Searching for the Inoffensive Gas Station
Urban Crossroads #48

                       A gas station in Amman (Basma Abdallah)

                       A gas station in Amman (Basma Abdallah)

Amman unfortunately has no shortage of eye soars, and their numbers and types are increasing quickly. These include large bulky commercial signs that plaster buildings, and banners that chaotically extend across streets; poorly designed parking lots that surround malls, supermarkets, and other large buildings; and construction debris and garbage that is left at the sides of roads and in empty lots. One often overlooked prominent eye soar in Amman and in Jordan in general is the gas station. More often than not, gas stations are grimy sites that seem to be cloaked with layers of gasoline and vehicle oil. The use of landscaping in them is non-existent, and if a few flowers or ornamental plants happen to have been planted, these poor plants barely survive or have long withered away. Gas stations usually stand in the middle of an ugly sea of asphalt. The various components of the gas station, whether buildings, canopies, or gas pumps, are poorly maintained. The signs that are used to announce the gas station are badly designed. I basically cannot think of a single positive visual feature of the gas station in Amman.

Even if there is an attempt to build a gas station with some aesthetic merit, any positive results achieved usually are short-lived. Soon after the new gas station is completed, it begins to suffer from poor maintenance. Also, shabbily constructed additions very quickly begin to be tacked on, whether a second-floor addition that provides extra office or storage space or housing for the station workers, or a bigger corrugated metal roof.

We desperately need to develop standards to ensure that gas stations are not sources of blight in our cities and landscapes. Their numbers only will increase as car ownership in Jordan quickly climbs. In working on developing standards for gas stations, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Such standards do exist and have been developed over the course of a century by now. These standards address all sorts of issues affecting the design and construction of a gas station, such as overall layout, the materials to be used in its construction, and even the detailing of the platform on which gas pumps are placed. Standards also are available for the size and location of gas station signs.

Since its introduction, the automobile has been viewed widely as a beautiful slick machine. Many have considered it an embodiment of the machine age and the machine aesthetic. The obsession that people have with the automobile has allowed automobile manufacturers to put astronomical price tags on their flashier models, thus successfully capitalizing on human vanity. The obsession with the automobile in Jordan is no less acute than it is in other parts of the world. However, most gas stations in Jordan, where expensive automobiles that cost tens of thousands of Jordanian Dinars are fuelled, cleaned, and serviced, are dirty and poorly maintained establishments that are major sources of visual blight. One would think that more effort would be put in constructing and maintaining them, but that is not the case.

A few years ago, I saw in Rome a simple gas pump with an elegant paved area and some landscaping next to it where cars would stop for fuelling. It was simple, clean, and elegant. Creating an aesthetically pleasing gas station is not rocket science, and can be accomplished with relatively little effort. Why we are not able to accomplish it escapes me.

Gas stations are businesses, and one would expect business owners to give more attention to the appearance and maintenance of the facilities housing their businesses. If we can get gas station owners to do so, we will have one fewer source of visual blight to worry about.

P.S. In my last article, which dealt with the pedestrian zone in Sweifieh, I had mentioned that the street music played by the band there was a bit loud, but tolerable. It seems that my positive assessment was premature. I went there again a couple of days ago, and the music was deafening. What was supposed to be a pedestrian zone had become an outdoor concert area more suitable for rowdy male teenagers. I got out of there as soon as I could. I guess most good things must come to an end.

Mohammad al-Asad

September 2, 2005