In this episode, my co-host Sami Ferwati and I chat with Salma Elbasty from CLUSTER (Cairo Lab for Urban Studies, Training and Environmental Research). CLUSTER undertakes a number of research, architecture, and arts-based urban initiatives with a special focus on analyzing urban informality and highlighting its role in our cities. During our discussion, we explore the impact of two of CLUSTER's major projects—the CAUL (Critical Arab Urban Lexicon) and their Creativity in Action toolkit—and how through their diverse programming they work with artists, artisans, academics, businesses, communities, and everyone else in between to bring their projects to life.

In this episode, you'll learn about:

  • urban informality and its role in creative cities,
  • the process CLUSTER follows to undertake their various creative, community-based activities,
  • the Critical Arab Urban Lexicon (CAUL) and the importance of translating urban terms into different languages, 
  • ALFABRIKA, CLUSTER's maker space and community hub,
  • and much more!

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Guest: Salma Elbasty, CLUSTER

Salma Elbasty is an architect at CLUSTER Cairo. She obtained her BSc. in Architecture from the German University in Cairo, and she completed her pre-master studies with a focus on urban design in 2020. Her research interests involve the intersection of architecture with social sciences. Besides her architectural career, Salma experiments within the field of design, crisscrossing into the realms of graphic and visual design.

Co-Host: Sami Ferwati

Sami is in his second year in the Masters of Science in Planning program. Before attending the University of Toronto Sami attended McMaster University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Geography. He is also a part of the Graduate Geography and Planning Student Society (GGAPSS), where he serves as the VP of Space. Sami's primary research interests in planning surround housing, economic development, urban design, and how people interact with their urban environment.


  • 03:25 | An introduction to Salma and CLUSTER
  • 04:25 | What is CLUSTER and how did this organization get started? 
  • 07:31 | What is the Critical Arab Urban Lexicon (CAUL) and how did it get started? 
  • 10:05 | What has been the impact of CAUL since its initial launch?
  • 12:06 | What is the Creativity in Action project and the resulting toolkit? And how did this project get started?
  • 20:46 | What has been the impact of this project on the communities? 
  • 23:35 | What does informality look like in a city such as Cairo?
  • 25:49 | Has the government played any role in supporting urban awareness or urban solutions?
  • 29:27 | Why do you think it's important for cities to invest in these creative hubs and artisanal workshops?
  • 32:05 | What’s next for CLUSTER and how would you like to see the organization evolve? 
  • 34:05 | How can people get involved with CLUSTER?

Show Notes



This episode is co-sponsored by the University of Toronto School of Cities and the Department of Geography and Planning. 

The School of Cities "convenes urban-focused researchers, educators, students, practitioners and the general public to explore and address complex urban challenges, with the aim of making cities and urban regions more sustainable, prosperous, inclusive and just". To learn more about the School of Cities visit

To learn more about the Department of Geography and Planning and the different undergraduate and graduate programs available please visit

  • Editor and Music Producer: Imany Lambropoulos
  • Podcast Host and Graphic Designer: Alexandra Lambropoulos

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