New Urban Topologies (NUT) is a dialogue project that inspires a participatory process within the field of urban planning. During the last three years, Färgfabriken-Center for Contemporary Art and The Swedish Institute in Alexandria, in collaboration with Alexandria University and Gudran for Art and Development, brought together official decision-makers from Alexandria urban planning office, experts, architects, students, academics, researchers and others from the civil society. Furthermore the workshops have convened participants from Stockholm, Sweden, Balkan and from MENA region.
The aim of this participatory process has been to discuss future development of Alexandria, based on the needs, opportunities, hopes from the participants and the citizens. This process is based on a method from Färgfabriken and the program, New Urban Topologies. The first workshop was conducted in October 2011 and resulted in a book; Alexandria-The city of layers. The second workshop; in February 2011, focused on a defined area of Alexandria called Kafr Ashry, located in the neighborhood of Minet al Basal. It is in the vicinity of west Alexandria and used to be an industrial area. Kafr Ashry is a low income district that is characterized by a high density of residents, surrounded by abandoned warehouses and vacant land. During this workshop inhabitants from Kafr Ashry participated in parts of the workshop and met the decision-makers from Alexandria Planning Office in a direct, frank and open discussion about problems and opportunities in Kafr Ashry.
The focus of the third workshop 28-30 September was “Lost public spaces – with a focus on women and children and recycling projects.
During the first day of the workshop the group visited Kafr Ashry district after a presentation of the area by Sameh el-Helawany from Gudran and Heba Aboelfadl from Alexandria University. The group studied an area that could be defined as a “lost space” with the potential to be used as a public space for the citizens residing there. The group also met with inhabitants of the area and shared their concerns. In the afternoon the participants shared experiences from the city of Beirut, Riyadh and Amsterdam from a recycling perspective with a particular focus on women and children.
The second day the participants worked in three different groups looking at developing the “lost space” in Kafr Ashri from an economic, social/cultural and environmental perspective. The working groups all focused on utilizing citizen participation and materials already at hand or accessible in the area.
During the third day the area analysis were presented by the groups. The three groups generated project proposals that will be studied by the partners and brought forward as recommendations to possible donors and implementing actors.
The achievements of the NUT project during the past three years have been several and exceeded the expectations of the organizers. The main idea behind the project from the institute’s side has been to facilitate and promote dialogue between citizens and decision-makers regarding the development of their city.
The book Alexandria-The city of layers was launched as a result of the New Urban Topologies initial phase is in itself a “historical document” representing different voices from the city and taking place in 2011 during the upheaval in Egypt.
In 2013 Färgfabriken produced a small documentary based on the workshop from February 2013. Both the book and the film are available at Färgfabriken and the Swedish Institute Alexandria’s website.
During the second workshop the institute managed with its partners to facilitate direct dialogue between the head of the Urban Plannning Office in Alexandria and the citizens of the underdeveloped Kafr Ashri district. Further to this achievement is the engaged participation of three residents from Kafr Ashri in the second and third workshop.
In addition to the above; the project has built sustainable networks between the civil society actors in the city, the Alexandria University, Pharos University and the students studying architecture on the one hand; with the urban planning office on the other hand.
The documentary from the workshop will be uploaded on http://www.swedalex.org shortly