Build Together Or Fall Together

Lately a debate has been brewing in my post entitled Photos Of A Futuristic Amman, which contains the Amman master plan to be implemented in the years to come. Some people love what they see, some people hate it, some people are under the impression it’s the Jordanian government that’s going to do all the building and some people are concerned about one of the photos futuristic depiction of a “bus lane” and the extraordinary ramifications that will have on the average Jordanian psyche. Can we really handle a bus lane?

The bulk of the debate however centers on modernism and progress.

Building a city, or at least the evolution of a city, is never going to have everyone in agreement. Some prefer a very traditionalist look, some prefer the glass and cold steel of tall sky scrapers that paint the skies of cities like New York, Toronto and Dubai. Like it or not, the latter is the look that screams post-modernism in this world we now live in. Lets face it, no one is ever going to build another leaning tower or a pyramid (that isn’t a casino) or something that will leave a mark centuries from now. The ancient world was about survival and conquest, our world is about industry. This is the human race’s sign of progress in the post-Babylonian world. So suffice to say this isn’t something that’s going to get a complete consensus, which is exactly why governments haven’t asked for a show of hands since ancient Greece.

In the original post I never got to give my actual opinion on the master plan.

I would like to see a city that is a blend of the new and the old. Of the “modern” and the traditional; the ancient. And I think this is what the master plan aims to do. It doesn’t want skyscrapers popping up all across the city, lapping over the aesthetic integrity of ancient Amman. Instead the city has decided to designate specific areas for such buildings, which I not only think is a good idea but an essential one as well. The alternative is to allow the rampant and random construction of towers all across the city with utter disregard for its identity.

But look past the buildings, look past the stone for just a moment. Let me tell you what’s on my mind based on the reactions of the initial comments…

Amman is growing at an alarming rate. It’s not merely Iraqis or people from the gulf, although they too require a place to stay. It’s not merely citizens and growth patterns but industry as well is moving into the city and expanding its borders.

This isn’t about aesthetic integrity this is about trying to give order to chaos. Trying to balance out a city that is growing.

Now I agree with much of what’s been said…

Progress should not be limited to skyscrapers but come in the shape of education and infrastructure. Alleviating poverty and reducing crime including corruption. These are all key components of a people that is progressing of a society that is modern. A nation that has become “civil” and thus able to make use of the “bus lane” properly.

But I fail to see how the Amman master plan is going to end all that.

First of all, governments do not operate on one track minds. They don’t put everything on hold until one single issue is dealt with. Otherwise the country would cease to function within a matter of days. A lot of people seem to think that this is what happens. More importantly a lot of people will look at this master plan and automatically assume this is the Jordanian government’s number one priority. It’s a very strange and absurd conclusion to draw.

Moreover, even with education, infrastructure, reduced poverty, unemployment and corruption, you still have an industry on hold, waiting to be facilitated to, to be catered to. And that too is essential. Ensuring that industry is continuous and is ongoing enables a society to grow. It opens up new potential for work, enhancing infrastructure and even reduces corruption as the public sector fades further into the background of the economic mechanism.

People seem to think that civility can only be taught in schools. In the past two centuries the greatest impact on a society has come directly from industry and the modernization it brings with it. And whether you’re building a city or a road or a company, don’t think about 5 or 10 years from now. You have to look past that. You have to look at where one thing will lead to another. How one possibility will open to door to another. Facilitating those possibilities is key to progress in my opinion.

As for the cynics…

It’s strange. Jordan does have that way of breeding a generation of people who will always see the country as failing them, with the glass half full. I find it strange because over a decade ago such a plan wasn’t even on the table of possibilities for Jordan. A decade ago we had just gotten a McDonalds and everyone thought that that was a sign of progress.

The truth is I have no comforting words to the cynics. They tend to remain that way. If such plans were never unveiled they would most likely complain that Jordan doesn’t have any industrious buildings or geographical sectors. And of course some how a way would be found to blame the government for all of that.

This tends to come from a relationship that’s been formed over the years where people feel the government has failed them. Maybe it has but then again haven’t we failed government? Or more importantly haven’t we failed ourselves?

Put aside reform and legislation and the endless amount of public policy that the average Jordanian does not care about let alone even know about.

How engaged are the people in their own development?

If you are a Jordanian and you are reading this right now think about it this way: have you ever considered joining injaz to help teach in a public school? Or lend a charitable organization your time, energy and expertise to raise money for the poor; for schools? Or some of the many many things the privlaged in this country can do for their country.

Most Jordanians don’t think this way at all. Emphasis on most. And emphasis on the privlaged because their numbers are more than people think and they are the ones that tend to move their country. Ironically, in Jordan these tend to be the people who complain the most.

What I’m getting at is this: both the government and the people have to work hand in hand to build a nation. One cannot be entirely reliant on the other. We cannot, as a people, reduce our policy to “what have you done for me lately?”.

If you feel a change needs to happen, start with yourself. Start with your inner circle and expand it. Get enough people to do the same and you’ve already got a social evolution on your hands.

If you feel a change needs to happen, participate in the process. This isn’t a communist country. There are infinite ways to make your environment better and to benefit your people directly.

If you feel a change needs to happen, be part of the change you wish to see in the world. Quoting Ghandi was unavoidable in such a post.

Government and its people do not have to be two exclusive entities when it comes to nation building.

We can either build together or fall together.

Never underestimate what a small group of dedicated people are capable of when it comes to changing their world.

Because historically, that’s the only thing that ever has.


  • I may as well be one of the first to post – it’s a topic that consumed much my time over the last few days!

    I am, in the words of the blog author, one of the “cynics”. On the other post, I was also accused of being “anti-development”.

    It’s shame that the debate has been polarised between “for skyscrapers” and “against modernity”. It does a disservice to the nature of our complaints.

    A question I asked was “why is Westernisation the only progress our minds can grasp”? I’m all for functioning, well-serviced cities that are both practical, business-friendly environments and pleasing places to live. In my opinion, that requires pedestrianised areas, parks, sidewalks that people can use, streets of shops and businesses than harness community activity, clean and efficient public transport – but also architecture that enhances the city and is in keeping with a country’s location and heritage.

    Places like Dubai and Kuwait fail on almost all of the above… they are impersonal, cold islands of mere consumerism, where destinations are accessed by car only, where walking is an alien concept, where neighbourhoods are delineated by fenced-off affluence. Society is something to be feared, not embraced or included….

    Amman’s development can be so much better than a series of skyscrapers… we can start with making Sweifieh work. We can promote initiatives to develop a street culture on Jebel Amman of shops, market stalls, usable sidewalks, cafes, etc. Businesses would be a part of the community, not isolated in cubic units on the airport road…

    Basically, there can be a rejuvenation of the Amman that currently exists, street by street, with simple measures like unifying shop signs, cleaning buildings, floral displays and trees, pedestrianised areas, using building materials from the region – Rammallah stone as used in the villas of Weibdeh and Jebel Amman…

    Unfortunatelty, the “planners” have failed on so many levels right across Amman in the last 15 years, so we’re simply saying that would should abandon the areas we don’t like and start again on open land…

    Why destroy more open areas to build new parts of a city when there’s so much work to be done on the city we currently have???

    In partnership with education and skills, maybe we can start creating an inclusive society here, not simply wealth-based, elitist bubbles…

  • Well masha’allah! Nas, you sound like me! Or do I sound like you?

    This is what you meant by doing your part, and you did a great job!

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