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Understanding Cairo: The Logic of a City Out of Control Hardcover – Feb 15 2011


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"[Sims] is one of Cairo's sharpest observers." --Los Angeles Review of Books


"This volume describes the urban development of the Egyptian city of Cairo over the past half century, concentrating on issues of land and housing use and development, as well as intersecting issues of economic organization, transport, and governance. The central theme that arises in nearly every aspect of the proceedings is the contradiction between the authoritarian (but often ineffective) state and the vast areas of informality that make Cairo what it is today, although particularly in the area of housing and land, where, for example, urban extensions planned by the state often remain devoid of inhabitants while two-thirds of the city's inhabitants live in unplanned neighborhoods that have sprung up since 1950 in contradiction of state policies and laws." --Reference Book News


"In a rigorous presentation of Cairo s growth and geography in the last four decades, Sims has done a masterful job to present the city as an exceptional case of urban logic. While Cairo is often included in studies of the global south, Sims argues that the city is in fact one that follows its own logic, often in spite of deliberate policies of the Mubarak regime to address problems and issues. This book is an important urban study of the largest city in Africa." --The Global Ministries


"To get a sense of the magnitude of the challenge and of the inequalities the Mubarak regime fostered, one need look no further than David Sims s book . . . . [Understanding Cairo] is a wonderful new reference." --The National


"Highly recommended to students and scholars looking to further explore issues relating to contemporary Cairo. It is also useful to tourists as an alternative to the clutter of superficial narratives and portraits of the city." --Jadaliyya


"An eye-opening and readable account of Cairo s urban framework." --Egypt Independent


"Encyclopaedic in scope, structure and information." --Egyptian Gazette


"The strength of Understanding Cairo stems from the author's seemingly limitless knowledge of the city and his familiarity with relevant academic and journalistic texts, census data and Google satellite images. Tables, charts, photos and maps abound, complementing the book's content. The time Sims has spent in Cairo allows him to add anecdotes like the following: "In no sense are [informal areas] 'no-go zones,' except perhaps for those of Cairo's paranoid upper classes." Sims successfully challenges conventional wisdom throughout the book."--Christopher Reeve, Journal of International Affairs


"Although individual informal areas of Cairo have been well studied by anthropologists and sociologists, Sims aims for a more relational approach among different sectors of the city. This is a crucial methodological intervention and makes for engaging reading. Sims's personal experience of the city enhances his analysis, and he brings a close, critical and yet compassionate eye to local innovations and the openings caused by the relative failures of elite-led development. For residents, urban planners and scholars of Cairo, this book is a welcome and very important addition to understanding the contemporary city. For urban studies scholars more generally, it is a model of understanding the role of local context in broader patterns of late 20th-century and early 21st-century urban growth."--Urban Studies


--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

David Sims is an American economist and urban planner who has led a number of studies about Cairo's urban development and housing. He has worked as a consultant in many Arab, African, and Asian countries, as well as in Egypt. He has been based in Cairo since 1974.

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Amazon.com: 5 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Useful Guide to the Cairo You Didn't See May 12 2011
By Brendan Haug - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Visitors to Cairo probably come away with the same images stuck in their heads: the yellow air, snarled traffic, crumbling colonial architecture, trash piles, et cetera. These are all, of course, part of the contemporary urban reality of the largest city in Africa. Sims' new book, however, is the best--perhaps only--compact source that discusses the sides of the city visitors rarely have reason to see: the massive informal residential expansion and the new desert cities. A simple figure immediately alter one's perspective: already in 1996, 62% of the population was living in areas informally developed since 1950 (p. 69). That is, nearly 2/3 of the city lives in areas organically grown and not overseen by any government planning body. This is to be compared to the eight new desert cities, which have devoured massive amounts of capital and government attention (even attracting the new campus of the American University in Cairo to the city of New Cairo), and yet hold a population of only 610,000, <4% of the population of Greater Cairo, according to the 2006 census (p. 171).

The sections covering the informal city are perhaps the most conceptually useful sections of the book. Those of use who have visited Cairo immediately realize how little of the city we have seen. Tourists and students generally remain in the older urban core and are, as such, entirely unacquainted with the regions that house the majority of the population.

Apart from this, the single most welcome aspect of Sims' book is its ability to deftly disabuse the reader of his or her preconceptions. I include one example here. The number of cars in the city, ownership rates, and traffic are covered on pp. 234-39. As noted above and by a previous reviewer, traffic and congestion make a massive and immediate impression upon the visitor. It almost seems as if everyone in this city of nearly 20 million owns a car. Taking all of urban and peri-urban Greater Cairo into account, however, it emerges that only 11% of households own a private car, though this could easily double in several years (p. 235-6). Cars account for only 20% of daily trips, while private minibuses, the Metro, and public (mini)buses account for 64%. Motorcycles, scooters and bicycles account for a tiny fraction of vehicles owned, less than 1% (p. 237), although they too make a disproportionately large impression upon the visitor.

Sims' book is accessible and engagingly written, much more so than the pompous and ponderous volumes "Cairo Cosmopolitan" and Cairo Contested", which come in for some moderate rebuke on pp. 18-19. From the number of "tomb-dwellers" in the City of the Dead to the supply of potable water, Sims picks apart the myths and exaggerations plaguing popular or semi-academic writing on the city. Everything that we occasional visitors think we know about Cairo is at best misconstrued and at worst simply wrong.

As a student of water and environmental history I wish that there had been more discussion of the water supply to this desert city. Pp. 258-9 briefly touch upon the issue and are, despite the brevity, informative. Still, this is a small complaint about an otherwise highly successful and badly needed volume.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
a goldmine of otherwise inaccessible information May 7 2011
By egyptophile - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Few cities are as complex, few bureaucracies as complicated, as Cairo's. David Sims has managed to make sense of the place and its government in a fascinating, well-documented, and readable study of how this behemoth manages to operate. Anyone who has tried to cross a Cairo street or hire a taxi or (God help you!) deal with a government office knows that Cairo is the n'est plus ultra metropolitan nightmare. Yet, somehow, defying logic, it works. Drawing on hard-to-find sources in English and Arabic, interviews, and three decades living and working in Cairo, Sims shows how and why it survives and offers some valuable insights into its future. This is a must-read for anyone wanting to foresee what life in Cairo might be like after the Lotus Revolution, and for anyone broadly interested in modern history, sociology, and urban studies.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A timely and authoritative look at the forces that Make Egypt unique Feb. 21 2011
By DRat - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Written by a long-time Cairo resident, acdemic and employee of both the public and private sector, this is a book we should all be reading in the wake of Mubarak's fall to get a sense of how the country will go forward, and why it makes the choices it will.
Could provide lessons for other urban centers Nov. 17 2014
By Khalid Ikram - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Cairo has attracted a number of excellent books in recent years, and this one ranks among the best. It does not deal with a description of the monuments and the antiquity of the city's history, but rather the problems that the the city currently faces. These issues-- for example, such as overcrowding, an inadequate infrastructure, wide dispersions in income and wealth, frequently long distances from the slums to the jobs that that the slum dwellers are able to get, the potential for violence and disorder when large masses of disgruntled persons coalesce together, etc.-- reflect what other rapidly growing urban centers in the world face. The manner in which the authorities in Cairo confront these issues and, that is hope, resolve them, could serve as salutary lessons to other large urban conglomerates.
Five Stars Nov. 29 2014
By Catherine Lynch - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Excellent! A great source of information about the urbanization on Cairo.

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