Called in last minute to attend a press conference at the amaneh (city hall), I was surprised to discover the Greater Amman Municipality had won the World Leadership award in the Town Planning category. Apparently, Amman is also Asia-Pacific city of the year. And while the city I love won, in a bit of surprising irony, one of the two other shortlisted cities that lost was the city I grew up in as a kid: Brampton. The contrast of both these cities is abundant, to say the least. But the local Toronto press seems to be up in arms about all the money Brampton spent on so-called “schmoozing”. What’s that all about? Oh right, accountability. That awful thing.
Anyways, the conference entailed the usual tediousness, with journalists asking a hundred questions but as usual, none of them the right ones, or in other words, none of them the type that would have security escort you out the building. So I spent the time in between listening to Mayor Maani’s Q&A with the press, and text-messaging everyone I have recently neglected to respond to out of forgetfulness.
As I was leaving I caught up with Lina who was also in attendance. She was telling me about how there seem to be so many plans, exciting ones for that matter, and that we won an award for planning but not implementation. This conversation reminded me of something I’ve been thinking about for some time now.
In these past few years there has been an emphasis by the state on planning. It’s actually great. We all love plans. We all love the fact that perhaps, just perhaps, the state is learning the fine art of planning for the future; of vision and leadership, and that’s not a bad start compared to the culture of a decade ago.
Planning, vision, leadership. These are all great terms. Indeed, there is a love for plans, agendas and lengthy documents with pretty pictures and that’s all good.
Yet, few plans are realised, few visions are fulfilled and as for leadership, well it seems to be short lived.
From Ministers to various government officials, there is a general understanding that if you want to leave a mark, or in other words, if you want to hang around longer than a one year term, then you’ve got to have a game plan. Some thing nice and lengthy with your name on it. Preferably with a power point presentation.
After a few months, or maybe just a little over a year, that plan gets shelved and the next guy comes in and starts writing up his/her own little document with their name on it.
That’s my general perception about these plans.
Now, as for the Amman Master Plan and this award in particular.
First of all, congratulations to Maani and the GAM; as far as planning, they’ve done a whole lot of it. Second of all (there’s always one, right?), the Master Plan is undeniably ambitious but has massive shortfalls. People seem to forget that Amman is the most expensive city in the Arab world compared to real income. The division between East and West Amman is a river that runs very, very deep. Necessary infrastructure is often absent, and none currently exists that could ever hope to sustain modern high rise structures allocated in the plan. Traffic remains chaotic despite massive (and appreciated) efforts to remedy the situation, and that is due to various reasons, including the total absence of organized and functioning public transportation.
And this list, this second-of-all, goes on and on and on.
The general public tends to be shut out of all the planning. Sure, there are various sessions for the public to voice their opinions, and that has been especially true of the GAM (to their credit), but nevertheless, to what extent the average Jordanian’s voice can actually affect public policy is debatable.
And so we depend on people in positions of power to do the planning and make the decisions they feel are right for us. That’s politics.
The most I, or anyone can do, is pray.
Pray that plans have taken in to consideration the essentials. Pray that the plans won’t end up widening the demographic rift. Pray that a leadership award entails, you know, actual leadership.
Pray for fulfillment.