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New Urban Topologies in Amman

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On 8–12 May 2012 Färgfabriken in conjunction with its Jordanian partners Royal Scientific Society, Hamzet Wazel Foundation, Jordan University of Science and Technology, Princess Basma Youth Resource Center, Turath Architecture and Design Consultants and the Swedish Embassy in Amman carried out an extensive program on urban topologies in Amman for city hall representatives, architects, urban planners, academics, students and other interested participants from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Belarus, Moldova, Macedonia, and Sweden.

The four-day program in Amman contained different methods as field trips, workshops and seminars. The aim of the workshop was to rely on new approaches, urban planning and community engagement to promote transparency and cooperation and expand the range of topics and disciplines related to spatial planning. The participants represented Universities, City Governments and NGO:s from Alexandria, Amman, Beirut, Minsk, Mostar, Skopje and Stockholm.

Getting to know Amman
Amman is going through various urban transformations; planning, migration, economic, social, environmental and political, that are affecting the city’s growth, its urban form and its socio economic dimensions. These aspects are creating a possible spatial risk that could increase social discrepancies and polarization in the city.

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A bus tour for the NUT participants was organized going to a number of areas, places and monuments throughout the city in order to generate a discussion and new thoughts within the group. The aim was to show a wide spectrum of what the city of Amman is like today. As a result the participants got to see many sites that are normally not included in similar architectural excursions, which usually only show recent profile projects. The route included twelve sites, picked by the Jordanian partners and presented to the participants in a map. The day started at the large-scale model of Amman located in the information center of Amman City Hall, Ras Al Ein. Urban planner Rima Odeh gave a presentation on Amman and its population growth, the work of Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), and the latest master plan, initiated in 2007 as a response to a former mainly investor driven development. She highlighted GAM’s efforts in enhancing community participation and making Amman a green and pedestrian city at a human scale. During the following discussion the participants wondered about the legal status of the plan and the possibility to actually implement its aims.

After passing some industrial areas, the group reached the second stop of the bus tour, “Decent Housing for Decent Living” in Sahab. A royal initiative for social housing, these areas was described by the guides as “distant islands” that pushes the poorer segments of the society to the outskirts of the city far away from public transportation, social services and commercial activities. The next stop was Princess Basma Youth Resource Center (PBYRC), a center founded in 2002 that aims to promote the active role of youth in the society by encouraging their participation in the development process.

The next site was the Business Park, planned as a military camp but now a business park for computer technology. Here one of the managers of a gaming lab targeted towards young Jordanians held a presentation. Other stops were the Al Hussein Park, the biggest public park in Jordan, the Tabarbour Bus Station that opened in 2007 and accommodates all the transportation lines to the north of the country, Rainbow Street, one of Amman’s early commercial hubs that recently underwent an urban rehabilitation project, making it more pedestrian friendly with more public spaces, and the Zahran Corridor, on of the city’s most important streets.

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Furthermore, the participants got to see the Wadi Abdoun Bridge, a landmark and the only cable-stayed bridge in the country, Limitless, a luxury real-estate project put on hold, and the Al-Abdali project, a real-estate project promoted as “the new downtown” with skyscrapers and high-end offices and residential spaces in addition to retail, commercial and other tourist activities.

Discovery Challenge
The second full day, the participants took part in a “Discovery Challenge”, designed as the micro scale complementing the macro scale provided at the bus tour the day before. The participants were divided into groups of four, mostly with three non-Jordanians and one Jordanian. The aim was to introduce the participants to Amman in an unconventional way. Now the groups discovered Amman using public transportation and their feet through a series of clues and challenges. These tasks were set out to reflect the diversity of the city, the opportunities it contains and the challenges it is facing.

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During the day, the participants made their own traditional Jordanian lunch, interacted with locals, discovered old and new districts while mapping their services, and tried local arts and crafts, among other things. The last task of the Discovery Challenge was to make kites with the help neighborhood children at a small public space close to the citadel. When finished, participants and children went up to the top of the hill watching the kites flying by the panoramic view of Amman.

The workshop day
The participants gathered in a contemporary public space that was once the major electricity hangar in Amman. Transformed by Rami Daher and his team at Turath Architecture and Design Consultants, the hangar represents a new approach in reusing and preserving urban industrial heritage, a strategy that can be seen worldwide.

At first, Färgfabriken asked the participants to share their experiences and give feedback on the passed two days and suggest themes for the upcoming workshop. The different aspects that were brought up during this discussion were then grouped into five major themes: Transportation and Public Utilities; Public Space; Vision and Identity; Participation and Communication; Segregation and Socioeconomics. The five themes were then discussed at five different tables. At each table were one Jordanian and one non-Jordanian facilitator. The rest of the participants were divided into five groups that rotated during the first hour. When all groups had been at all tables and discussed all themes the groups went to the table where they started and continued working with that theme, now also having the input from all the other participants, in sketches, slogans, and notes gathered by the facilitators. This working method was a development of the original Färgfabriken method in which attendants are placed in different groups where they are mixed according to their professions and nationalities.

