Amman's 1987 and 2008 Master Plans
The Amman municipality was founded in 1909. By 1946, it covered an area of 31 square kilometers, and had a population of 60,000.[i] Since then, the city's residents have witnessed periods of shocking growth, both in terms of population and physical expansion. The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) came into being in 1987 with the approval of the Jordanian Parliament. GAM was created as part of the Greater Amman Comprehensive Development Plan (GACDP), a seven-part report published in 1988 that laid out a plan for Amman’s growth until the year 2005. GAM was the result of the amalgamation of fourteen municipalities, fourteen village councils, and several rural areas previously under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. Its structure was intended to centralize urban planning decision-making in those areas into one institution, while preserving local representation.[ii] Today, GAM covers 800 square kilometers and has a population of over four million people.[iii] Numerous plans of different scales have been made for Amman, including five plans for the city as a whole. These are the Development Plan of Amman of 1955; the Civic Center Development Plan of 1968; the 1987 Preliminary Study on the City Center Development for Municipality of Amman; the 1987 GACDP; and the Amman Plan of 2008. This article deals with the two most recent plans.
Set twenty years apart, GACDP and the Amman Plan are documents that function as overarching strategies for much larger planning operations. GACDP identified 56 urban and 10 rural communities within Greater Amman for which to develop local plans. The Amman Plan delineates 8 planning areas and 228 communities within those planning areas that would each require plans of their own.[iv] The smaller-scale plans refer to the master plans as guides for public service priorities and overall growth structure. The ambitions of the Amman Plan and GACDP are, however, far from being their only similarity. The priorities of the plans are also remarkably similar. Establishing a single municipal authority with a unified planning vision, directing growth to avoid sprawl, phasing the provision of infrastructure and public services in coordination with new development, as well as planning and prioritizing capital improvement projects and the implementation of an integrated transit and transportation strategy are some shared key objectives. Moreover, the reliance on a radial road network, an emphasis on strong public transportation, and the use of development centers and corridors to prevent further urban sprawl are all examples of strategies that reappear throughout GACDP and the Amman Plan. Achieving these objectives, however, has proved challenging. Amman today is clogged with traffic even though it has invested so much into its road networks. The Amman Bus Rapid Transport system is under development, but is far from completion. The current zoning process has not stopped Amman from continuing to spread.
Before GACDP was completed, many organizations had attempted - although sometimes competing with each other - to mold Amman’s growth. The origins of GACDP provide a pertinent example. It began with a Planning and Building Regulations Study prepared by the Jordanian Urban Development Department (UDD). This study was intended to contribute to improvements in housing and building regulations. The World Bank approved the study in 1985,[v] and the Jordanian Parliament approved the establishment of the Municipality of Greater Amman in 1987.[vi] It was the newly-established municipality that was responsible for completing GACDP, which incorporated the findings of the UDD study, in addition to a plan developed by the Amman Urban Region Planning Group (AURPG). AURPG was founded in 1976 with the assistance of USAID, and was tasked with developing an overall development plan for Amman and surrounding areas.[vii] These areas included urban centers such as Salt and Zarqa, as well as agricultural lands. The master plan itself was not the main priority of the World Bank loan, which was principally concerned with providing affordable housing in Jordan. It instead was local planners who advocated using the opportunity provided by the loan to create a master plan for Amman.[viii] AURPG and UDD both studied Amman at a city-wide scale, and looked at Amman's relationship with the areas around it. It was with GACDP, and the founding of GAM, that a structure was put in place to actually implement plans for Amman at a city-wide scale.
