The Landscaping Challenge
Urban Crossroads #38

                  The National Gallery Park in Amman. (Osman Akoz)

                  The National Gallery Park in Amman. (Osman Akoz)

Landscape architecture is a field that has not received the attention it deserves in Jordan. Many have not even heard of it. Those who have often confuse it with gardening and horticulture. Landscape architecture is connected to those two fields and does include gardening and horticultural activities, but its scope is wider. Landscaping deals with the spaces of the built environment. These spaces include streets, medians, sidewalks, plazas, parks, and even the shoulders bordering roads and highways. Landscape architecture not only deals with the planting of these areas, but also with their overall shape, their paving, and their interaction with buildings located around them and between them. It has been remarked that our human settlements should not only be viewed as collections of built up areas. They also should be viewed as sets of open spaces that are weaved together providing corridors of movement, outdoor places where people can interact, pleasant visual vistas, as well as green lungs in the city.

Our manmade spaces in Jordan need more care. Relatively good maintenance may be provided for the asphalt paving of our streets, which is one expression of our obsession with the automobile. Unfortunately, our other spaces are neglected. The neglect even begins at the edges of streets, along the sidewalks and shoulders that border them.

We need to put forward a strategy for dealing with our public spaces. This includes developing standards and guidelines that enable us to develop these spaces in a manner that is easy to implement and maintain.

Concerning the issue of planting, there is no shortage of trees, ornamental plants, and ground-covers we can use that have minimal needs in terms of watering and maintenance. True, all plants need watering during the first three years of their life, but there are numerous plants that can survive easily after that without irrigation. All plants need a degree of continuous maintenance, but some need less than others, and we should make a point of using such low-maintenance plants.

We need to rethink the manner in which we pave our sidewalks and other open spaces. The pre-cast yellow and purple concrete paving units prevalent for sidewalks in Jordan are not the best of choices. These paving units are not always attractive, and they are not very durable as they easily crack or come off the sidewalk. We should explore the use of other paving materials and techniques for sidewalks and open spaces, such as small stone units, cast-in-place concrete, and even certain types of asphalt. The possibilities and combinations are endless, and a great deal may be accomplished with a little bit of creativity and resourcefulness.

We should consider using loose materials (known as mulches) as covers for our landscapes. Organic mulches, which are made of organic matter including tree barks and leaves, may not always be available in large quantities in Jordan. However, inorganic mulches, which are made of materials such as crushed granite or pumice stone (locally known as touf), are abundantly available. These loose covers are aesthetically pleasing, are easy and inexpensive to install, need almost no maintenance (but do need occasional replenishment), and - unlike plants - require no irrigation. Inorganic mulches can be prepared in a wide variety of sizes. Coverings consisting of small pieces of stone are very suitable for areas that need to accommodate light pedestrian or even vehicular traffic. Larger pieces are suitable for areas where there is no traffic or where traffic is to be discouraged.

We need to give special attention to the shoulders lining our highways. At best, these shoulders simply are neglected. At worst, they are places that accumulate garbage and even debris that often results from the construction of the highway itself. There are simple and inexpensive ways of addressing such edges as with making sure they are kept clean and also planting a few tough, low-maintenance drought-tolerant trees and ground covers along them. However, almost all solutions will require vigilant follow-up.

In this context, it would be very interesting to take one specific highway or stretch of highway in Jordan, and to develop a plan for beautifying its edges. The project eventually may be expanded to include other highways. Moreover, we may incorporate a practice used abroad for taking care of these edges, which is to encourage local companies to "adopt" the highway or stretches of it. These companies would cover costs relating to developing and maintaining landscaping solutions along the edges of the highway. This would provide for a win-win situation. Private sector companies get to support the public good, and they gain positive publicity out of it. Also, since these companies are putting their own money in such projects, they will have an interest in ensuring that the money is used properly and efficiently.

The challenges to the field of landscaping in Jordan are many, but so are the opportunities. It is time we give this field more attention. Jordan has less than a dozen practicing landscape architects. If landscaping is provided the emphasis it deserves, we will need more to join their ranks. In the meantime, we should take advantage of the skills that the existing landscaping professionals have to offer, and to begin a national effort aimed at landscaping our cities and highway edges. Let us "Landscape Jordan."

Mohammad al-Asad

April 21, 2005