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  • Architecture for the Rich; Mere Shelter for the Poor » CSBE
    was talking to an architect who works at a small office primarily engaged in designing single family residences I asked him how the office is doing and he answered that they feel their work has advanced to the point where they would like to attract a few rich clients He added that this would give them the freedom to carry out the kinds of designs they always aimed at Architects historically have been attracted to wealthy clients like moth to a flame For many architects good architecture and expensive buildings go hand in hand Admittedly a few well known architects during the twentieth century did try to develop housing for those with limited means but these attempts usually were short lived German modernists such as Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius took it as a main goal in the early phases of their careers during the 1920s and 1930s to develop new prototypes for workers housing but eventually abandoned that ideal and ended up designing expensive buildings for rich and powerful individuals and institutions In our part of the world architect Hassan Fathy designed and built during the 1940s a complete village New Gourna for a poor rural community in Egypt and documented the process and results in his celebrated monograph Architecture for the Poor Fathy has been a hero to many around the world who view architecture as a tool for helping uplift people from poverty His experiments unfortunately were not very successful and the villagers for whom he built his elegant traditionally inspired mud brick houses did not particularly like them They preferred to live in houses that resembled what they believed a house in the city should look like rather than the traditional mud brick dwellings that Fathy created for some would say imposed upon them and that were inspired by their rural roots which they wished to escape for they associated rural life with misery and poverty Not unlike Mies and Gropius Fathy ended up primarily designing expensive houses for wealthy patrons mainly in the Middle East who appreciated and enjoyed his romantic vision of rural life and its architecture In the final result one rarely comes across architects of acclaim who design for the poor Of course these architects may design public buildings and spaces which to some extent are accessible to all rich or poor This is especially the case with public works such as religious buildings museums and parks When it comes to housing however successful architects seem to only design for the rich One may come across the occasional exception such as architectural students who briefly dabble with theoretical exercises aimed at creating low income also known as social or public housing for the fun of it or while going through a short lived fit of idealism before they enter the real world of architecture Most established architects however consider designing houses for the poor in the same vain that a five star restaurant chef would consider operating a street side

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/architecture-for-the-rich-mere-shelter-for-the-poor/ (2016-02-13)
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  • Celebrating Water » CSBE
    Where I Live City Infrastructure Underpasses Everywhere Fixing Sweifieh Urban Solutions Easier Said than Done Amman s Urban Fabric What Went Wrong Energy Consumption in the City Sweifieh A Case of Urban Deterioration The Growth of Buildings A Tale of Two Shops The Economics of Zoning Jabal Amman s First Circle Area Nooks and Crannies Surfaces of the City Concrete Signs of the City Empty Plots Everywhere Amman s Most Beautiful District Amman Street Maps A New Frontier Soundscapes of Amman Airport Road Parking in Amman Privilege or Right Time Zoning To Commute or Telecommute The Shopping Mall Apartment Living Sidewalks of Amman Riyadh Property Rental Laws Beirut Public Transportation Cities of the Arab East Zoning Urban Sprawl The Domination of Amman Introduction An Anatomy of the City Using Public Transportation in Amman Publications Resources Urban Crossroads Celebrating Water Celebrating Water Urban Crossroads 76 The central plaza of the National Gallery Park The plaza includes a shallow water channel and grills opening to the park s underground water reservoir This past fall I participated in a symposium in Doha organized by Virginia Commonwealth University Qatar entitled Rivers of Paradise Water in Islamic Art and Culture The symposium featured a dozen papers covering a wide diversity of subjects that ranged from small scale water vessels to the supply of water in Muslim urban centers and also a wide geographic expanse that extended from Bangladesh in the east to Muslim Spain in the west I was one of two people from Jordan to present papers at the symposium The other was Professor Yasser Tabbaa a world renowned scholar on Islamic art and architecture who currently is the Deputy Headmaster and Dean of Faculty at Kings Academy My paper was on a contemporary topic a public park in Amman the Jordan National Gallery of Fine Arts Park in Jabal al Luwaybdah which was completely redesigned and rehabilitated in 2005 as a model water conserving park and demonstration garden The other papers of the symposium addressed historical subjects that predated the twentieth century The challenge of water shortages is nothing new in Jordan This problem however is becoming increasingly felt throughout the world as freshwater resources are coming under considerable pressures as a result of factors including rapid population growth and rising pollution levels The papers of the conference although intended as academic papers addressing historical subjects still were very illuminating regarding the challenges of providing urban populations with water for their daily needs If we consider cities in our part of the world today the supply of water most often is relegated to merely being part of urban infrastructure Although the importance of urban infrastructure is not to be underestimated in any way it often is taken for granted by the city s residents and its components are made to be as invisible as possible Accordingly such components whether pipes for water and sewage or electricity conduits often are buried underground Those responsible for the layout and maintenance of the city s infrastructure

