Saturday, July 23, 2011

Developing Abdali

In his book Dubai: Behind an Urban Spectacle, Yasser Elshatawy mentions a development plan for the Jordanian city of Amman:
"In Amman, the real estate industry is expanding significantly due to an influx of Iraqis as well as developments across a range of industries. Leading this growth is Mawared, a state owned development and investment company. One of their key projects is Abdali carried out in partnership with the Hariri family and the Kuwaiti investment group Kipco. Abdali will eventually become a fully functioning city centre for Amman. The project is viewed as an anchor that will attract global business to Jordan...

"Rami Daher, an architectural scholar and practitioner in Amman, observes that the Abdali project is part of a wider phenomenon in Amman, which includes a proliferation of malls and gated communities in addition to luxurious towers which represent a form of 'living above the city.' He notes that these transformations are part of what he calls neoliberal urban restructuring - a privatization of public space. Al-Abdali, for example, is modelled after Solidere in Beirut. He writes that both in its orientation and design it is turning their backs to Amman's original downtown. Mawared in collaboration with Saudi Oger (the developer responsible for Solidere) formed a partnership, the Abdali Investment Company, but according to Daher, 'the state is not absent but heavily involved.' The project has led to the displacement of a major transportation terminal, as well as the removal of informal vendors."

Solidere is the name for downtown Beirut, which was developed by the assassinated Rafiq Hariri after Lebanon's civil war. The Hariri family mentioned above is the same, and is also involved in urban development in Saudi Arabia, where former prime minister Saad Hariri was born. When I first travelled to the Middle East ten years ago for a summer Arabic program in Jordan, I became acquainted with the Abdali bus station and the large clutch of budget hotels and ware hawkers which surrounded it. It was relocated sometime during the 2006-08 period I spent in Israel. It seems like the broader development project is one of a number of similar projects around the Arab world which aim mainly to brand the city to attract global capital rather than serve the daily needs of its residents.



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