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Amman: An Organized City with a Soul
Facing "Dubaification" a few years back, officials and planners in Amman decided to take the city in a different direction, protecting its historic vistas while boosting residents' sense of community. Image via Roobee.

Facing "Dubaification" a few years back, officials and planners in Amman, Jordan, decided to take the city in a different direction, protecting its historic vistas while boosting residents' sense of community. Image via Roobee.

“A livable city is an organized city with a soul.”

That’s the principle behind Amman, Jordan’s, “Amman 2025” master plan (PDF). And the city is moving closer and closer to achieving its vision of livability, in spite of the odds.

Four years ago, Omar Maani was appointed as mayor of the city, and was frightened by the “Dubaification” facing his city, as The New York Times reported in February.  When Mr. Maani took office, there were plans for 16 glass and steel towers — up to 80 stories tall — along one of the city’s main roads. The towers, if completed, would have blocked the city’s historic vistas, strained infrastructure, and perhaps worst of all, created “islands of privilege for the very rich.”

Concerned about the direction of Amman’s development, Mr. Maani worked with the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) on the city’s master plan,  Amman 2025, which was released in 2006. The plan won the 2007 Town Planning Leadership Award, and its success spurred GAM’s creation of the Amman Institute for Urban Development (Ai). The Institute gathers architects, urban planners, designers and social scientists who work to restore  — not reinvent — the ancient city, which dates back to 8500 B.C.

Meanwhile, their website is anything but antiquated. It features links to projects related to Smart Growth, Walking, Zoning, and SLUMLab, with information about their efforts in these areas. And you can interact with the organization on social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Flickr.

SIDEWALKS FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

One of the first major restoration projects involved miles of new and improved sidewalks  — with benches. Rami F. Daher, one of the architects who planned the new sidewalks and benches, commented on the mission of the project, saying, “Most important of all is social diversity and justice.”

New sidewalks and benches are discouraging “islands of privilege,” fostering interaction among different socioeconomic classes in areas that were becoming exclusively upper-class.  They are also breaking down gender barriers in the predominantly Muslim city. Women who say it would be culturally unacceptable for them to hang out on the street or sidewalk say that now, with the new pedestrian plazas and sidewalk benches, it’s normal for them to spend time on the street.

In the meantime, the planners from Ai see their projects as a means of empowering citizens who too often feel ignored by the government.  They give local residents surveys about projects, and Gerry Post, the Canadian founder and president of Ai, trained the team to hold community meetings.  In this city, where many residents from other parts of Jordan congregate and make their homes, Ai projects are developing a new sense of community and citizenship.

BUILDING A PUBLIC TRANSIT CULTURE

Construction has officially begun on the city’s new bus rapid transit (BRT) system.  The system will eventually run along three lines within the city: Mahatta to Sweileh (15 kilometers); Muhajireen to Sports City (7 kilometers); and Mahatta to Customs Square (nearly 8 kilometers). High-capacity buses will carry 120 passengers each, stopping every three minutes.  Soon,  Amman will join Tehran and Istanbul in the elite group of Middle Eastern cities with BRT systems.

At a ceremony celebrating the start of construction, Mr. Maani said, “Citizens will feel this progress in all aspects of public transportation,” noting that the BRT will discourage car use, helping to create a new culture of public transit, which will also lend itself to improved sidewalks and public spaces.

Watch the city’s video on its new BRT:

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