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/celebrating-water/ (2016-02-13)
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  • Wakalat Street... Again! » CSBE
    positively redefine how the residents of Amman interact with the city and can help establish a tradition of civic spaces in it Before the project was inaugurated this past summer Wakalat Street was a congested polluted artery overwhelmed by vehicular traffic It was marked by a chaotic and ugly proliferation of commercial signs and was utterly dysfunctional regarding the needs of pedestrians The pedestrianization and rehabilitation project has transformed what was an awful example of an urban street into an oasis of tranquility and visual elegance within the chaotic mess that is Sweifieh The rehabilitation project included paving the street with interlocking concrete units planting trees regulating commercial signs and most importantly creating one of the very few places in Amman where pedestrians can move freely and safely from the menace of automobile traffic With it Amman finally has gotten a first rate pedestrian public space The people of Amman clearly love it Just visit the street on any afternoon or evening and you will see people enjoying it whether strolling shopping or sitting in one of its cafés I recently was there on a chilly evening and noticed that the cold weather did not prevent people from going there The project also has a very important and positive social dimension It quickly has become what a healthy urban public space should be one that people of both genders of different age groups and of varying socio economic backgrounds use and enjoy in a spirit of mutual acceptance It provides a great example that stands against the informal de facto socio economic segregation that has come to characterize Amman particularly between its eastern and western sections A healthy city is one that has an ample supply of public spaces whether sidewalks plazas parks or pedestrian streets in which all inhabitants of the city can come together regardless of gender age or social and economic backgrounds Wakalat Street is a great example of such a space Unfortunately the street has its distracters and a number of the shop owners along it have initiated an aggressive and hostile campaign against the rehabilitation project They seem to prefer the old congested exhaust fume filled pedestrian hostile visually chaotic street Interestingly enough their attitude provides a step by step repeat of the reactions of shop owners to the pedestrianization efforts initiated in various parts of the world back in the 1960s and 1970s Shop owners along pedestrianized streets then loudly complained that their businesses would suffer as customers would not be able to park their cars right in front of their shops What they failed to recognize but nonetheless soon discovered was that while the handful of parking spaces in front of their shops disappeared they were more than compensated by the throngs of pedestrians who started walking in front of their shops thus accomplishing what no advertising campaign can do which is to bring masses of potential customers right to the doorsteps of their shops With time those shop owners realized that the

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/wakalat-street-again/ (2016-02-13)
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  • The Amman Report Card » CSBE
    Cities of the Arab East Zoning Urban Sprawl The Domination of Amman Introduction An Anatomy of the City Using Public Transportation in Amman Publications Resources Urban Crossroads The Amman Report Card The Amman Report Card Urban Crossroads 74 Sir Frances Bacon s statement of over four hundred years ago that knowledge is power may have become a worn out cliché but like many clichés it remains true Societies that devote reasonable resources to acquiring knowledge and making that knowledge accessible to all are considerably advantaged over societies that do not Having the necessary access to knowledge about a given aspect of our lives allows us to individually and collectively make better informed decisions about it Otherwise we end up stumbling in the dark In this vein Amman s residents can greatly benefit from a resource that periodically provides and regularly updates information assessing the quality of life in the city Such information can cover a variety of issues such as employment affordability safety education cultural life shopping and leisure activities This resource more or less will amount to a report card about Amman It would be issued by specialists with the necessary expertise in each of the areas covered by the report and who also demonstrate high levels of objectivity and integrity Ideally they would need to include both residents of Amman and people from outside it The former would provide an intimate knowledge of the city and the latter would provide the point of view of an objective outsider In both cases they should be people who do not have a vested interest in making things seem better or worse than they actually are An independent body would oversee this ambitious task A section of this report card will need to concentrate on the physical urban qualities of Amman This section would address issues including movement in the city cleanliness of public spaces availability of green areas overall appearance of the city and land use patterns Movement in the city would cover topics such as the flow of traffic public transportation pedestrian access and also the availability of alternate transportation possibilities such as bike paths The cleanliness of public spaces would assess how clean are the city s streets parks and plazas how garbage is collected and how it is disposed of The availability of green areas would address quantitative matters such as the number of parks in the city the total area of these parks and their distribution in different parts of the city It also would need to tackle qualitative matters such as the state of upkeep and maintenance in those parks and the activities that may be carried out in them whether sports children s play activities picnicking or general relaxation The overall appearance of the city may be difficult to assess as it touches upon the subjective topic of aesthetics It still would cover issues such as levels of visual pollution brought about by the proliferation of unregulated building and street signs It also would

