College of the Atlantic Charles Eliot Chair in Ecological Planning, Policy, and Design Dr. Brook ... College of the Atlantic Charles Eliot Chair in Ecological Planning, Policy, and Design Dr. Brook Muller will use a Fulbright Specialist award to continue working in the UNESCO-protected al-Khalifa neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt.

Working on the Athar Lina Initiative historic conservation project, Muller has helped redirect water seeping from an old tenement building and destroying the foundations of two nearby shrines from the late 1200s to a new, public green space for women and children to gather. He plans to use his Fulbright award to create more green spaces and enhance food access in al-Khalifa by continuing to maximize the use of excess water.

“I want to take some of the magic and logic of human-ecological education and apply it to dense urban settings. Our creative thinking has to be expanded to go right to the heart of the biggest challenges,” Muller said.

Muller got involved with Athar Lina in 2015 when he met May al-Ibrashy, founding principal of Megawra—Built Environment Collective, which leads the Athar Lina community-based redevelopment initiative. Al-Ibrashy has been endeavoring to restore the historic shrines that are being compromised due to the damage from the water which is trapped above impermeable bedrock.

A historic shrine in the UNESCO-protected al-Khalifa neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, where COA Char... A historic shrine in the UNESCO-protected al-Khalifa neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt, where COA Charles Eliot Chair in Ecological Planning, Policy, and Design Dr. Brook Muller is involved in preservation and community resiliance efforts. Credit: Brook MullerMuller’s brainstorm was to pump the water that surrounded the shrines onto an elevated, vacant piece of land to create a communal green space. This allowed for the shrines to be restored while also helping to reduce mildew and insect infestation, and lowering the risk of the spread of disease in the area. Further, the irrigation created an outdoor green space for women in the neighborhood to gather and watch over their children in a cool, safe, nature-filled setting.

“There is a screened structure for women to gather and there’s a play structure immediately beyond that. The more affluent you are in Egypt, the women tend to be more westernized. In this very poor neighborhood, it’s more conservative. So, women are only supposed to be in the public domain when they’re doing something productive like buying food or taking their kids to school. This park is a legitimate kind of activity for them, to be watching their children while they’re socializing in a really pleasant space,” Muller said. “This park is only a year old, and it is already full of plants and birds, and the air quality is much better,” Muller explained.

The Fulbright Specialist award will allow Muller to continue to go back to al-Khalifa on a recurring basis to help with ongoing projects. Since finishing this first green space, Muller and al-Ibrashy have been looking at combining the restoration of other historic sites in al-Khalifa with the creation of more green spaces, with a focus on community garden aspects.

“With the next green pocket wave, the main emphasis will be food production,” Muller said, noting that with ongoing inflation, food insecurity is a growing problem in al-Khalifa.

Creating public green space in the UNESCO-protected al-Khalifa neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt is pa... Creating public green space in the UNESCO-protected al-Khalifa neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt is part of the work that as earned COA Charles Eliot Chair in Ecological Planning, Policy, and Design Dr. Brook Muller a Fulbright Specialist award. Credit: Brook MullerMuller’s plans expand to rooftop and alley gardens, along with window boxes with herbs and nutritional supplements, all ways to continue to redirect excess water. While there is not a lot of excess space, the basics to grow and expand a robust food system are there, such as pre-existing animal husbandry.

With a focus on how to best serve the community, Muller brought on colleague Dr. Tess Farmer, who is an anthropologist at the University of Virginia. With her help, the team can work on best practices for combining ecological planning with ethnographic methods.

“It is crucial to understand a community, so we can plug into it most helpfully. We’re not going to replace an already existing food system, but observe and ask what would be the most helpful,” Muller said.

Muller also aims to connect these projects to economic opportunities for community members, such as a nursery in the greenspace, to add to the resilience and self-sustainability of these efforts. This park project will probably take at least 10 years to complete, Muller said, but the hope is that the project will get integrated into the community and be encouraged and maintained by community members themselves over that time.

The Fulbright Specialist Program, part of the larger Fulbright Program, was established in 2001 by the US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The program pairs highly qualified US academics and professionals with host institutions abroad to share their expertise, strengthen institutional linkages, hone their skills, gain international experience, and learn about other cultures while building capacity at their overseas host institutions.