GACDP also states that having a municipal council responsible for the larger Amman region could help to eliminate competition between districts. Before GAM was founded, individual municipalities developed their own master plans. These master plans, which were made for all or part of a municipality or village, were concerned with proposals for land use, highway and infrastructure planning, planning and building regulations, the removal or improvement of unsatisfactory development, and the preservation of historical sites and remains.[ix] Without the overall control of a city-wide plan, these individual master plans covered successive additions to municipalities, on an area by area basis. A period of significant land speculation had resulted in competition between municipalities in a race to release land for development. By the time that GACDP was published, urban land sufficient for three times the 1987 population of Amman and surrounding municipalities had been released for development. Although the master plans were required to provide phasing proposals, there was no effective control over the timing and location of new developments.[x] The release of so much land for development destroyed farmland, created urban sprawl, and encouraged development in areas of geological risk, specifically landslides. The “inadequate measures to control the lease of new urban land, and to protect agricultural land” is one of the main planning administration issues listed in GACDP.[xi]
Planning controls also let municipalities release much of their land as type A and B residential areas. These types have the largest plot areas, the largest allowable floor area, and the fewest number of plots per hectare. These specifications are better suited for larger homes, so wealthier residents would predominantly purchase land released as type A and B residential areas. Municipalities were competing for wealthier residents and the construction of larger homes, so they released a disproportionate amount of their land as type A and B residential areas. The demand assumptions in GACDP indicated that only 20% of types A and B zoned residential areas would be occupied in 2005. Although there was an excess of type A and B zoned residential areas released at the time when GACDP was prepared, there was also a shortage of type D residential zones that specified smaller, more affordable housing.[xii] Type D residential zones permitted smaller homes at a higher density, and were less attractive to local municipalities than types A or B residential areas. At the time, there were 16,203 dunums (a dunum is 1,000 square meters) of type A and B zoned residential areas in the greater Amman area, and only 14,740 dunums of type D zoned residential areas. To remedy this shortage, the majority of new residential land was to be zoned as type D. Some residential land was also to be released as type C as a way to incorporate planning that had already happened at the subdivision level, but Amman as a whole did not have a perceived shortage of type C residential areas. Type C has larger plot areas than type D, but smaller plot areas than type B.[xiii] The effects of the preference for type A and type B zoned residential areas is still seen today in some parts of Amman, especially West Amman.
The amount of land already released for urban development meant that the total planned population capacity for urban land in the Amman region in 1988 would be sufficient to accommodate the 2005 projected population in most areas. Yet, where to focus new developments within the urban area, how to accommodate the demand for D category housing, and where to expand in order to accommodate population growth beyond 2005 were all important questions that remained unanswered. GACDP principally addressed them through three structure plan options that investigate the implications of different population and employment distributions. The structure plan options work as guides for decision-making, and explore the different choices that had to be made on the municipal scale. The first structure plan allows for the continued expansion of existing commercial corridors and centers, and accommodates most of the demand for additional D category housing within existing D zoned residential areas. It also allows for the rapid development of a new commercial center in north Amman. This was the most likely outcome if no policy changes were implemented. The second structure plan limits the continued expansion of existing commercial corridors while reducing the dominance of the central business district. In GACDP, the central business district is considered the area extending northwest from the old city center to the districts of Jabal Amman and Jabal Luweibdeh, and as far as Shmeisani. In 1985, almost 40% of all employment in Greater Amman was concentrated in the central business district. The plan accommodated some of the demand for D category housing in new and re-zoned areas to the south and east of the urban area, and accommodated the rest within existing D zoned residential areas. It also established dispersed district centers in Suwayfiyyah (Sweifieh), the Makkah Road area, Marka, Marka South, al-Wihdat, North of al-Nuzha, Tila’ al-‘Ali, Jubayha, South of Abu ‘Alanda, and al-Idha’a.[xiv] The third structure plan limits the continued expansion of existing commercial corridors while reducing the dominance of the central business district. All demand for D category housing is accommodated in new residential areas to the east of the urban area. It establishes the same pattern of dispersed district centers as the second plan, with the addition of a regional center in the southeast of the urban center to counterbalance the central business district’s restricted capabilities. Through evaluations of the three structure plan options, GACDP asserts that most D category housing could be accommodated within existing D zone areas, although some new D-zoned land would be required. Limited employment growth within the central business district with the creation of eleven district centers is suggested as well. The lack of any strong variation between the three structure plans is a reflection of the extent of existing development, and the difficulty of restructuring the city.[xv]
