Informality as Method: Analyzing the Urban Morphology of Manshiet Nasser at Various Urban Scales

Cairo, Egypt (201)                  
Independent Study

Faculty Advisor:
June Komisar

Spirit of Youth Association 

This work was the result of a six-month long self-directed research project.

Over seventy percent of Cairo’s population live in informal settlements—commonly referred to as ashwa’iyyat, or “random areas.” One such area is Manshiet Nasser—one of the largest settlements in the city.

Manshiet Nasser has housed generations of Coptic Christian waste-pickers and processors. It is located on abandoned quarries on El- Mokattam mountain. The settlement has expanded into several neighborhoods and is a major actor in the informal garbage economy.

This paper analyzed the development of Manshiet Nasser at various urban scales: individual buildings, plots, street-blocks, and street patterns as they comprise towns. These scales of analysis also took into consideration the socio-economic, political, and cultural histories that contributed to periods of growth and stagnation in Manshiet Nasser. Garbage has come to define social relationships, as well as the urban plan in Manshiet Nasser.

The ostracization of the Coptic Christian community of waste-pickers by the Egyptian government has resulted in Manshiet Nasser pulling itself out of poverty by capitalizing on the inefficiencies of garbage collection in Cairo. This has sparked the urbanization process in this isolated mountain community.

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