This is part three of a report of my recent Amman-trip.
After having explored the area north of downtown with the Abdali construction site, I´m going to talk a bit about the east this time. The post is about the relocation of a major bus station and the Royal Palaces.
Bus near Al Mahatta Station
As discussed in the post on Abdali, recent urban development in Amman is symptomatic for the replacement of grown patterns of urbanity with seemingly ‘modern’ structures, displacing poorer sections of society and pushing them towards the cities´ fringes. In the case of Amman this phenomenon is visible through waves of urban redevelopment, coming in from the west. Pressure on the downtown area to ‘modernise’ increases and pushes socio-economically weak populations further east (Parker 2009, p 113). Along with this edging out of poor people in terms of housing comes a restructuring of public transportation. The majority of mobility in Amman is based on private cars and taxis, while only around 30% of the city´s population (Potter 2009, p 89) uses public transportation. This might equally be a problem of supply and demand, as public transportation is of extremely poor quality and quantity, but also not regarded as important among the population. People who do use public transportation and are dependent on it are again the poorer parts of the population stratum. So hand in hand with this ‘modernisation’ of parts of the city goes an ‘automobilisation’, and while the downtown area has been pedestrian friendly compared to the rest of the city, walking or even cycling in the city is not only an alien activity, but can be hazardous. Additionally, downtown – along King Talal and Al Hashimi streets, from the Hussein Mosque to the Roman Theatre and up to the Citadel – is increasingly becoming a zone dedicated to tourism. The local population is disappointed as the municipality prioritises and markets the development of the area as a tourist spot, neglecting the needs of the residents (Khirfan & Momani 2013, p 57). Especially the area around the Roman Theatre and a stripe of land towards the east has been redeveloped in a way that does not support local businesses or residents but makes it a sterile, lifeless space, aiming at attracting tourists.
Poster Hashemite Plaza Project (click to enlarge)
The Roman Theatre
The Hashemite Plaza – New Raghadan bus station & mall on the left
In the case of Abdali, which is supposed to represent a new downtown soon, the former transportation hub there has been relocated to the Tarabour area, far to the northeast. The former Raghadan bus station, the second major central hub near the downtown area, has been relocated from the centre some kilometres to the east to Mahatta. While this was officially planned as temporary, there are no intentions and signs of bringing the bus station back, despite the construction of the new structure, built with Japanese money (see photos below). Representing the eastern end of the old city centre, the Hashemite Plaza Project, of which Raghadan Bus Terminal was part, started in the mid 2000s. It was supposed to modernise the area, including a new bus station. Local business owners first lost customers because of the construction works. Then they refused to move into the mall-like new buildings, as it would have meant to open their businesses in upper floors, detached from urban street live (Jordan Times, 10.05.2012). And finally they lost costumers due to the disappearance of the bus station, which automatically populated the area. Hence, whereas the bus station was part of the development plan and has actually been built, the municipality eventually decided to use the facilities for gaining revenues (Shawash, 2010, p 156). Another not expressed reason might be that the municipality does not want the people who usually use public busses as their main mode of transportation (i.e. poor people) in the area. At the moment, the to-be, but never materialised bus station is deserted with no shops or businesses in the buildings. The area where people were supposed to enter or dismount the busses is used as a parking space for cars. City-wide, the development of social housing in, and relocation of public transportation hubs towards the periphery is noticeable on a grand scale (Daher 2013, p 109). Thus, as Potter et al. (2009, p 89) claim, “transport in the city is as socially polarised as the structure of the city itself”, and the current urban development appears to rather increase this polarisation.