A single master plan for the Greater Amman region was supposed to provide a framework for greater coordination and stronger regulation. The plan proposed a structure of 56 urban and 10 rural communities within the area encompassed by the master plan, each of which would develop its own local plan. The communities had populations of approximately 30,000 to 40,000 each, and were derived with consideration of the framework of the proposed road hierarchy, the physical features of each area, existing and planned development, and the introduction of development standards for the provision of community facilities.[xvi] The master plan development standards were a key part of the process of identifying areas where public facilities would need to be expanded in order to accommodate future population growth. They established the number of people that each educational, health, religious, recreational, commercial, and other government facility should serve, as well as the floor space of living area per capita for each facility. GACDP grouped communities into seven planning districts, and then predicted each district's future public facilities needs. Using these scales, GACDP predicted that ten further compulsory schools would be required in the central business district, and that six primary health centers would be required in the Northern District by 2005. The Northern District included Al Qusur, Hussein Camp, al-Nuzha, South Hashemi, North Hashemi, Tariq, Yajuz, and Shafa Badran. Sometimes, sites for these public facilities had already been acquired; at other times, they had not. Sites for ten community health centers had been identified in the Northern District, but only four sites for schools had been identified in the central business district.[xvii]
In order to provide the public facilities that GACDP predicted would be necessary, plans would have to adapt to the realities of the urban areas they encompassed. Many of these areas already had long histories of development. Government agencies owned only 19% of the municipal area, and only 5% of the undeveloped municipal area. In order to acquire the land needed to provide facilities for Amman’s rapidly growing population, GACDP repeatedly stressed the use of Law 11 of 1968, amended by Law 9 of 1984. These enable a municipality to make a subdivision plan for all public and private land within a defined area, and to re-allocate the land proportionally to the original ownership, with the approval of the subdivision plan. The law also enables the municipality to take up to a third of the land without compensation for the provision of public facilities, such as roads, gardens, municipal buildings, places of worship, and sewage networks.[xviii] This law was a critical tool for the implementation of GACDP for another reason. Each of the municipalities that GAM subsumed had previously written its own master plan. Many of the changes that GACDP suggested would have had to be carried out by adapting what was already in place.[xix] GAM would be reviewing and updating existing plans instead of writing new ones. The difficulties of providing public services in areas that were already built up were a product of the few controls that existed before GACDP regarding when and how new developments would be implemented, and the shortage of land owned by government agencies.
In addition to developing an overall growth strategy for Amman, and identifying future public facility and infrastructure needs, GACDP restructured urban planning in Amman. GACDP was a thorough document, but it was not the priority of the World Bank loan that funded it, and officials at GAM were sometimes unsure of its authority. Furthermore, in the late 1980s, Jordan succumbed to an economic crisis that was partially a result of global recession and falling oil prices. In 1989, the Jordanian government was forced to accept an austerity package as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to manage its 6 billion USD foreign debt.[xx] GAM was financially crippled by the crisis, and funding for the implementation of GACDP was decreased.[xxi] Financial and political support for the implementation of GACDP from the Jordanian government and the World Bank were not strong enough to ensure that growth would be directed as GACDP planned, nor that all of the public services and facilities it suggested would be built. The plan still managed to reorganize the municipalities in the Amman area.
Almost twenty years later, the then mayor of Amman, Omar Maani, was tasked with developing a new plan for the future of Amman. In 2006, he established the Amman Institute as a body for completing and implementing the new plan.[xxii] In 2008, the Amman Plan was released. If those involved in GACDP saw the problems that the Amman Plan hoped to address, they would not feel too far out of their own time. Low-density sprawl, a building boom partially caused by foreign investment, a lack of affordable housing, water stress, socioeconomic segregation, and weak funding for infrastructure are all listed as primary concerns in the Amman Plan. As with GACDP, the Amman Plan blames weak central planning for aggravating several of these issues, most notably water stress and continuing urban sprawl.[xxiii] In addition to these problems, GAM had expanded in 2006, as the Amman plan was being developed, to 1660 square kilometers . This essentially tripled its area. Significant areas within the greater Amman region were lacking sufficient public services, and population growth was expected to exacerbate this problem. Moreover, the population of Amman was forecasted to grow from 2.2 million to 6.8 million residents by 2025.[xxiv] Although these challenges taken together were significant, their nature was not altogether unfamiliar.
