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Wishlist 2018 copy.jpg

Wishes for Amman in 2018

 

Introduction

Last year, we at CSBE asked Maryam Ababsa, Ammar Khammash, and Hazem Zureiqat, who are three distinguished professionals involved in disciplines connected to the built environment, to share with us their thoughts about some of the developments they would like to see regarding Amman’s built environment in 2017, particularly as the city continues to face tremendous challenges relating to issues that include (but are not limited to) traffic congestion, strained infrastructure and urban amenities, as well as housing affordability.

We are continuing this initiative for 2018, and have asked three respected colleagues, Rana Beiruti, Ahmad Humeid, and Farouk Yaghmour, to carry out the same exercise for this year. The following is what they have had to say …

 

Rana Beiruti
Architect, curator, and cultural programmer
Co-director, Amman Design Week

The rapid growth of Amman has long necessitated the need for reform, and future population projections do little to ease the mind when it comes to securing the affordable housing and density in urban fabric needed to accommodate the city's growing population.

Despite these demands, Amman over the past few years has become home to an accumulation of abandoned corners, derelict spaces, and unoccupied buildings that are devoid of content and life. Meanwhile, it has also witnessed an equally unnecessary accumulation of luxury housing projects, five-star hotels, and inaccessible commercial districts that are often void, especially during non-commercial hours.

In order to pave the way towards achieving a balance between density and livability, we should take advantage of the opportunities that exist in the city's interstitial spaces where a more appropriate zoning mix may be introduced – one that builds self-sufficiency in neighborhoods, and reduces the need for excessive highways, cross-city commutes, and traffic delays.

A shift in Amman's land-use policies is needed, with emphasis placed on small-scale, community-driven interventions that improve and upgrade existing neighborhoods, and transform available appropriate city spaces into pockets of public space.

Green public spaces counter the constricting effects of our dense city air and crowded highways. Such spaces not only clean our air, but also counter the blaring heat of the summer and the winds of the winter, collect water, add color to our city, improve the health and well-being of its citizens, create social cohesion, and provide an ecosystem where culture can flourish.

People need outlets – both spatial and cultural. Localized public spaces, urban agricultural initiatives, and community gardens are the lungs of the city. We need many of them, and all within walking distance of our homes.

Participation is key in the development of these spaces, as is the empowerment of communities. Taking an active engagement in building their own sanctuaries and allowing creative ideas to seep into the city’s corners tends to result in a stronger sense of ownership of the city.

What I propose is a new way of viewing the city: studying it as a series of spaces or voids rather than a congestion of buildings or masses; and designing it from the outside in, public before private, with the city’s infrastructure and shared spaces taking precedence over the delimitation of plots of land and attempts to attract investments.

In 2018, I hope that Amman would begin to write its own story; one of a large vision that is comprised of minute interventions; one that moves slowly and heavily, meditatively and studiously; and one that takes us through a process of de-cluttering – a spring cleaning that rids us of what has accumulated, and makes enough room for all of us.

 

Ahmad Humeid
Architect, designer, and brand strategist
Chief Executive Officer, SYNTAX

A penalty of no less than five thousand Jordanian Dinars and no more than fifty thousand Jordanian Dinars shall be imposed on every property owner who builds a sidewalk or a pathway made of “slippery materials.” In case the violation is repeated, the penalty shall be imprisonment for a period of no less than one month and no more than six months.”

This law, simply, is my wish for improving the city of Amman in 2018! Yes, I could have hoped to have a modern public transportation system, to double the number of public parks, or to stop Amman’s sprawl onto agricultural land. But in 2018, I am satisfied with my anti-slip wish.

I admit that this law may be ahead of its time. Don’t we need to enact laws that enforce the creation of sidewalks before we enact laws against "slipping" on them. What about laws for protecting existing sidewalks from being turned into car parking spaces, or to ensure that they are free of holes, pits, "tripping" edges, electricity poles, telephone poles, and Italian cypress trees.

