I was interested in seeing Heliopolis because I am interested in planned communities from the “garden city” era in the early 20th Century an era and concept that produced some of the most livable cities.  Many of the places where people want to live today, but usually cannot afford – Beverly Hills, Grosse Point, Chestnut Hill & Coral Gables – started out as garden cities.  Unfortunately, the idea fell out of favor with planners and architects by mid-century and we were building some of the ugliest and most dysfunctional communities in human history.  The hideousness was worldwide.  It is hard to believe that someone created places like Nowa Huta, Cabrini Green or Brasilia on purpose.  I think we can learn from successes and failures.

Heliopolis is still relatively more livable than the rest of Cairo, but the population and squalor of the larger city have overwhelmed it.  In theory you can walk around, but the Cairo driving habits make that dangerous.  The inhabitants and authorities are making efforts to clean up some of the squalor, but a prerequisite for a livable city is control of traffic & overcrowding.  Unless you do that, it is like cleaning the birdcage w/o feeding the bird.

The most interesting book I read on this sort of topic was “A Pattern Language”.  The authors went around the world to compile the factors that people want in their cities.  Galleries or porches are one of the important factors they found.  Heliopolis has them. Another factor was access to shops.  These are also present.  I think if they got the traffic problem under control, this place would be just fine.   From the guidebook I thought this would be a more pleasant place.  I guess in a city with nearly 20 million people packed so tightly together, that is something you just do not get.

Some of the shopkeepers & taxi drivers we met alluded to this.  They complained that their upscale customers were disappearing, drawn out of Cairo to the controlled and agreeable resorts.  At first, people went to the resorts when they visited Egypt.  More and more, however, they are just going to resorts that happen to be in Egypt w/o regard to the rest of the country.  The Red Sea resorts are where they are because the sun shines every day not because they are in Egypt.  They could be anywhere in the world.

The take away lesson from this is that if you do not provide people with the pleasant amenities they want, they will find them someplace else, and the most influential people will leave first.