Searching For Room To Breathe In Jordan

Zaina, a colleague of mine at Jordan Business, wrote an interesting opinion piece in this month’s issue entitled “Breathing Spaces”. She pointed out the lack of public spaces in Amman is a troubling dilemma now more than ever, with the rapid urbanization of the city. So she proposed that instead of taxing owners of empty urban land plots, GAM should instead offer tax incentives to these owners in return for allowing the land to be developed into public parks and/or recreation centers.

It’s actually an interesting suggestion.

When it comes to public spaces, I think they can be the heart of private-public partnership and cooperation. There are many similar proposals and plans that could be played with to generate interesting outcomes with huge social benefits. About two years ago I had a discussion with friends that centered on the same topic, where I suggested something I see often in North America: corporate sponsored parks. Companies will often purchase plots of land and develop them into parks, but usually large recreation centers since public parks are easy to come by in countries such as Canada. Foundations will often raise a lot of funds to build recreation centers and parks as well. Often times they will be named after the person or the company. Upkeep is generally minimal and it’s free advertising.

I think such ideas could and should be implemented on a broad scale, across Jordan and not just in Amman. Although, like Zaina, I see the urgency in their demand when it comes to a rapidly condensing city like Amman, where half the country lives.

As for the seemingly sluggish development that is the status quo, I think one of two things: either GAM is concentrating too much on developing public parks in West Amman or is simply finding it difficult to develop such areas in the Eastern districts where buildings and homes are tightly packed. Whatever the case, it is those areas that need them more than anywhere else.

To add to the benefits that Zaina pointed out in her piece, public parks and recreation centers have the ability to create a new and active culture quite easily. Especially for the younger generations; especially considering more than half the country is considered young. A lot of these kids need places to go and things to do.

And we could all do with a little bit more room to breathe.


  • Did you ever try going to Hussein Parks on Thursday night in the summer?
    It takes an hour of being stuck in trafic within the park to get out of the place after you make the mistake of entering there at the first place.
    On the other hand, think of how most houses in Amman, regrdless of their sizes, have their own retreat. A little garden,a big back yard, or even a balconey. People has substitude their needs for public parks.No?

  • I love the idea of incentives for developing unused land into public spaces. I’ve been griping about the lack of public spaces since I moved here. And like Dana mentioned, King Hussein Park just isn’t sufficient.

  • Incentives are good, but there is also the issue of who has effective ownership of the property. Imagine this scenario: A family in urban Amman has some extra land that they don’t want to build on at a particular point in time. In exchange for allowing the Amaneh to build a children’s park on the available land, the family pays 5% less of their annual household income in taxes. But Amman’s population continues to grow and property values continue to climb. The family is approached multiple times about selling their land to build houses. The offers from prospective buyers far exceed the tax rebate the family is getting in exchange for housing the playground on their land, and the prices of basic commodities are rising. After appealing to the government for greater benefits and being refused, the family decides to sell. What happens to the playground then?

    This seems like a likely scenario, and the only solution would be to sign a contract that gives the government occupancy rights for a defined period of time. But if this happens, and families start wanting to sell, there would be a lot of pressure on the government to void the contracts– especially if these families claim that they are suffering economic hardship and they need the land revenues.

  • I think Al-Hussien Park is jammed due to the fact that no other parks are there. After having some more of that size, and many other from smaller sizes that fit between residential blocks, Traffic will be controlled and more efficient designs will be introduced. Just like the Malls in Amman, Mecca Mall 3 years ago was a 1 hour tour minimum to get a specific thing.

    If Gam and Ministry of Environment, Agriculture, Water, Social Affairs have on their agendas to greenrise the country, transform mentalities more towards environmental thinking and environmental joy, big numbers + smart ideas are needed.

    1.Clear some blocks in condensed areas like Zarqa, Eastern Amman, Irbid, and Refugee camps for a green block to be a park and a recreational center.
    2.Develop Public transportation: Respectful Driving, Stations, Clean Buses, On Time Schedule, Clear City Maps and many people will drop the car idea. I would love to take the public transportation given a good quality service, why need a car in the first place but for an occasional drive?
    3.Deserted lands within urban development should just be planted without contracts or anything, if the owner wants to build the trees get transformed somewhere else.

  • I wonder if there are any afforestation campaigns running in Jordan nowadays.
    If the ministries of agriculture, environment, education and the army co-operate we could easily have every school/university student and every member of the army plant 1 tree a year on arbor day, that would mean millions of trees in 10 years for minimal effort (actually more like a nice day out).

  • Dana: your right, the hussein gardens are an obvious testament of the urgent need, especially since a lot of the visitors are not west ammanis and actually have to do some travelling across town to get there! as for backyards. they are never enough. i mean we really dont have many and even if we did, public parks and recreation centers are really communal and have a lot more advantages than the solitude of a small garden right next to where you usually park your car.

    AMP: i think the answer to your solution was mentioned by zeina in her piece. she argued that the cost of removing a few playground utlities is less of a big deal than having nothing there for years. it might not be ideal however i think the principle or the general concept is what’s important. we can play around with the details to get a genuine solution. in other words, imagine a scenario where a large corporation like say, aramex, decide to buy the land and develop it as part of their social responsibility program – also known as free advertising – where upon the government offers them a tax-free incentive under the condition they turn it into a public space. there’s room to play with these ideas is my point.

    Awartany: thanks for the update! 😀

    Ahmad: all good and valid ideas! 😉

    Onzlo: they have these sort of campaigns every year under various banners. they should be big scale like you suggested. the problem is not so much in the planting but the sustaining. i remember 2 years ago visiting an area that i myself helped plant trees in when i was in high school and couldn’t find a single tree that survived. no water, no upkeep. so its not just a matter of planting, its a matter of putting one’s hands in the dirt to get them dirty for the long term and that may require a reasonable degree of PPP.

Your Two Piasters: