CELEBRATING HABIBA EID (The Egyptian Jane Jacobs)


As a specialized urbanist, I have had a long career of working professionally in participatory design and planning. I directed projects scaled from detailed design interventions to master planning; these included coastal urban planning in the Red Sea; urban design in Senegal; design agro-farms with local community in arid areas in Saudi Arabia; work with community in cross-province river trail in Norway; oasis design for tribes in East Libya; urban guidelines for historic Cairo, the design for Cradle of Humankind National Park in South Africa; site planning for ecolodges in the Kalahari Desert; waterfront development in Doha, Qatar; and urban design in Portoviejo, Ecuador. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to select working on projects that comply with the social values and even more fortunate to have most of them implemented and built with the local communities.

Placemaking in the Global South

This is not to undermine the wonderful efforts done by colleagues and friends in democratic countries in the North, but rather to shed the light on challenges of placemaking in the Global South. My projects have engaged a full range of interdisciplinary professional skills in highly diverse international settings, and always involved a complexity of constituents, ecologies, and cultures. In my professional career, I completed projects that required me to work closely with local residents within the parameters of government and private institutions to comply with social standards. Without much generalisation, In the Global South, the responsible practice of civic engagement and participatory design require extensive field-based investigations of cultural and social contexts. Little professional or scholarly literature engages these real-world practice scenarios in the these regions, and this motivates my interest to encourage young planners and designers to dig deeper to learn about their own community leaders and those who took the responsibility and cared about their people.

I write this today because I figured out if I didn’t do so, then who else will? I want to share it with a new generation of students and fresh graduates who are currently involved in projects or research that has to do with placemaking, tactical urbanism, civic engagement, participatory design, and all kinds of urban interventions. In several discussions and forums, I find a new generation who takes things for granted is celebrating Jan Jacobs without having full understanding of her challenges, the difficulties she has been through, the threats she encounters and the sacrifices she made to succeed.

Habiba Eid (26 April 1941 – 15 January 2015)

In Ismailia, a small city on the Suez Canal of Egypt, born woman who at a young age got involved in several community initiatives starting from witnessing major relocations because of the war around the Suez Canal cities and throughout the years of peace.

Habiba earned a BA in Arts from Cairo University, a diploma in regional planning from National planning Institute, a MSc in statistics from Cairo University and a diploma in political Science from Suez Canal University. While having all the right qualifications to have an ordinary desk job, she strived to change people’s lives in the field and venture in a world dominated by men in authority. 

During her career she worked closely with almost all governors, local teams, and international expats. Her compass was clear and cantered around serving her people. Throughout her journey she spent more time in the field, in the informal areas, engaging and negotiating and empowering the local people. This has put her in numerous confrontations with authority and higher powers. Her persistence, endurance and clear people-oriented agenda coupled with diplomacy and social intelligence allowed her to implement several projects and initiatives. She gained the respect and appreciation of her local people, the government, as well as the international community. Endless world experts have learned from her projects through their involvement in Hayy El-SalamEl-BahtiniEl-Hallous,… and many other development projects that are only implemented because of her persistence.

A poster I did with Habiba Eid about the mapping of Ismailia Slum Areas with UNDP and UN-Habitat.

Habiba played a vital role for the people of Ismailia. She even saved them of several involuntary relocations and demolitions that they are unaware of. Working closely with her, I witnessed her active engagement on all levels and across many scales. She managed to lead and guide international experts, gain confidence of international donors, convince government officials, and most importantly loved and appreciated by the informal settlement dwellers. I walked with her through alleys in extreme poverty to guide locally-installed water pipes, I observed her humble attitude with the needy and the unlimited support she offered to the local community even from her personal resources.

Women making fishing nets and men making fishing boats in Ismailia 

To celebrate her birthday on the 26th of April, I would encourage friends and colleagues to honour her contribution and also celebrate their own community leaders in the Global South who were influential and dedicated their life to serving the marginalized and under privileged.

Habiba had a purpose for her life till her last day. She was a dedicated woman to her cause to serve her people well.

Celebrate your Jane Jacobs – Celebrate your Habiba Eid

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