Many of the suggestions in the Amman Plan were also found in GACDP. Both prioritized creating and preserving stable and self sufficient neighborhoods. Areas such as Jabal Amman and the Amman city center would be allowed to undergo only limited growth. Improvements in public transportation were called for. In the Amman Plan, the Bus Rapid Transit system that is currently being implemented was suggested as a promising idea. In both GACDP and the Amman Plan, development corridors and centers would be key to funneling growth into areas with sufficient infrastructure, and to limiting future urban sprawl.[xxv] At the same time, the Amman Plan did aim at doing important things differently. Both Maani and the Amman Institute stated that they were committed to greater public participation. Public hearings were organized for planned developments, and the Amman Plan was proclaimed as both “top down and bottom up.” By developing area level plans in conjunction with the regional plan, residents were to be given a greater voice in decision-making. Furthermore, the Amman Plan was declared the city’s first legally effective master plan.[xxvi] While previous plans may had influenced the actions of city planners, none of them were formally adopted. There appeared to be a clear mandate for change.
In addition, the Amman Plan had a clear strategy for implementation. The plan relied on GAM’s regulatory authority to control the timing and location of new developments. After GAM’s boundaries were expanded again in December 2006, it was hoped that controlled and concentrated development could limit sprawl and relieve strains on public transportation. The Metropolitan Growth Plan (MGP), the part of the Amman Plan that provides the overall structure of growth, required public utility providers to coordinate with GAM to fund capital improvement programs. Capital improvements would then reflect MGP priorities and prevent sprawl by requiring certain levels of density. Finally, the cost of service upgrades and extensions would be paid for by the final users of the services, with incentives provided to developments that are in alignment with the goals of MGP.[xxvii]
The Amman plan also had several components concerned with preserving open spaces for tourism, recreation, heritage education, and agriculture. Stated goals regarding the preservation of open spaces, and the tools for achieving these goals were mainly contained in the Metro Natural Heritage Plan, the Metro Cultural Heritage Plan, the Metro Agricultural Plan, and the Metro Open Space Plan. The Metro Heritage Plan called for GAM to cooperate with the Ministry of the Environment and local NGOs to promote policies and physical planning that would retain biodiversity and tree canopy. The Metro Cultural Heritage Plan was meant to address threats to heritage sites. There was no legal framework at the time for GAM to stop development that threatened heritage sites. The Metro Cultural Heritage Plan instead suggested a heritage network extending to Jerash and Petra in which heritage sites would be identified and promoted as valuable parts of contemporary life. The Metro Agricultural Plan was meant to protect productive land and locally-grown food. Lack of rainfall and the fracturing of agricultural communities were listed as two main threats to Jordanian agriculture. To overcome these challenges, the Metro Agricultural Plan emphasized water efficiency and the promotion of urban agriculture. The Metro Open Space Plan is the component of the Metropolitan Growth Plan that was designed to tie the other three plans together. It created an Open Space System with a hierarchy of open spaces that would balance tourism, preservation, and heritage education. These four plans were together meant to manage disparate kinds of open space under a single cohesive strategy. The Amman plan did not have the power to make legislative change, however, so these plans could only utilize existing laws and suggest areas for cooperation with existing government and non-government organizations.
Yet, it is important to understand the Amman Plan in its wider context. The plan attempted to reorganize a rapidly expanding city. By the time the Amman Plan was presented in 2008, several large projects were already in progress that went against the Amman Plan’s emphasis on controlled growth using previously existing infrastructure. One example is the Jordan Gate Towers project. The towers, whose construction began in 2005, were to become the tallest buildings in Amman. GAM sold its 10% stake in the project after Maani’s administration deemed it inappropriate in terms of “location, viability, and general appropriateness of design and programmatic goals.”[xxviii] Like GACDP before it, the Amman Plan struggled to keep up with the city whose growth it was supposed to regulate. In another setback to the plan’s implementation, Maani was arrested in 2011 on corruption and mismanagement charges that all turned out to be unfounded.[xxix] The Amman Institute was subsequently shut down, and the proactive directing of growth that the Amman Plan encouraged never replaced the more reactive zoning that instead tried to adapt to large projects as they were proposed. The public hearings, for example, which had been introduced during the early years of the Amman Plan, disappeared.[xxx]
What kind of resources would be needed to reign in the growth of Amman? Both GACDP of 1988 and the Amman Plan of 2008 were ambitious, detailed plans that aimed at tackling many of the city’s biggest problems by planning growth proactively on a regional scale. Both of them, however, struggled to establish control. A city so large and dynamic would be hard to direct under any circumstances, although there admittedly are much larger cities that are better managed. The longer that growth is allowed to continue without a well-conceived planning framework, the harder it becomes for any institution to reorganize the city and its infrastructure.
