Within the complex current situation of Al-Manshiya Square, lie a lot of opportunities. The square is one of the most lively and most vibrant public spaces in downtown Alexandria. It is also, historically, a space that has witnessed Egypt’s modern history and has been the backdrop to many of the seminal key moments that changed Egypt. The square is also strategically positioned within the commercial district of the city’s downtown area, to accommodate the needs of a large segment of Alexandrians. It has for years been widely known as the destination for commercial activity. The buildings surrounding the square range between commercial, residential, and administrative use. It is also carefully positioned within the city’s public transport network, and is well connected to all major zones of the city.
The revitalization and upgrading of Al-Manshiya square, as well as proposing ideas for the Motaheda parking plot is a unique challenge. The square itself has grown out of control and street vendors have taken over large areas of public spaces and streets which causes a lot of connectivity problems within the existing surroundings.
A- Downtown Vision
1. Downtown Triangle
The projects proposes a new downtown district that consists of three major nodes, where each node acts as an attraction point and where all three nodes work in harmony in providing a diverse downtown experience.
1.1 Cultural Hub (Al-Raml Square)
While the area surrounding Al-Raml square has been always identified as the central scene for cultural and tourist activity in Alexandria, the proposal builds on the existing situation and proposes a complete cultural district of museums, cultural centers, art galleries, along with the existing opera performance center. Turning this area into Alexandria’s new cultural district not only for artists, musicians, poets, but also for tourists will provide massive benefits for the city. Its location overlooking the Mediterranean exaggerates its uniqueness and its ability to attract normal citizens and not only the cultural elite. This will be based on renovating and re-using existing structures to house new functions.
1.2 Transport Hub (Masr Station Square)
In order to vitalize downtown Alexandria, it is necessary that it is very well connected to the rest of Alexandria’s districts. The proposed idea is to maintain a lot of the transport activity that is already occurring in the square and expanding it to accommodate public buses, tram station, underground metro station, and a new biking center. It is also proposed to add a bus rapid transit (BRT) system that connects downtown area with the rest of Alexandria. A great emphasis is made here on providing operational and well maintained transport systems to provide easy access and movement to and from downtown area.
1.3 Commercial/Business Hub (Al-Manshiya Square)
As it is already considered the commercial and business district of Alexandria, it is proposed to organize, revitalize, and renovate the existing structures and promote a strong commercial activity within this district. Commercial activity not only provides citizens with their needs, or even provides continuous revenue for the city, but also promotes a strong tourist presence. This will only happen by renovating and revitalizing the existing buildings, and using them for diverse tourist and commercial activities such as cafes and restaurants within the inner courtyards. It is also proposed to promote within this district a strong direction towards locally producing certain products. Providing possibilities for clothes design, manufacturing, marketing and promotion with a trained team that offer professional guidance to young investors and shop owners are all part of the proposal as explained later.
3. Pedestrian vs. Vehicular
In order to promote a more sustainable approach and to deal with the existing situation of downtown area, it is proposed to pedestrianize many of the areas within downtown district and use the full potential of the existing structure between 2012 and 2020. Using a long term plan to divert traffic and slowly transform the area into a pedestrian area will enrich downtown Alexandria, and will boost tourism. In the initial phase, parts of Manshiya square and some of the connectors to al-raml will be closed to vehicular traffic and only opened for pedestrian activity and shall remain well connected to public transport. Alternative routes are proposed for the diverted traffic network.
4. Preserving Alexandria’s Built Heritage
Downtown Alexandria is famous for its built heritage which is constantly under threat. Many of the district’s buildings have now been renovated, but some have been left to neglect, vandalism, and decay and are now in dire need for renovation and revitalization. The proposal suggests to renovate and re-occupy these buildings with activities similar to the existing ones (ex. local cafes) and proposes a renting model which ensures proper and enough maintenance is performed for the buildings. The proposal also suggests the appropriation and use of available rooftops which could become a strong facilitator and generator of urban development in such conditions. Using rooftops of existing buildings, whether in urban agriculture or as activity nodes, will be very useful for the district.
B- Al-Manshiya Square
The basic idea of intervention within Al-Manshiya square is to intervene in a very minimal way with the goal of making the square perform much better than it is now. Dealing with the existing without radical change or evacuation of the surrounding fabric can be a very effective way to gradually implement change. Below are a list of the major ideas that were implemented in the square:
- Turning the plaza into a pedestrian only zone and avoiding all vehicular traffic except at the southeastern edge of the square. The pedestrian movement is complemented with 4 tram stops surrounding the square, and also an underground metro station. A lot of emphasis is put on bikes and pedestrian modes.
- A large underground car parking is suggested in the basement floor of the whole plaza where possible, to help accommodate vehicular traffic and ease of access to different parts of the building.
- Connect the square to the waterfront by elevating the korniche road at the connection. This will provide open views and safe access for all users who which to enjoy the beach, as well as creating a new landmark korniche bridge for Alexandria.
- Create internal waterfront by allowing the Mediterranean water to flow into the square. The area surrounding the water will be used for leisure time activities. A large dancing fountain will be centered in the middle of the water body and will perform daily shows for cheering spectators and tourists. The water body could also accommodate a floating theatre for open air performances by artists, musicians and singers.
- Create a new street market for the existing street vendors in a depression in the ground level plane in order to provide open views and visual continuiuty through the square, while maintining their locations on axis of movement.
- Revive the old Borsa building by re-building the front façade with its iconic terrace as a gateway between the commercial and cultural districts of downtown area.
- Distribute activity within the square into three distinct zones, the new waterfront/leisure zone, the green zone (park), and the vendors zone. The existing landmark statue will be further highlighted and incorporated between these three zones.