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Can Cairo Be Sustainable?

Can a city that is notorious for being over-crowded, over-polluted and extremely unfriendly to pedestrians and cyclists be reformed? One man thinks so. Tarek Rakha's Sustainable Streets for Egypt pushes for more human-centric cities.

Let's face it, Cairo's streets could do with a facelift and one man has single handedly started a grueling campaign to clean-up the capital's car clogged streets.

Tarek Rakha, the founder of Sustainable Streets for Egypt, and a PhD candidate at MIT, speaks passionately when he describes the nucleus behind the ambitious project. "The goal is to promote well-being, energy efficiency, safety and social equity through the sustainable design and planning of the built environment."

From humble beginnings, the blog has grown from a one-man web project to a TEDx talk, and now Rakha hopes to take his plan to the highest levels of Egyptian government.""I started it as a PhD student, as I was reading through a lot of material. I decided that I should try to spread this information through social media in October 2012. I gave a TEDx talk about the walkability and bikeability of Egypt, and how we should move towards sustainable, human powered transportation. It got a bit more attention. And when the president rode a bike and started resonating with what the page is trying to promote, we had a much bigger increase in attention."

Rakha's plan may just be perfectly times, as the government recently announced that bike lanes will be introduced on a wide scale nationwide, after Sisi came out with an impassioned speech encouraging everyone to use bikes, in an effort to decrease traffic and save energy. The plan will require a lot of work, but in a city notorious for its stagnant traffic, it may just be the radical move required to get the city moving again.

"We are now building a team in order to develop real applications to the infrastructure of streets in Egypt," Rakha said of his own plan. "The aim is to build human-centric mobility by design."

And the project looks set to grow in the coming weeks and months as Rakha and his team prepare to launch the initiative in August. "So far we have 10 volunteers, but we are growing and the aim is to launch the initiative on the ground in August. Plans for future activism include galleries for the public and the government to engage with our designs, and critical mass bike rides through partnership with other bicycle enthusiasts in Egypt, not just the capital."

There have been several initiatives throughout Cairo to encourage cyclists in the city, and those who want to begin cycling, such as the Cairo Cycler's Club. However, such initiatives are seemingly lacking in other towns and cities.  "The idea is "complete streets" rather than just focusing on cars. We are currently working on a pilot project and we should be bringing it out to the world in August. We are attempting to link with the government and start media campaigns to raise awareness," he continues.

But what is the ideal happy ending for Rakha?

"The ideal future for any city is to focus on human beings, rather than cars. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Davis, CA, etc. are all very livable communities, and you can pick up immediately why they are. They are bicycle friendly cities, and when Cairo is a bicycle friendly city you will see a future of faster mobility, efficient and productive inhabitants, increased land value, livable, healthier communities, happier citizens, less pollution, more savings on fuel, a Cairo that is enjoyable by people 10 years old and 100 years old."

You can find out more about the project here.