Workshop presentation
After the daylong workshop, the non-Jordanian facilitators presented the conclusions and proposals that was the result of the group work. The team focusing on Transportation and Public Utilities concluded that transportation in Amman is a main problem, especially the public transportation network, which they thought should be extended. The group described Amman as city unfriendly for pedestrians and suggested that some streets should be open only for pedestrians, and that others must get better sidewalks and in other ways adjusted with disabled people in mind.

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The participants that discussed Public Space saw a great lack of public spaces in Amman where even those sites designated to be used by the public were not utilized in the proper way. The team agreed on that the level of intervention should be done at the small scale. Instead of planning large parks there is a need for grassroots initiatives and public spaces at a human scale that make use of forgotten scars, holes and voids in the urban fabric. The work with creating more public spaces should start with small steps and mapping, the public spaces must be multi-use, which means that they can be utilized for different purposes different times during the day. Only when involving the residents living nearby the new public spaces the process of transformation will be sustainable.

The team members that focused on Vision and Identity stated that the identity of Amman is tightly linked to Jordan’s history of immigration and war. But even though there have also been times of stability and progress, there is no doubt that the diversity among the population has put its mark on the city. The connections between different cultural, religious and ethnic groups are fairly good, and the segregation that exists is rather at an economic scale, where the richer inhabitants live in West Amman and the poorer in the East – the older part of the city. The identity is already present: Amman is a multicultural and diverse city with a spectacular geography and meandering staircases. This must taken into account when forming the image of today and the vision for the future of Amman, the team concluded.

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The group that looked into Participation and Communication stressed that the urban development process in Amman is lacking dialogue and transparency. They underlined that the public must have access to public spaces in order to participate in society, but there is also a need to raise awareness through education regarding urban rights and ways to participate. As the public cannot go through with this whole process of transformation in their own, there is a need for engaged non-governmental organizations that can be discussion partners with the government and are strong enough to raise social demands.

The participants who discussed Segregation and Socioeconomics pointed out that these subjects are huge and important topics in Amman, spanning from the lack of green areas to the question to how spatial planning contributes to segregation in the city. The team started with changing the title to Cultural Integration and Socioeconomics, as integration and not segregation must be the aim for the future. Among the topics discussed was the present transit culture in Amman that origin from the vast immigration history. Besides cultural and ethnic segregation, the team identified segregation and divisions in society based on gender, age and disability, where young boys are forbidden to enter shopping malls and disabled people are stigmatized and therefore cannot be seen in the streets.

The group also discussed the gentrification of Rainbow Street. Under the slogan “Reclaim the Gentrification”, the participants stated that it is not bad to improve poor areas per se, but that it is crucial that the original inhabitants have the possibility to stay and are supported in doing so.

Conclusion
One may conclude that the NUT participants that met these days in Amman, all of various backgrounds and from different countries, had a strong desire for a common dialogue and were pleased to meet and exchange experience and knowledge. They also saw a need for greater dialogue between citizens and decision makers and for a greater transparency and room for grassroots action within processes of city planning and urban design.

The non-Jordanian participants stated that they found the Amman academics and officials very well aware of the challenges and problems their city faces. This highlights the need of talking about potentials and strategies, they concluded.

Many participants raised the question of extending, redesigning and creating new public spaces in the city in order to facilitate the interaction between the inhabitants of the city. In many of the presentations and discussions, dialogue and communication was also a great subject matter. The interaction with local Ammanians was highly appreciated by the non-Jordanian participants. Furthermore, the great presence by officials from the City of Amman and national government bodies showed that transparency within the planning process was not only words on a sheet of paper but that those people in power took the NUT message of dialogue seriously.

New Urban Topologies (NUT) is a project initiated by Färgfabriken – Center for Contemporary Art and Architecture, Stockholm Sweden. NUT is supported by The Swedish Institute, The Swedish Embassy in Amman and The Swedish Institute in Alexandria, Egypt. NUT Amman is realized in collaboration with The Royal Scientific Society, Hamzet Wazel Foundation, College of Architecture and Design - Jordan University of Science and Technology, Princess Basma Youth Resourse Center, Turach: Architecture and Urban Design Consultants, Swedish Embassy in Jordan and Turath.

Participants and contributors in Amman:

Jordan: Royal Scientific Society; Hamzet Wazel Foundation; Jordan University (JUST); Turath Architecture and Design Consultants; Allied Planning & Engineering Corporation; Princess Bossima Research Youth Center (PBYRC); The Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Greater Amman Municipality Committee; Greater Amman Municipality; Al Ghad Newspaper; Consolidated Consultants.

Sweden: Färgfabriken; The Swedish Embassy in Amman; The Swedish Institute in Stockholm; The Swedish Institute in Alexandria; The City Planning Office in Stockholm; The Office of Regional Planning Stockholm; The Royal Academy of Technology in Stockholm.

Egypt: Alexandria Governorate, Urban Planning Department; Gudran for Art and Development, Alexandria; Alexandria University, Faculty of Fine Arts.

Lebanon: The City of Beirut; Académie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA).

Belarus: Belarusian National Technical University Architecture department.

Macedonia: University St. Cyril and Methodius in Skopje, Faculty of Architecture.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: The City Planning Office in Mostar.


 

The text is an shortened, and partly re-written, version of the report "New Urban Topologies Amman" by Rebecka Gordan.