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/the-amman-report-card/ (2016-02-13)
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  • Architecture Serving Humanity: The Winning Projects of the Aga Khan Award for Architecture » CSBE
    the positive contributions that building projects can make to the lives of the people they serve and to humanity in general As a result projects or at least autonomous phases of projects need to have been completed for at least two years before being eligible for nomination for the Award so as to enable an assessment of the interaction between the projects and their users Moreover the Award is not given to an individual architect but to the project as a whole and to those involved in it who include the architect client and in some cases even those who built it While the Award addresses projects that serve Muslim communities its message is universal Also the architects and other experts responsible for the winning projects express extensive diversity in terms of religious affiliation and nationality and come from just about every corner of the world Although the emphasis of the Aga Khan Award is on architecture it addresses the built environment as a whole Although individual buildings regularly receive the Award the Award also has acknowledged projects that address urban contexts and in one case an award was given to a forestation program at the outskirts of the city of Ankara Each cycle of the Award has had different jury members Jordanian architects Rasem Badran Jafar Tukan and Sahel Al Hiyari have served on the Award juries and Akram Abu Hamdan has served on its Steering Committee and the winning projects of each cycle express the outcome of the dynamics that take place between those members as they deliberate on the submitted projects In spite of this a tradition has evolved according to which the winning projects may be divided into a number of clear categories One of those categories may be referred to as contemporary design which refers to projects that incorporate contemporary often cutting edge architectural vocabularies materials and techniques Another category may be referred to as traditional design which refers to projects that incorporate traditional vernacular architectural vocabularies materials and techniques A third category consists of restoration projects in which there is a conservation and rehabilitation of historical buildings And there also is a category that can be referred to as urban regeneration Here historical and or low income often highly impoverished urban areas undergo comprehensive regeneration processes that not only include physical improvements but also socio economic development programs Over the past three to four cycles the environment also has achieved prominence and projects that have a strong environmental protection component such as the Ankara forestation project as well as buildings that have incorporated natural energy conserving mechanisms have received the Award The borders between these different categories of course are flexible and a number of winning projects have covered more than one category Also having nine jury members for each cycle who include architects and representatives of other fields guarantees an element of diversity and ensures that the Award is not dominated by a specific architectural methodology to the exclusion of others Every award

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/architecture-serving-humanity-the-winning-projects-of-the-aga-khan-award-for-architecture/ (2016-02-13)
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  • Managing Amman's Traffic » CSBE
    s First Circle Area Nooks and Crannies Surfaces of the City Concrete Signs of the City Empty Plots Everywhere Amman s Most Beautiful District Amman Street Maps A New Frontier Soundscapes of Amman Airport Road Parking in Amman Privilege or Right Time Zoning To Commute or Telecommute The Shopping Mall Apartment Living Sidewalks of Amman Riyadh Property Rental Laws Beirut Public Transportation Cities of the Arab East Zoning Urban Sprawl The Domination of Amman Introduction An Anatomy of the City Using Public Transportation in Amman Publications Resources Urban Crossroads Managing Amman s Traffic Managing Amman s Traffic Urban Crossroads 72 Increasing traffic congestion in Amman calls for effective management of the city s road network The Jordan Times Amman s increasing traffic congestion problems seem to be on everybody s mind One indication of this is how Amman s traffic has become a most common subject of conversation at social gatherings The conventional wisdom usually exchanged at those gatherings is that part of the solution to Amman s traffic problems lies in expanding the city s road network This in fact will cause more harm than good New and expanded roads tend to generate increased traffic and simply will create more insoluble traffic congestion problems in the long term In contrast I have heard planners assert that for a city the size of Amman the existing road network is more than adequate The solution to the city s compounding traffic congestion problems accordingly does not lie in more roads but in a more effective management of Amman s existing road network An effective management of Amman s road network most probably will need to incorporate a number of solutions that are commonly used elsewhere There will be a need to limit or even ban parking along a good number of the city s streets There even might be a need to institute congestion pricing according to which vehicles would be charged for using a number of the city s heavily trafficked zones or streets And of course there will be a need to encourage increased pedestrian movement throughout the city and also encourage the use of public transportation among as many of the city s residents as possible It has been stated that the master plan currently being drawn up for Amman eventually will include a comprehensive transportation component This component most probably will incorporate some or all of the solutions mentioned above One cannot emphasize enough the importance of such a component for the health of the city for a city through which people cannot move efficiently and comfortably is a dysfunctional city Developing an effective transportation strategy for any city however is a very complex and delicate undertaking one that cannot be taken lightly As such a transportation strategy is being developed for Amman a few issues need to be considered Most importantly such a strategy cannot be another slightly modified off the shelf generic solution that Western consulting firms routinely deliver in developing world contexts The strategy

