Al-Drab Al-Ahmar Problems and potentials:
The neighborhood of Darb Al-Ahmar is a neighborhood of 100,000 people. It stands south-east of central Cairo. It’s one of the poorest and most populous areas of Cairo. It lacked adequate sanitation and rubbish-collection services. The commercial activity of the residences relied on small scale enterprises and workshops. The dense urban fabric of district, with its narrow alleys, shacks, and strewn with rubbish, made it seen as an urban slum. However, it featured one of the richest concentrations of Islamic art and architecture in the world. According to world monuments fund, It included the towering minarets of Khayrbek and Um al-Sultan Shaaban mosques. So, Al Azhar park was set out to prove that a positive change can sustain this situation.
The project developed from a simple urban intervention – the park – into an extensive project to redevelop the surrounding neighborhood.
The park as a history savior:
Al-Darb al-Ahmar district is a catalog of over 700 years of history. The creation of the Park wasn’t only limited to its construction. But also the restoration of the 1.5 kilometer section of the Ayyubid wall revealed by the removal of the accumulated rubble. Park construction has also stimulated the rediscovery of lost skills, such as the restoration of the intricate traditional windows (mashrabiyya). All this in addition to the selective restoration of Al-Darb al-Ahmar monuments. The fourteenth-century Umm al-Sultan Shaaban mosque and minaret restoration project featured stabilization of the roof and reconstruction of the top of the minaret. In addition to repairing the damage caused by the 1992 earthquake.
The park as a social platform:
Although Al-Darb Al-Ahmar’s district conditions can seem to be dire. However, community and family life remained strong. This is one of the main reasons why the residences go to the park on weekly and sometimes daily basis. The residences wanted a place to bond with their families, neighbors and friends while still be affordable to them. The park came to solve this equation. It provided many open green areas, kiosks, a family restaurant and what’s more a children play area.
The park as an environmental sanctuary:
The act of creating a park is, at its roots, an act of establishing nature within the city. This act has implications on the livability of the urban environment. The park offers each citizen environmental and spatial solace from the city and from routine. The experience of greenness and open space within a dense urban fabric provides the relief of free thought and recreation. In short the park offers the residents an escape from the pollution that they had to deal with in their everyday lives. That’s why we can describe the park as a ‘green lung for Cairo’. This description is a metaphor implying the environmental necessity of such a green space in response to the urban crises facing the city.
The park as an economic solution:
Making a detailed survey of the local population’s economic needs and holding a series of meetings was an important step to determine the community’s own development priorities. Through consultations with the residents, a list of priorities emerged, including training and a need for microfinance. Therefore, The project of the park has offered over 150 training positions in activities such as stone carving, masonry work and materials conservation. Nearly all materials used are of Egyptian origin. Also all the furniture, mostly made by local carpenters in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar. In addition to the workshops founded in Al-Darb Al-Ahmar itself, a gift shop at the restaurant and a kiosk at the park entrance are dedicated to celebrating and selling the crafts of the locals as well. For instance, currently 45-50% of park employees are from the Al-Darb al-Ahmar, working in sectors ranging from gardening and maintenance to accounting and administration.
The park as a psychological refuge:
Al Azhar park provides a point of support for human life; amidst the stress and intensity of structured modern life. The presence of nature in the city has psychological benefits that contribute to the popularity of the ‘greenness’ and ‘openness’ of Al Azhar park. The strategic position of the park on the Darassa hills places the park above the city. It enabled impressive panoramic views and the distance and room to love the city once more. The park provides a space for mental clarity, which is supported by the symbolic references of nature to freedom, goodness, and a wholesome life.
Al Azhar park a true success story:
Urban spaces are often the containers for memories of a society and the park is one good example of this. Al Azhar park is unique intervention in both scale and ambition. It developed beyond providing a ‘green lung for Cairo’ to an extensive project of redevelopment. The park is primarily an urban element, which serves the people of Cairo by offering a material and programmatic alternative to the city. It attracts visitors from the wider population of Cairo, it aims to provide a platform for positive engagement between them and AL-Darb al-Ahmar and its community.