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Atlas of Jordan

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Myriam Ababsa

Chapter nine - City Planning, Local Governance and Urban Policies

Urban Policies Shaped by Economic Models

Myriam Ababsa

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1Jordan implemented its first land development policy and town plans in the early 1950s. Social housing policies were launched in 1965, during the welfare state era. During the 1970s, wide thoroughfares ran through the capital, linking it to Ruseifa and Zarqa. From the 1980s, with the financial and ideological backing of the World Bank, Jordan set out to reduce the informal settlements that had grown around UNRWA camps. Urban renewal policies were carried out with the genuine desire to involve residents. Amman’s 1985 master plan suggested that development corridors and three satellite towns be built to the east. However, it was not implemented because of the economic crisis that followed the period of structural adjustment imposed by the IMF (see Chapter 5).

2The resumption of parliamentary life (that was suspended between 1957 and 1989) coincided with the repatriation of 300,000 Jordanians of Palestinian origin who had been expelled from the Gulf in 1991. In Amman, they created the commercial district of Sweifieh beyond the Sixth Circle, and brought the first foreign supermarkets (Safeway and C Town). However, this period was also characterized by a slowdown in the provision of services in the poorest neighbourhoods. The gap widened between cities and small towns, as well as within towns, in terms of access to basic services. In 1997, the Social Productivity Program was combined with a policy of provision of services to the poorest neighbourhoods, which for the first time included the Palestinian camps run by UNRWA.

3Since 1999, the reign of King Abdullah II has been characterized by an economic opening up and major urban projects in Aqaba as well as in Amman, influenced by the Dubai model and its investments. In 2001, municipalities were restructured to reduce their deficits and renew their staff. Their number dropped from 328 to 99. In 2008, the Greater Amman Master Plan strove to check urban sprawl while setting development corridors aside for investors. In particular, a bold and long awaited public transport project was finally put in place.

4The Arab Spring put a brutal end to this liberalization. The issue of control of municipal finance and land led to the collapse of the municipal plan. In the autumn of 2011, more than one hundred municipalities were created under pressure from tribal factions not represented in previous councils. Urban change gathered speed with privatizations and the opening up of the economy to foreign investors, which began with the accession of King Abdullah II in 1999. New neoliberal urban forms emerged: office tower blocks, gated communities and huge shopping centres. These urban forms developed in Amman and Aqaba at the same time, following the model of Dubai with its investment companies. Building started for the new Abdali downtown in 2004 and in 2006 two towers were built on public land near the Sixth Circle. The resulting scandal that ensued forced the King to appoint a new mayor, the industrialist Omar Maani, whose task was to provide a sound master plan for the capital. His plan was presented in May 2008, and aimed to channel major projects along the development corridor and to reduce transport problems by creating a network with dedicated bus lanes. Yet the plan ignores the poorest districts in the centre and to the east of the city, where the population is growing and becoming ever poorer. The Arab Spring put an end to the public transport project with dedicated bus lanes.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2013

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