Dancing to Amman's new rhythm


Ahmad Y. Majdoubeh


Has Amman changed? Is Amman changing? Yes.


All cities in the world change. Political, economic, social, demographic and other factors affect size (with respect to both area and population), rhythm and culture of cities. We live in a fast-changing world, and expansion and diversification are quite natural.


Amman, however, is changing at a faster pace than most cities. It is expanding physically in all directions, encompassing suburbs outside its suburbs. Its population, due to natural and abrupt causes, is fast increasing. But it is also becoming the hub of all kinds of regional and international activities: political, economic, technological.


Look at traffic. Aside from the few morning hours on Fridays, and the late night hours, its roads are  –  despite the large number of tunnels, overpasses, bridges, new avenues and streets  –  extremely busy. Look at people's activities: primarily shopping, dining out and visits. Their momentum has also increased immensely.


Look also at the number of students (from the country, the region and abroad) who come to study at its schools and universities, the number of patients who come for medical treatment, the number of people who come to conduct business, the number of tourists. There are big increases at all these levels.


The story of Amman, in fact, is a story of big cities, changes and expansions  –  from the start. The other day, I was rereading Abdul Rahman Munif's masterpiece about Amman, `A Tale of City'. It is an autobiographical novel describing the early days of Amman: primarily the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, when the farthest point was the First Circle in Jabal Amman. Where is Amman's farthest point now? I think it is impossible to tell.


The point here is that in each decade of the past century, Amman went through a big shift and a big change. Amman of the 1980s was very different from that of the 1970s, and that of the 1990s was very different from that of a decade earlier. Amman today is very different from that of even two years ago.


Where is it heading? Where will this city with no borders stop? We started with Amman, and for some time now we have been talking about `greater' Amman. Many people would view this expansion positively, despite the discomforts. Amman, from the start, has been a home to those who lost their homes (like Circassians, Palestinians, Armenians, and others). Additionally, due to its attractive political, economic, educational and social environment, it has attracted all types of individuals and groups who have found a haven in it. Furthermore, Amman's variety and diversity, this ever changing, ever expanding rhythm, have made it a very special city  –  in addition to its physical location, its hotels, restaurants, markets, ancient ruins.


For its inhabitants, however, and this is the point I wish to stress here, the shifts and changes that the city witnesses need to be complemented by shifts and changes in people's way of dealing with life in the city on a daily basis.


My theory (hypothesis if you like) has been that most of us who have come to Amman from the countryside or the badia (a majority of Amman's inhabitants) have not prepared ourselves (mentally, psychologically, as well as with respect to training and know-how) for living in an urban centre. For year, maybe even until now, we have treated Amman as an extension to the countryside or the badia. Such false assumption has had its grave consequences, in addition to the discomfort, the chaos, the bad planning, etc.


This is one level of the problem. Another has to do with the fact that we have not taken the shifts and changes over the decades into account. We have been living in Amman decade after decade in the same way, as if the city's rhythm were constant or static when, in fact, it has been dramatically changing. This has created a gap, a rift between our ways and that of the city. As a result, our relation with it has not been one of harmony or complementarity, but of difference, tension and some alienation.


Amman is a real cosmopolitan city. It is also a great city, which has its charms and challenges. We need to catch up with it, and dance to its tune and rhythm, so that life in it will be both less discomforting and more enjoyable.


Source: “Jordan Times”

Friday-Saturday, April 1-2, 2005