Moreover, what about the contradiction of this law with the “Jordanian customs, traditions, and the societal norms that we have inherited from our fathers”? This is undoubtedly a valid objection. Polished marble, glazed tiles, and glossy ceramics are all materials that reflect our prevailing culture, which puts flashiness, splendor, and pomp at the top of social priorities. And who am I to deprive Ammanis of their "acquired right" to use these "luxury materials" to give their sidewalks and the entrances to their houses, commercial buildings, and shops sparkle and luster?

Nevertheless, I still insist on my wish. I hope that the relevant authorities will strike with an iron fist against whoever has the nerve to use Italian marble or Chinese ceramics to build a sidewalk.

But why this insistence? Why all this hostility to smoothness and luster?
First: The sidewalk is a place for walking. Imagine!
Second: The sky in Amman rains in the winter; sometimes, snow falls; and sometimes, frost occurs.
Thirdly, building guards wash the sidewalks and entrances of buildings with water whenever they get the opportunity.
Fourth: Your mother or sister, and maybe even your grandmother, and sometimes your father or uncle - or even you personally - are all prone to slipping, falling, and breaking your backs on wet or ice-covered marble, tile, or ceramic surfaces.
Fifth: The lives of people and their safety are more important than the culture of luxury, luster, and sparkle.
These reasons are perfectly clear and logical. Aren’t they? But they do not find their way into the minds of many of us.

I always find myself returning to the sidewalk and its culture when thinking about the reality and the future of Amman. To this I add: We will become a proper city when we come out of the mindset of "Jordanian exceptionalism" in the design of the simplest elements of public space: the sidewalk. I have not seen slippery sidewalks except in Amman. We will become real citizens when we walk on sidewalks paved with materials of suitable roughness and standardized specifications. My dear property owner, your sidewalk is not a place for showing off your taste regarding marble tiles or your financial wealth. You should not even be free in choosing the materials of the pathways in your garden. Doesn’t the Civil Defense Department impose many procedures on real state owners to ensure the safety of building users? Well, following the same logic, a slipping prevention law should be imposed.

This law will greatly impact Ammanis, especially when they see jackhammers breaking the sidewalks of violators. They will hurry to change their sidewalks to avoid fines ... or imprisonment!

If we as a society that claims civility are not able to come up with safe un-slippery sidewalks through common understanding, logic, and through our own will, then there is no solution except through the power of the law.

I become optimistic when I see that the Amman Municipality is able to impose a unified "rough" sidewalk along al-Khalidi Street in the heart of the city’s medical district. But I become pessimistic when I think of the unlikelihood that parliament would adopt a slipping prevention law (does the NGO "Rased," which is concerned with issues of accountability and governance, have statistics on the number of deputies who live in "villas" with slippery sidewalks?).  And even if such a law is approved, we will still be faced with a “simple” problem, which is the prospect of applying the law to everyone equally. But this essay does not have enough space to approach this subject (as the sidewalk does not have enough space to accommodate the Italian cypress tree).

 

Farouq Yaghmour
Architect and planner
Director, Yaghmour Consulting Architects & Engineers

Amman has faced several political, economic and social pressures over the past few years. I would like to see Amman reclaim its balance within the upcoming years. Although I do not want to burden 2018 with high hopes and aspirations, I hope that Amman can begin the process of recovery and enter a new chapter of its development in 2018.

The stakeholders of Amman from all disciplines need to sit together and set goals to serve its people first, and then the city; and to rebuild a structured base for progressive development.

Initially, the city’s master-plan needs to be revisited and updated. In parallel to that, simple and direct solutions that include providing proper sidewalks, open urban public spaces, and green parks would allow the city and its people to breathe. Moreover, effectively addressing public transportation will be the only solution to everyday problems relating to traffic congestion, pollution, and a disjointed urban network.

Furthermore, creating responsive solutions for our rapid, ever-changing age would provide the city with a new economic base offering the coming generations new job opportunities.

So, I wish for this year to be a year of reflection, stillness, research, and contemplation; a year of rethinking the city’s priorities with clarity, and through an inclusive base of public participation.