The spatial development and urban transformation of colonial and postcolonial Algiers
2008-12-23T08:54:03Z (GMT) by
Algiers is a complex and confused city that is experiencing constant change at the administrative, political, social and economic levels. Its administrative status changed in 2000 from that of a region managed by a Governor Minister to that of a simple Wilaya (County). This change has meant that the new plan proposed by the former Governor of Algiers – the Grand Projet Urbain (Major Urban Plan) – that would lead to the establishment of Algiers as an effi cient metropolis, a regional hub or even a global city, is on hold. That said, for Algiers to achieve the status of a global city, it must meet several criteria, which up to now seem far from being part of its perceived growth and objectives. Nevertheless, before embarking on the analysis of Algiers development history and current challenges, there is a need to defi ne the central topic of this chapter, which is the urban transformation of Algiers during and after colonization. This chapter sets out to explore the spatial development and urban transformation of colonial and postcolonial Algiers by examining the pre-colonial medina or Casbah. This exploration reveals the complexity of the city’s development, its regional and international position and infl uence, and the extent to which globalization has affected its urban growth and architectural patterns. Algiers presents at least six stages of urbanization that produced distinct urban fabrics, namely, the Casbah; the colonial town (Algiers centre and surrounding neighbourhoods); colonial Grands Ensembles (large urban housing projects); postcolonial Grands Ensembles or ZHUN (Zone d’Habitat Urbaine Nouvelle); urban development by private builders on individual plots of land; and informal housing (bidonvilles or shanty towns and housing of the poor). It should be noted that Algiers’s early morphology, defi ned by the Casbah and the colonial quarters, has been retained. This chapter will examine the spatial development of Algiers by concentrating on two phases of its urban growth and transformation, the colonial period, from 1830 to 1962, and the postcolonial period covering 1962 to the present day. The infl uence of colonization on urban form and architectural trends will be emphasized. In addition, the effect of globalization on postcolonial Algiers and its impact on local identity and urban and architectural models will be discussed. Algiers’s most complex urban issue is the restoration and safeguard of the Casbah. A brief account of the Casbah’s decay and renovation projects will also be examined throughout the chapter. On 21st May 2003, Algiers and its surroundings experienced a devastating earthquake that put to the test both old and new buildings. The impact of this disaster on urban development actors and existing urban tissue so far will be briefly discussed.