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The troubling trend looming over Cairo's City of the Dead

Kathleen Schuster
September 21, 2023

Who gets to decide the best way to make space in a city? Officials or the people who need a place to live? These are the big questions behind a controversial project that might lead to the destruction of Cairo’s necropolis, also known as the City of the Dead. Plus, can adding streets transform slums? Anni Beukes of the Million Neighborhood Initiative weighs in.


Egypt is relocating its capital an hour’s drive east of Cairo. One of the highways it’s building to connect the two cities is already having a big impact. They’ve begun clearing parts of one of Cairo’s most important cemeteries, known as the City of the Dead.

The thing is, though, outcry over its destruction isn’t just about disturbing the dead, or even protecting a historic site.

The plans echo a troubling trend felt across developing countries where urban areas are seeing their number grow far beyond the number of people cities were built to accommodate. This, in turn, is leaving some people no choice but to build what’s often referred to as slums, or informal settlements.

Anni Beukes, a junior researcher at the Center for Development Research at the University of Bonn, joins us to talk about an innovative project called the Million Neighborhood Initiative, which she says could help make these precarious settlements more livable.

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