Civility Amidst Diversity in Amman?

by Rebecka Gordan

To the newcomer, Amman seems like the tranquil eye of a cyclone. In this hilly city of 2.8 million people, the king and his family smile gently from portraits on the walls. Amman has a long history of immigration, including recent Iraqi and Syrian refugees and a large Palestinian community. Its population is expected to double in the next 10 years. How do city planners address the challenges of the city's rapid growth?

In a presentation last Wednesday by Amman's planning department, I learned that one of the pillars of the new master plan involves fostering an inclusive multicultural city under the slogan, "A livable city is an organized city with a soul.” People I encountered in streets and markets also linked a certain harmonious diversity with the soul of their city. When I asked what they like most about Amman, "the friendly people" was the most common answer I received.

Friendly, but content? In comparison with recent visits to Egypt and Belarus – where frustration was a tangible presence – any unrest in Amman was hidden from my eyes and ears. If a movement for change emerges, one hopes that civility among Amman's diverse residents will remain an asset.

Credits: Photos by Rebecka Gordan.

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  1. There have been large protests in Jordan since December 2010 demanding structural political changes. In this context, an "organized" city has often meant the central government actively repressing movements for social and democratic change, often pointedly blockading Palestinian neighborhoods and cutting apart the urban fabric to prevent society's diverse segments from working together for change and alienating communities from eachother spatially.

    More broadly, Amman's planning department has done a terrible job integrating these communities, partially because it itself is a tool of a regime which has little interest in doing so and relies on a small sector of the population (indigenous Jordanian tribes) for its support (and not democracy)...

    Some more info on Jordan's protest movement:

  2. Reza, thanks so much for your insightful comment. Even though I spent ten days in Amman talking to a lot of people, from taxi drivers to urban planners, I never got to hear what you are writing now, even though I asked many times. I suppose getting the true and honest answers means you have to stay longer and gain people's trust. To us, the visitors at the planning department, "organized" seemed to be put there as the opposite of traffic chaos. But as you write, "organizing" a city can also imply something else. Is this the reason for the lack of public spaces and pedestrian paths? As I am writing a story on this issue next week, it would be great including your views. Send me an email if you'd like: Thanks!