The Street Where I Live
Urban Crossroads #33

I live in what is considered a relatively nice part of Amman. It is not one of the city's exclusive neighborhoods, but it is desirable to live in. It is amongst the many extensions of Amman that have grown since the 1990s. One of its advantages is that it is easily accessible to and from various parts of the city. It has a combination of single-family houses and apartment buildings, although all new construction in it has consisted of apartment buildings.

The people on the street where I live for the most part seem to be nice people. The neighborhood in many ways is typical of the neighborhoods found in numerous areas of western Amman. The neighbors do not know each other very well. I can recognize many of them by face, I have some idea as to who they are, and we might exchange hellos if we see each other while passing through the street, but that is the extent of the relationship between us. Consequently, there is very little sense of a belonging to the neighborhood among its inhabitants. All that is in common between the residents of the area probably is that they can afford to buy a housing unit there.

Each of the neighbors lives in his or her own world, which is in itself a good thing since the lack of a private life and meddling in the affairs of neighbors associated with traditional neighborhoods, and often well-portrayed in works of literature, cinema, and television in the region, are not characteristic of the street where I live. The down side of this is that there is no sense of community along the street. None of the neighbors seem to have much interest in the physical condition of what lies outside their individual properties. A quick look at the street is enough to confirm this statement. The sidewalks generally are neither well-maintained nor well-kept. Their paving in many cases has fallen in a state of disrepair, and the level of cleanliness leaves something to be desired. It even is common to find sizable weeds growing out of the sidewalk paving.

One of our neighbors carried out construction work in his house a couple of years ago, and a pile of sand and gravel left over from the construction work has been lying on his sidewalk since then. There is one neighbor who did decide to pay attention to his sidewalk. One day he dug it up, removed most of the paving, and planted it as if it was his own garden! The message was clear: The sidewalk is not made for walking. In fact, the street did not really loose much by his taking over the sidewalk. Most of the neighbors' sidewalks are no more suitable for walking than his transformed sidewalk. Not only are they poorly kept, but have trees planted along the center of their narrow width. At least, this neighbor has intensified the level of greenery on the sidewalk.

Another neighbor currently is building an addition to his house. Construction materials therefore are thrown all over the place, and take up a part of the street in front of his house. The result is ugly, messy, and also a clear example of encroachment on public property.

The sidewalk is the place where the public and private realms meet. Its condition reflects the manner in which both property owners and municipal authorities view the public realm. Considering the state of many of our sidewalks, the resulting conditions are not encouraging. Property owners abuse the sidewalk, ignoring it at best, and treating it as a dumping ground at worst. Municipal authorities do not give much attention to the sidewalk, and do not penalize those who abuse it.

The predicament of our street does not end there. One neighbor uses part of his house as a storage facility for his business, and every now and then one finds a large truck loading or unloading goods into or from his house. Another neighbor seems to own a couple of trucks, and those trucks often are parked overnight in front to his house, taking up much of that part of our small street.

During the summer months, it seems that a number of neighbors hold loud parties that last late into the night using powerful speakers. Of course, they will not inform you of their intent to bring auditory havoc to the neighborhood, let alone ask your permission before they do so. The fact that there are regulations in Amman against activities that make such an enormous level of noise is irrelevant to them since they know that such regulations are never implemented.

I still am aware that I live in what is considered a relatively nice part of town. I also still believe that my neighbors basically are good people who do not wish their neighbors any harm. However, we do not have any sense of neighborhood solidarity along our street. The neighbors might take care of what is inside their property, but they ignore or abuse what lies outside it. A healthy neighborhood is one where residents are considerate to each other and are as concerned about the beauty and maintenance of the sidewalk in front of their house as they are about their own house, if not more.

I know there are neighborhoods in Amman that are worse off than mine. Their sidewalks even suffer from worse maintenance and upkeep problems than the sidewalks along my street. Also, I regularly come across letters to the editor in the daily press from people complaining about trucks parked overnight on their street, or even about people taking over the whole street and blocking traffic from it to hold a graduation, engagement, or wedding party.

None of this provides a recipe for good and healthy city life. Consideration for one's neighbors and respect for the public realm are essential prerequisites for enabling cities to support a healthy urban life. Part of the solution for creating such a life is technical, as with providing proper sidewalk maintenance and upkeep. Another part is legal, as with strictly enforcing regulations regarding issues ranging from noise pollution to littering, and penalizing violators. However, a very important part of the solution is social and behavioral. People simply have to be more considerate to those around them. I am fully aware that the residents of Amman can be extremely considerate. Such sense of considerateness, however, needs to be extended to include behavior in and towards the public realm.

Mohammad al-Asad

February 10, 2005