CAIRO: A street widening campaign was launched earlier this year in Port Said’s Gomhoreya Street, one of the oldest in the historical port city, and while the city is seemingly welcoming of wider spaces amid a nationwide surge in traffic, others have raised concerns that something more precious is being lost in the process.
“Streets are crowded with cars, and there must be a solution,” Hassan al-Warwary, head of the Sharq neighborhood in Port Said where Gomhoreya Street is located, told ONTV on a phone interview on March 20, justifying the new campaign.
He added that the citizens of Port Said are very happy with the campaign, contrary to street vendors and shop owners who take advantage of the pavement.
“I am an engineer and I know that engineers make wide pavements on the street for the future widening of streets,” Warwary continued. “People still have space to walk on the ‘Bawaky’,” which according to him have not been removed.
The historic Gomhoreya Street in the city of Port Said was designed and built by the French when the Suez Canal was being drilled in the 19th century. At the time Egyptian architects created “Bawaky”; pathways that run underneath buildings’ balconies for people to walk in the shade, and along those paths trees were planted, allowing promenaders a scenic atmosphere.
Further, Governor of Port Said Samah Qandil reaffirmed Warwary’s stance during the same program on ONTV, stating that he himself has been witness to the need for widening the streets, and that it was street vendors alone who benefited from use of the pavements.
Qandil added that all encroachments are to be removed and law is to be enforced. Regarding street vendors, Qandil said that he is preparing a market for them so that when encroachments are removed they are not harmed.
However, Member of Preserving Legacy Committee in Port Said, Photographer Waleed Montasser also said on the same TV program that he has the architecture papers of Port Said’s design, by French architects, and that the French calculated the proper distances for streets and altitudes of buildings. Montasser stated that what is currently taking place destroys this heritage, and that state is acting in a rash and haphazard manner.
Montasser told The Cairo Post Tuesday that he collected the information about history of Port Said from several books such as “Port Said Revisited” by Sylvia Modelski and “Port Said: The Exceptional City” by the late local author Qasem Eleiwa, among others.
“About two months ago Port Said governorate launched a ‘street widening’ campaign,” photographer Mohamed Kamal told The Cairo Post Tuesday. He also added that they began removing pavements in El-Arab neighborhood, and then started removing the pavement of Gomhoreya Street, as well as some of the historical trees there. The remaining trees were also subject to rough pruning.
And while traffic has increased in the iconic port city, once a haven of cosmopolitan life, Kamal attributes the removal of the pavements to lack of governmental control over traffic, and not simply the increase of the number of cars.
“The street was nicknamed ‘Cannes Pierre’ by the French people, as it reminded them of Marseille’s most important streets,” Montasser told The Cairo Post. He similarly questioned the authorities planning capacities, wondering how could there be no consideration for people’s right to have a pavement to walk, and moreover decrying the negligence towards the historical importance of the place. Montasser added that there could be better solutions such as establishing underground garages or parking lots nearby.
The problem of cutting down historical trees is not exclusive to Gomhoreya Street in Port Said. In 2012, Head of Port Fouad neighborhood, Mohamed Hassan cut off many trees during his time in office, according to Al-Ahram.
He cut off historical trees at Feryal Garden in the Sharq district as well as in other places in Port Said according to Al-Ahram Digital. He also cut off trees at the Montazah Garden in Port Fouad, when he took office there. The reason given behind the decision to cut the trees at the time was “protecting people from the danger of falling tree branches” according to Al-Ahram.