New Raghadan bus station – used as parking
Empty spaces and shopping arcade at new Raghadan compound
The bus terminal in Mahatta, where Raghadan Bus Station has been relocated, pours on the charm of an asphalt desert. Attached to it there is an informal market with makeshift stalls and street vendors. It is located at the bottom of the wadi, surrounded by heavy traffic roads on both sides and in a poor neighbourhood. Crossing the motorway-like artery that leads to Zarqa in the east, one reaches the neighbourhood of Mahatta, in Al-Hashimi a-Shamali. Particularly the settlement which gave its name to the bus terminal features dilapidated houses and run-down infrastructure (see photos below).
Mahatta station market
Heavy traffic road separates Mahatta station from residential areas
Al Mahatta neighbourhood
Al Mahatta neighbourhood
Circling around a small Jabal (hill) back towards the centre, the huge area of the Raghadan Palaces appears. The walled off, high security compound has been home to the Royal Family since the early days of the Kingdom, and also hosts military facilities, as I later realised. The concluding part is a story about an incident that happened while walking back to the city centre from Mahatta, coming along the Royal Palaces.
The Raghadan palaces compound
The Raghadan palaces compound
Stralling back to the city centre, I decided to take a detour and walk alongside the Royal Palaces outer walls. That I was still taking photos, on some of which were parts of the Palaces´ wall should become a rather severe problem. You have to imagine this wall as a concrete structure varying from about five to eight meters height. Like in a film, all of a sudden a car stopped abruptly with squealing tyres right next to me. Seconds later, I found myself in this (military) car that brought me to the military compound within the Palaces. In the compound I was interrogated for about two hours, and finally brought to the headquarters of the secret service on the other end of the city. While I was constantly assured things are going to be all right, and I will soon be allowed to leave, the whole procedure took more than six hours. Apart from enjoying great Arabic coffee and the one or the other cigarette – in many Arab countries it is almost an obligation to smoke, at least as a man -, I had intriguing discussions about religion, moral, money, and life in “the West” with several officers. Hence, while this experience was certainly annoying and even threatening at some points, I learned a lot about my topic of urban borders. Furthermore, I had great conversations about everything and anything, giving me invaluable insights to the thinking and feeling of some Ammanis.
This story, however, also reminded me of the inflated bureaucracy, I experienced earlier in Jordan. Like in Robert Musil´s “Man without qualities” („Mann ohne Eigenschaften“ in German), which most intriguingly tells the story of the dying Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, people seem to be detached from individual thinking and only doing what the rules say. Since such a bureaucracy goes hand in hand with lots of paper-work – the more the better seems to be the motto – a physical letter from UCL saved me, as all the electronic proof of my studies were not satisfactory to the officers behind huge, dark, solid wooden desks with golden name plates.
Later I learned that the king and his family do not live in the Raghadan Palaces any more; he moved to the posh neighbourhoods of west Amman after he took power. This is not only ironical, as I thought my presence was considered a threat to the Royal family, but also because obviously even the king and his family followed the trend to move to the west as far away from the poor central and eastern areas. There can hardly be more contrast then between the cool (in terms of climate) and green quarters in West-Amman and the derelict quarters around Mahatta.
Daher, R. F. (2013). “NEOLIBERAL URBAN TRANSFORMATIONS IN THE ARAB CITY” Environment Urbain – Urban Environment 7: 99-115.
Jordan Times (10.05.2012). “For shopkeepers, Raghadan terminal relocation has lasting repercussions”
http://jordantimes.com/for-shopkeepers-raghadan-terminal-relocation-has-lasting-repercussions; as of September 17, 2013
Khirfan, L. M., Bessma (2013). “(Re)branding Amman: A `lived´ city´s values, image and identity.” Place Branding and Public Diplomacy 9(1): 49–65.
Parker, C. (2009). “Tunnel-bypasses and minarets of capitalism: Amman as neoliberal assemblage.” Political Geography 28(2): 110-120.
Potter, R. B., K. Darmame, et al. (2009). “”Ever-growing Amman”, Jordan: Urban expansion, social polarisation and contemporary urban planning issues.” Habitat International 33(1): 81-92.
© All rights reserved: Sigi Atteneder, 2013