The Rise and Fall of Merryland Park in Heliopolis

In the middle of the busy Heliopolis suburb in Cairo, Merryland Park quietly sways in the warm breeze. An oasis in the middle of the desert, it reminds me of a minuscule version of Central Park in New York City. Apartment buildings tower over the park in the distance overlooking luscious gardens and overflowing trees. During my visits to Egypt, Merryland Park was a wondrous place where as I child, I would play, eat at the many restaurants and cafes, and breathe in a breath of fresh air supplied by the hundreds of trees surrounding the park. But as I grew up, the park, too, grew up. It slowly deteriorated until it closed down and became a museum of memories for Egyptians, symbolizing a time when there weren’t as many cars, as many buildings, or as many people. A time when Cairo has looked after and well-maintained.

I used to visit Merryland Park during the 80’s when I was a young girl. There was a beautiful, large lake where my cousins and I would have fun on paddling boats and pose for our pictures to be taken. It felt exactly like home, being in a park in the middle of a busy city like London.

I used to love listening to stories of the history of the park whilst I sipped on my lemonade. How it was originally a race course during the time when Egypt was a monarchy. How horses used to run faster than we could even begin to imagine. And how it finally opened to the public, with an affordable entrance fee so that residents of Cairo could seek refuge in the shade during the hot summer days.

But like the fate of many parks in Cairo, Merryland Park became neglected and eventually closed down due to land disputes. These days the park is deserted, with only a handful of couples venturing in for privacy. Residents in the area jog around the park, since its perimeter has uninterrupted, leveled pavements; a rare sight in a haphazardly designed city. Now Merryland Park sways in the November breeze as a reminder of a glorious past, when urban planning existed for every citizen, much like the city of Cairo.

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