The Jebel alQalaa Misadventure

Photo by Nadine Toukan

Written by Ramsey Tesdell

A debate has been raging on Urdun Mubdi3 regarding a construction project for tourist facilities in Jebel alQalaa. A virtual debate between engaged citizens and employees of the Greater Amman Municipality has sprung and appears to be continuing. I for one, appreciate the direct contact and response of public officials.

Despite your position on the issue or the non-issue, several activities should be of concern to the active and attentive citizen of Amman.

A quick review is necessary.

A bit about Hamzet Wasel:

“Hamzet Wasel is an initiative by and for the citizens of Amman to encourage the diverse people of the city to build authentic relationships and exercise their social responsibility by designing and participating in activities and programs that tackle the complex challenges and explore the unique opportunities which exist within our multi-layered city.

The Issue

The community is facing some issues however. The Ministry of Tourism and the Municipality are currently building a wall around the land near the Citadel which has traditionally been a place of refuge, relaxation and recreation for the community and for many Ammanis. This is part of a project to build an events “plaza” for people who can afford to rent the place for weddings and parties, built on top of archeological ruins and surrounded by a high wall which prevents the community of Jabal Qalaa and all the people of Amman from accessing the site (currently used to fly kites, watch the sunset, hang-out, have a picnic etc.) except by paying a fee and before 5 pm, and blocking the only 360 degree of Amman which exists in the city.

The Response from GAM

We, at GAM, like to hear different points of view; everyone is entitled to his/her own opinion. We carefully followed the inaccurate circulation of information; and we felt it time that we shared the facts and to give the misinformed a chance to form an opinion based on facts and not hearsay.

The development projects at the Citadel are an active collaboration between MOTA, GAM and DOA, led by their Excellencies, the Minister of Tourism and Antiquities (MOTA), the Mayor of Amman and the Director General of the Department of Antiquities (DOA), and their senior staff. This is a precedent setting, collaborative program launched after considerable conservation and strategic planning. The designs are developed to make public improvements to a national historic site that, until recently, has not be subject to any such rejuvenation, rehabilitation or enhancement as a place for recreation and learning.

If you’d like to read the rest of debate (it is quite humorous), check out Urdun Mubdi3, but a few important points should be made.

First, citizens and their relationship to GAM should be understood within the framework that GAM exists to serve the people of Amman. GAM officials are public servants and watch over the city and her activities to better serve the population, safety, health, etc. This is their mandate, and sometimes both the People and GAM need to be reminded of this.

With that understanding, GAM should take on projects in collaboration with the community, holding forums and listening to the needs and wants of the People of Amman. We commend the public forums that GAM has held in recent times, and hope that more follow. These are critical aspects of public service. But only listening will only buy so much time. Without enacting the will of the People, these listening activities will quickly devolve into a routine and not an integral part of the planning process.

The misadventure with Jebel alQalaa started when construction suddenly sprang up and few knew what has going on and why. The miscommunication started here, and everything that followed was a result of that initial miscommunication.

It could be argued that GAM did not announce the plans for the area in order to avoid a public outcry. Whether that was the case or not will probably never be known as the project went ahead anyway, and the public outcry happened as a result.

In my humble opinion, these reveals one of two things about the relationship between GAM and the People: 1) GAM is entirely out of touch with the People it is intended to serve, or 2) or GAM isn’t actually there to serve the People, but to serve the interests of investors.

As new media penetrates deeper into society, the ability to collect public opinion and ACTUALLY listen to it becomes easier, and the excuses to hide behind for not doing decrease dramatically. Simply having a public forum doesn’t mean you can go ahead and do what you want; it means you have to listen to the needs and wants of the community.

Dearest GAM, we as citizens are not attacking you, we simply want you to listen to us and involve us (the people should be serving) in your projects. We have ideas for projects that closely align with your goals and master plans. We want to improve community around Amman and many of us are ready to work together with you. We are ready to do a lot of work (volunteer/free labor) in order to achieve these collective goals.

Together, we can keep Amman the special city it is, and move in the direction that makes the city better for everyone.