon doing business in various African markets. Craig is always available for a coffee catch-up and chat (email craig at d-cifr dot com).

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