All online sources referenced in this article were last accessed in September 2017.
Ian James is an undergraduate at Tufts University majoring in International Relations and Anthropology. He was an intern at the Center for the Study of the Built Environment (CSBE) during the summer of 2017. His interests include housing rights, urban planning, and public transportation.
[i] Greater Amman Municipality, The Amman Plan (Amman: Greater Amman Municipality, 2008), p. 46.
[ii] Greater Amman Municipality and Dar al-Handasah Consultants, The Greater Amman Comprehensive Development Plan Report 5 (Amman: Greater Amman Municipality, 1988), p. 2.1.
[iii] Greater Amman Municipality. لمحة عن عمان (Amman: Greater Amman Municipality, n.d.), p. 1. (Available online at https://www.ammancity.gov.jo/ar/gam/amman.aspx)
[iv] The Amman Plan, p. 22.
[v] Private Sector Development and Infrastructure Operations, Division Country Department II, Middle East and North Africa Region, Implementation Completion Report: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan National Urban Development Project (Loan No. 2841-JO), (Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 1996), p. 7. (Available online at http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/870031468273668356/pdf/multi-page.pdf)
[vi] Greater Amman Municipality, “Greater Amman: Urban Development.” Cities, 10:1 (Feb. 1993): 37 – 49. (Available online at www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/026427519390113)
[vii] The World Bank. Jordan - Urban Development Project (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 1989). (Available online at http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/923721468040507925/Jordan-Urban-Development-Project)
[viii] F. Malkawi. Hidden Structures: An Ethnographic Account of the Planning of Greater Amman, Ph.D. dissertation (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1996), p. 82.
[ix] The Greater Amman Comprehensive Development Plan Report 5, p. 6.1.
[x] Ibid. p, 6.3.
[xi] Ibid., p. 10.4.
[xii] Ibid., p. 6.5.
[xiii] Ibid., p. 13.3.
[xiv] Ibid., p. 13.6.
[xv] Ibid., p. 12.2.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 12.1.
[xvii] Ibid., p. 13.38.
[xviii] Ibid., p. 6.4.
[xix] Ibid., pp. 14.6 & 6.1.
[xx] S. Franklin, “Jordanian`s Economic Remedy Inflates Deadly Political Crisis,” Chicago Tribune, April 23, 1989 (Available online at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1989-04-23/news/8904060649_1_rioting-jordanian-zarqa).
[xxi] E. Abu-Hamdi, “Bureaucratizing the City: Moderated Tribalism, Regime Security, and Urban Transformation in Amman, Jordan,” Iaste: Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, 28:2 (2016). (Available online at http://iaste.berkeley.edu/iaste/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/2017/02/Abu-Hamdi_27.2_TDSR.pdf)
[xxii] E. Abu-Hamdi, “Neoliberalism as a Site-Specific Process: The Aesthetics and Politics of Architecture in Amman, Jordan,” Cities, 60(A) (2017): 102 - 112. (Available online at https://www.elsevier.com/)
[xxiii] The Amman Plan, p. 56.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 62.
[xxv] Ibid., p. 122.
[xxvi] Ibid., p. 174.
[xxvii] Ibid., p. 68.
[xxviii] E. Abu_Hamdi, “The Jordan Gate Towers of Amman: Surrendering Public Space to Build a Neoliberal Ruin,” International Journal of Islamic Architecture, 5 (1) (2016): 73 - 101. (Available online at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/ijia)
[xxix] C. R. Ryan, Identity Politics, Reform, and Protest in Jordan, Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism, 11 (2011): 564 – 578.
[xxx] E. Abu-Hamdi, “Neoliberalism as a Site-Specific Process.”