In 2005, the landscape of Cairo, Egypt’s biggest city changed for the good. Through the Aga Khan Trust for Culture AKTC), a new 30-hectare (74-acre) Al-Azhar park, undertaken in the historic district of Cairo was unveiled.
The site had become a large rubbish dump, which the AKTC began to gradually remove and clean in collaboration with the Egyptian Government and local community.
The leisure and recreational space created a “green lung” in the heart of the densely populated city. The project included the excavation and extensive restoration of the 12th Century Ayyubid wall and the rehabilitation of important monuments and landmark buildings in the Historic City. It also encompassed an extensive social development programme, including apprenticeship arrangements, housing rehabilitation, micro-credit and health care facilities.
Fifteen years later, the work of this park is getting another highlight with the release of a film, entitled Al-Khimyah, written and directed by Prince Aly Muhammad, a son to His Highness Aga Khan. The release will coincide with World Environment Day.
The film is part of the Close to Home series which has been promoting great work done by communities for a better life. The film is an account of a city whose foundations were laid over a thousand years ago, which has seen a 500-year-old rubbish dump rebuilt into a lush green oasis, and a poor inner-city district transformed into a thriving community.
The approach of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, on the contrary, has been to stimulate rehabilitation without displacing residents, largely by ensuring that they have a stake in the future of their community—by helping create viable businesses through the provision of micro-credit and assisting owners restore crumbling houses.
A similar project was mooted for one of Kenya’s iconic parks, Nairobi City Park with planned rehabilitation and restoration of the park to international standards in terms of architecture, landscape, and horticulture. City Park was established in 1921 as a zoological garden on a 91-hectare area, and formally declared a public park in 1925.
This is not the first time, such a film has been unveiled. In 2017, Prince Aly Aga Khan, youngest son of His Highness the Aga Khan, traveled to Northern Pakistan to meet with the resilient and brave communities who have withstood natural disasters for centuries. Inspired by their stories, he wrote and directed his first film, #ClosetoHome, about the perseverance of this community in the face of natural disasters.