HUMANITY CAN WAIT
Words: Mohamad Khawajah
To understand Amman, we need to first define what a city is; a city is the physical manifestation of the various political, economic, and social forces at play in society. How does that translate in the reality of Amman?
- Citizens crawl from all over the politically centralized kingdom towards the capital.
- Inflation driven by the central bank’s policies reduces the ability of citizens to save and invest resulting in our dependence on large neo-liberal investments for driving growth. This manifests itself as increasing inequality and the building of a wall of economic apartheid; the wealthier you are, the better your ability to access funds and finance your ideas, and this is how the rich get richer while the poor get stuck in misery.
- The city has largely disenfranchised the average citizen who does not feel that his ownership is extended beyond the boundaries of his/her own home, this is a dangerous feeling that led to the negligence of public spaces (the street in front of my house is not mine, therefore I do not care for it).
Attempts to emphasize one of the forces that form the city so as to counteract other destructive forces in society can result in sustainable growth, this is a sensitive science that requires carefully crafted parameters by which it is governed.
For years we have been transforming and expanding our city, Amman, in order to accommodate the personal automobile, a dangerous accommodation that required us to neglect our social and economic needs in order to make for the politically easy choice.
Today we come to the realisation that we are not swishing around in our cars anymore, and that we are instead stuck in enormous traffic. In the aftermath of Taj Mall’s construction; our city now has a prime example of how to render a perfectly functioning highway jammed with traffic. Fortunately for my case; Amman has no shortage of such examples: Dakheleyya circle, 7th circle, and Wadi Saqra are the first to come to mind.
Creating more lanes and building more tunnels to accommodate more cars seems a very counter-intuitive approach, because it is not the number of cars that creates all this traffic, but rather it is the number of trips each one takes. This overt dependence on private vehicles and the consequent expansion of the city toward the periphery has led to a severe disconnect in the relationship between the physical environment and the social fabric it contains (my 3rd point in explaining the reality of Amman).
As Enrique Penalosa (previous mayor of Bogota, Columbia) put it, “the best way to restrict car use is to restrict parking spaces”. Funding for walking and cycling paths in Bogota takes priority over the paving of streets and roads.
We need to reset Amman’s priorities; buses, trams, metros, railways, and most importantly, sidewalks; these are some of the most powerful symbols of democracy. Years of neglect coupled with the lack of coordination contributed to the current stigma of buses as being only for the poor. To reverse this effect, we need to change the status of the bus itself. Today, with rising fuel costs, the push for change is more urgent than ever before.