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Egypt: Plans for 'vertical forest' development in new capital derided on social media

Critics say the project will only exacerbate the existing class divide and water shortages
The vertical forest project will contain a hotel and two buildings containing apartment units (Screengrab/Misr Italia Properties)

A two-minute video about how Egypt’s New Administrative Capital (NAC) will reportedly “contain a living community that’s also a vertical forest,” has prompted online criticism after it was tweeted by CNN.

According to the video, the vertical forest will consist of three buildings covered with pollution-absorbing trees and plants.

With over 570 different types of trees, it is said to be “designed to save the planet” and “decrease the temperature”.

“The target is to absorb seven tonnes of carbon dioxide per year and produce eight tonnes of oxygen per year,” Samar Zaki, the chief development officer of Misr Italia Properties, told CNN.

While its developers have lauded its ecological benefits, social media users argue such buildings embody the class divide which will be perpetuated by the new city and say the whole NAC project poses an environmental threat.

The new capital, estimated to be built at a cost of $45bn, is part of ‘Egypt Vision 2030’ that was launched in 2016 to “achieve sustainable development principles and objectives in all areas”.

Cairo has a population of more than 20 million people and is one of the world’s most crowded cities.

The NAC project was designed not only to counteract the capital’s pollution problem but also to relieve congestion.

The new capital, which is roughly the size of Singapore and has yet to be given a name, is located in the desert 45km east of Cairo.

It is planned that the transfer of parliament, presidential palaces, government ministries, and foreign embassies will be completed between 2020 and 2022, 

While some deemed the vertical forest project as “beautiful and amazing” the general consensus was one of disapproval since only the rich would be able to live there

Others highlighted Egypt’s water shortages which could be exacerbated by the project. “Why not fix Cairo and make it greener, healthier cleaner?” one social media user asked

The needs of Cairo’s growing population have already overtaken the Nile’s capacity.

By 2025, the water supply is estimated to drop below 500 cubic metres per capita, a level which hydrologists typically define as “absolute scarcity”.

Online users also called attention to the irony of the concept of vertical forests, while so many trees have been cut down in Cairo and other parts of the country. 

Translation: if you know the importance of trees, why do you cut them down the length and breadth of the country?”

Trees have been cut down throughout Egypt to make way for new urban projects, angering the public and causing some members of parliament to call for new measures to protect them.

In 2018, parliamentarian Anisa Hasouna criticised what she called ‘tree massacres’ in Egypt’s streets.

“It seems that the government doesn’t like fresh air,” she said. 

The vertical forest, designed by the Italian architect and urban planner Stefano Boeri, will be the first of its kind in Africa.

Of the three buildings, one will be a hotel, while the remaining two will house apartment units.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.