Dr. Mostafa Madbouly in his “Regional Report on Urban Challenges and the need to revisit urban planning” write up in 2009 introduced the topic as being critically actual. 

Urban Planner and Architect by profession with extensive experience of 25 years in the field, Dr Madbouly’s introduction is reproduced here below :

People of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have long played an integral role in the history of human civilization. MENA is one of the core centres of civilization and urban culture.  Three of the world’s major religions originated in the region — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  

In modern times, MENA’s politics, religion, and economics have been tied in ways that affect the globe.  The region’s vast petroleum supply — two-thirds of the world’s known oil reserves — is a major reason for the world’s interest.  But the influence of MENA extends beyond its rich oil fields for occupying a strategically important geographic position between Asia, Africa, and Europe.

The MENA region includes 20 countries, 12 of which are active or potential borrowers of the WB (Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, West Bank and Gaza, Tunisia and Yemen).  In addition, 8 relatively high-income countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Libya, Malta, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates), and while they are not active borrowers, but they rely on non-lending services.  Further reading is at : Urban Challenges and the need to revisit urban planning .

We recommend the reading of the following two (2) other articles that happen to be written in each side of the Jordan River, to perhaps set the ground for a good discussion on the “City Beautiful Movement” revival in the MENA region.

Applying modern planning systems in the Middle East : a clash of cultures

Planning systems throughout the world are rooted in the modern, western-oriented worldview and the rationale of liberal nationalism. In this view, society consists of relatively equal and free individuals, operating in a fairly free market, while state intervention in people’s lives and in the economy is only required in extreme cases such as market failure, as with urban and regional planning, and is conducted via top-to-bottom regulations. However is this modern planning system suitable for traditional, family-based societies, in particular the Arab towns and villages in Israel where social codes are derived from ancient tribal and familial customs that exist in addition to the national order?

Nurit Alfasi, in her article “Doomed to Informality: Familial vs. modern planning in Arab towns in Israel”, in Planning Theory and Practice argues that Middle Eastern cities were built by their inhabitants rather than by a government or municipal planner, meaning that the socio-spatiality of Arab cities in the Middle East is anchored in the Muslim tradition, in regard to both the organization of space and procedure tradition. Land tenure in traditional cities is based on familial and tribal ownership, and the structure of many cities still expresses the tribal and extended family divisions, impacting accessibility to houses, commercial business and public spaces needed for modern planning. This is affecting planning and building in many Middle-Eastern towns as they are struggling to combine modern planning with the values of familial societies; ensuing tensions between the individual and the central authorities. This is because modern planning disrupts implementation of the old codes, and the traditional familial order disallows the adoption of modern forms. These complex relations between modern, western-oriented planning and the traditional, familial-based spatiality of Middle-Eastern urbanism are leading to grey development of the Arab towns in Israel.

However, Nurit Alfasi indicates a new ‘urban code’ should be adopted, arguing that it might be possible to enhance or formalise the Arab town if some of the positions and tools of modern planning were less rigid and the relevant features of the familial structure were taken into account. It is suggested this ‘urban code’ would need to be adopted as the legal base for regulating planning, instead of the statutory outline plan. She argues that the code should take maintenance of social codes of traditional, family-based societies such as visual and acoustic privacy in living spaces into account and a hierarchy of public spaces should be defined. Since public and commercial uses are located on main roads, those urban routes must include the necessary facilities for public activity. The code must also set a minimum distance or effective barrier between industries and residences in order to control environmental pollution. The author concludes that this could provide a new beginning, an answer to the complex problems besetting the Arab towns today.

– See more at: architectsdatafile.co.uk

The other article is from the Jordan Times :

The beautification of a capital city

The Greater Amman Municipality’s push for beautifying the capital is continuing unabated, a move that is welcome and should be supported by all citizens.

A June initiative, followed up on more recently and supposed to continue for as long as it takes to complete the job, concerns rooftops that need to be cleaned up in a way that makes them less of an eyesore.

It is a wonder it took so long to adopt this initiative.

Houses in many areas are indeed in need of sprucing up; inhabitants should put some order in the mess that rooftops-turned-storage space present, give a new coat of paint, where it applies, or have the beautiful limestone that sets Amman apart cleaned of layers of grime left by time.

Any move to make the city more pleasing to the eye is always good, provided its momentum is maintained.

Things, however, should be done systematically and not in a haphazard way.

Targeting rooftops presumes that the job of cleaning the city at ground level is complete, which is clearly not the case.

So maybe in parallel with the rooftops, effort should be made to ensure that Amman’s streets and parks are cleaned to the satisfaction of the public.

Visits to public spaces in various districts of the capital readily reveal that a lot more still needs to be done to make the city clean. Or at least as clean as we use to remember it a few decades ago.

True, the population growth and, with it, the exponential increase in the number of vehicles, makes it difficult to keep the city in top shape.

Too much is expected of municipality workers and too little is done by city inhabitants, and that has to change.

We still have a long way to go to develop some civic responsibility, a culture for keeping public places clean.

Littering is done with no remorse, with a sense of entitlement even by many who believe that paying taxes obliges the municipality to clean after them.

Seldom does one see fellow citizens walking down popular streets bother to throw trash in bins — which, by the way, are not often at hand and in certain areas inexistent.

A cleaning campaign must begin early in schools.

Cleanliness is godliness, but how many among us give this adage a thought beyond the front door of our houses?

Still, the municipality must persist in its determined efforts to make Amman cleaner, and cleaning rooftops that could ruin the landscape when neglected and dirty is surely a worthy goal.

Further reading are at : – Jordan Times