TU Berlin Campus El Gouna – Department of Urban Development: A closer look at Urban Thinkers Campus El Gouna

TU Berlin Campus El Gouna – Department of Urban Development: A closer look at Urban Thinkers Campus El Gouna

“Urban challenges and opportunities in the MENA/ Arab Region: From SDGs to Urban Practice”

For the first time in Egypt and North Africa, the Department of Urban Development at the University of Technology Berlin - Campus El Gouna - together with the GIZ Egypt (Urban Cluster) and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development - organized an integrative Urban Thinkers Campus covering urban issues in the region. The event was held from 8th to 10th December 2018 in El Gouna, Red Sea Governorate.

“Urban challenges and opportunities in the MENA/ Arab Region: From SDGs to Urban Practice” built on the role of TU Berlin Campus El Gouna as an international research and educational hub in North Africa and the Middle East, located in Egypt. It brought together partners and actors from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Germany and the United States of America. The Urban Thinkers Campus aimed at reaching a comprehensive understanding of pressing topics of urbanization through inputs, discussions and debates within urban labs, partner groups’ sessions and roundtables, which led to developing a capacity building roadmap for better, more sustainable urban development.

The Middle East and North Africa’s internal displacement and international migration movements have put urban spaces under immense pressure, causing strong population growth and resulting in rapid urbanization. The growing city quarters, most often in the shape of informal settlements or mono-functional housing districts, not only constitute infrastructural challenges but also pose questions of political and social integration, i.e. current and adaptive forms of good governance. Furthermore, the highly dynamic urban development can be attributed to multiple crises. Direct, partly armed conflicts are turning cities into intersections of sustained flows of migration, spanning across the whole region. Climate change has serious effects on the fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystems and the agriculture depending on it, moving the basis of livelihood of large parts of the population into the city. Even within the cities, the differentiation of economic activities has had drastic consequences for all layers of society. Spatial segregation is on the rise. The impact of globalization has affected the cities of the region very unequally. Nevertheless, against a background of continuing rural flight and increasing (international) investment into “urban” forms of economy (esp. the construction sector), they are becoming increasingly relevant as economic drivers in the MENA-Region. It is imperative to rethink cities as sustainable economic spaces.

Common to all these processes is that they are intertwined across the whole region, where they are not only driving new urbanization but are also affect existing, previously well-functioning cities and communities. There is a need for new and integrated approaches to organizing (urban) societies. Nonetheless, the spatial and social integration of these processes is still not featured prominently on the regional political agenda.

The event’s 1st day was planned to introduce regional challenges for the transformation towards urban sustainability, so after starting off with TU Berlin’s Habitat unit head Prof. Philipp Misselwitz Opening and TU Berlin’s Vice President Prof. Angela Ittel’s welcoming speech, experts’ inputs were presented on multiple subjects such as: “The MENA-Arab region within the Global context” by Dr. Zeyad El Shakra, representing UN-Habitat ROAS, and “Migration, Refugees and Urbanization” by Dr. Fatima Al-Nammari from Petra University in Amman Jordan. After those experienced inputs shedding much light on the current urban challenges and the NUA and SDGs applications, partner groups worked in parallel in teams of representatives for academia, civil society, government, international cooperation, and private/consultancy sector. They discussed regional and supra-regional factors of urbanization, localizing them in different contexts, to gain the overall picture, setting the framework for capacity building and alignment to NUA/SDG in the MENA-region. They accordingly produced and presented challenges for the urban transformation in the MENA-Arab Region on micro, meso & macro levels.

The second block aimed at defining urban space more closely as a result of existing structures of governance and administration both top-down and bottom up, through urban agendas and transitioning frameworks for urban practice. Hence, more expert input continued, such as “Agenda setting: Problematizing Frameworks of Action” by Oliver Lah, Wuppertal Institute, Germany. Urban Labs were then introduced through parallel panel discussions, in which participants shared examples from the region on current urban practices and integrated approaches on the regional, national and local levels. Some of those discussions included “City Profiling” by Suzanne Maguire, UN Habitat Lebanon, "Participatory Municipal Development - Palestine" by Jehad Shakshir and Dima Awwad, GIZ Palestine, “Banha Readjustment Pilot Project” Magd Zahran, UN Habitat - Egypt, and "Public Space Pilot Project - Arab Cities" by Elaf Raslan, UN Habitat ROAS. Another highlight was a discussion session with the Red Sea Governor General Ahmad Abdallah on the Red Sea’s Sustainable development and the SDGs application in this coastal Egyptian governorate. To wrap up this busy context, parallel partner groups managed to present their feedback on turning around these frameworks into action. Additionally, UTC El Gouna hosted the book launch of “Development Priorities in Informal Areas: Planning, Realities and Perspectives (DEVEPER) German Egyptian Research Fund - GERF PROJECT” as a product of a research cooperation between TU Berlin Habitat Unit/ Campus EL Gouna and IUSD Ain Shams University.

Based on the previously defined framework, the third block, on the third day, has served to develop implementable approaches and structures for action to be linked to concrete groups of stakeholders, by taking action towards Urban Capacity Building and Co-Production. Oliver Lah opened this action planning approach by giving his input on capacity building as a tool for change, and then Basma Gaber from GIZ Urban Cluster Egypt gave her input on “The Role of International Development and GIZ in Strengthening Capacity Building - Egyptian Cases”. Partner groups created agendas for action within their parallel sessions. Accordingly, a roundtable session came up with a roadmap on “Integrating approaches across Stakeholders and Transition Frameworks”.

Generally, the overall aim of the Urban Thinkers Campus was to go beyond a theoretically and empirically founded discussion and to work on action plans. In doing so, the involved stakeholders were tasked to fix responsible entities and actions in a road map. Therefore, they highlighted the supra-regional aspect, where conceivable activities could be regular networking, a platform for knowledge management and the dissemination of best-practice examples.

*This event was organized by Urban Development department – TU Berlin Campus EL Gouna, together with Urban Cluster of GIZ Egypt, and funded by the GIZ 2030 Agenda Transformation Fund and supported by the UN HABITAT Regional Office for the Arab States and UN Habitat Egypt Office. Further academic support was provided by the DAAD.

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Article by Martin Meyer
Photo Credits: M. Hamdy – TU Berlin Campus El Gouna