Over the past two decades, there has been a growing research interest in community-based small urban interventions that have been activating and reshaping urban spaces in many cities around the world. The study engages with the arguments regarding the transformative potential of these alternative modes of intervention discussed in the literature under various titles such as tactical urbanism, temporary urbanism, or everyday urbanism. Although originally emerging informally, these urban practices have recently taken on a more mainstream character especially in European and North American cities after the global financial crisis of 2008. While attending to the development of such practice and the corresponding theorisation attempts in the North, this study opens a further line of investigation by situating this alternative approach of intervention in Cairo providing insights from the global South. In this context, the study presents ‘alternative urbanism’ as an overarching frame for such practices delineating a nuanced approach to urban design that lies at the interface between the formal and informal.
Drawing on Lefebvre’s concept of differential space coupled with the theory of coproduction, the study explores the dynamics of this approach using three case studies within different problematic localities in Cairo. Extensive fieldwork, based mainly on observations, semi-structured interviews and mapping spatial practices, revealed how small collaborative interventions transformed an underpass, a vacant land, and in-between spaces into meaningful places nurturing local lived experiences. However, despite the positive spatial and socioeconomic impact, numerous challenges arose limiting the potential of the intervention and affecting sustaining improvements over time. Many challenges stemmed from the lack of supportive planning system and the narrow window of opportunity to test new ideas. Local resources, priorities and cultural norms also influenced the level of proactive engagement of residents. Findings revealed that the success of such projects is linked to creating a network of local actors that have the capacity to sustain activism and respond to opportunities. The study demonstrates the crucial role designers and planners can play acting as mediators and facilitators enabling unlikely collaborations between multiple stakeholders. This thesis argues, using empirical evidence from Cairo, that small urban interventions can embrace existing informality, respond to local needs, and enhance the use and quality of deteriorated settings without imposing change or displacing inhabitants.