Egyptians like to call their capital Um Al-Dunya, Mother of the World. Early Christians settled on the Nile, which later spurred the spread of Islamic civilization. Today, the city is one of the most densely populated on earth, presenting all the challenges facing the modern metropolis. That puts Cairo in good company: half the planet’s population now lives in cities, and by the year 2100 the figure could be as high as 80 percent. This is the Urban Century. Little wonder our editorial team was inspired to produce the Special Report on the Future of the City in this issue of the Cairo Review. In “The Arab Housing Paradox,” David Sims argues for harnessing the energy of informal settlements to create formal, legal neighborhoods in Cairo and cities throughout the Middle East. Robert Neuwirth makes another important case for empowering the urban poor in “Mad Cartographers.” Reporting on the destruction of a squatter district in Lagos, he suggests informal communities draw up maps as a way of declaring to the world, “We exist!”
Our survey of the urban future stretches around the globe. John Gallagher writes about the comeback of Detroit; Tom Miller explores the explosion of urban growth in China with a portrait of the Yangtze River boomtown of Chongqing; Harvey Molotch asks if the blanket of security over New York City since 9/11 is worth the price. Christian Déséglise and Delfina Lopez Freijido search for a model of sustainable urban development that questions material possessions as the measure of prosperity. Ian Douglas examines the fragile balance between urban man and nature. We offer an excerpt from Anthony M. Townsend’s new book, Smart Cities: Big Data, Civic Hackers, and the Quest for a New Utopia, just out from W.W. Norton & Company. We are honored to publish “Our Urban Dream,” an essay by Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba.
The Cairo Review Interview is with Daniel Ellsberg, who in 1971 leaked the Top Secret study known as the Pentagon Papers in an effort to halt the Vietnam War; on a sunny afternoon in Los Angeles, he spoke to me about what the revelations by Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning tell us about U.S. government abuse of power. In an essay on the same topic, Alexa O’Brien, who was in the Fort Meade courtroom or its media center every day, offers her reflections on justice in the Manning trial. Given the continuing international uproar over the Snowden and Manning revelations, you have not heard the end of the story.