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/managing-amman-s-traffic/ (2016-02-13)
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  • Cairo: A Ray of Hope » CSBE
    and that only one other city in the world Rome probably surpasses it in this wealth The boundaries of greater Cairo hold monuments as diverse as the Giza Pyramids which were built over 5 000 years ago the vast ninth century Mosque of Ibn Tulun the monumental fourteenth century Mosque and Madrasa of Sultan Hasan and the nineteenth century Mosque of Muhammad Ali which crowns the Cairo citadel founded by the Ayyubid sultan Salah al Din Saladin over eight hundred years ago Under the rule of the Mamluk dynasty 1250 1517 Cairo emerged as one of the world s largest cities and a great center of power wealth and culture Its greatness is well summarized by an anonymous Italian traveler who visited Cairo during the Mamluk era He wrote If I were to describe the wealth of the city this book would not suffice If it were possible to gather together the cities of Rome Milan Padua Florence and still four others I swear that they could not all contain half of the wealth of Cairo Cairo s fortunes declined under the Ottomans who brought the Mamluk state to an end With that Cairo was downgraded from a center of an empire to a provincial capital Its next renaissance had to wait until the advent of Muhammad Ali the Albanian soldier who established the dynasty that ruled Egypt from the early nineteenth until the mid twentieth century though under British suzerainty since the late nineteenth century During this period Cairo again emerged as a major political economic and cultural center On the architectural and urban levels this resurgence was expressed by the new districts boulevards palaces as well as public buildings and gardens that were constructed throughout the city It is true that two Cairos emerged during this period a relatively affluent cosmopolitan and Westernized Cairo on the one hand and a poorer traditional Cairo on the other Still it was a world city and a magnet that attracted people from the region and beyond who visited it and also worked and settled in it Up to the 1960s it was the undisputed metropolis of the region I regularly hear from my parents and members of their generation who came of age during the 1940s and 1950s the extraordinary difference they felt between the then small town of Amman and the large cosmopolitan Cairo Cairo s fortunes underwent another decline beginning in the 1960s The city began to be overwhelmed by the migration of poor villagers from the countryside The public institutions responsible for Cairo s upkeep were heavily burdened by a swelling bureaucracy and were incapable of upgrading the services needed for the city to function with any sense of normalcy Since then the Cairo that has emerged is more associated with serious problems of pollution litter over crowdedness and traffic congestion than with a rich historical heritage I recently visited Cairo after an absence of almost twenty years Even though a visit of a few days is far

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/cairo-a-ray-of-hope/ (2016-02-13)
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  • To Tax or Not To Tax: Amman’s Empty Land Plots » CSBE
    Tax Amman s Empty Land Plots Urban Crossroads 70 The commotion that recently took place on taxing Amman s empty land plots came and went too quickly An announcement made by the mayor of Amman led people to expect that such a tax would be put in place This caused a strong negative response amongst the city s residents as evident in the various articles that appeared in the local press soon after the announcement The municipality issued a clarification indicating that the tax would only affect a small number of plots in specific parts of the city and the uproar more or less calmed down Amman in fact missed an opportunity to carry out a full public debate on an issue of extreme importance The concept of taxing empty plots is a common one in various parts of the world I was coincidentally reminded of this fact in a workshop I attended few years ago at one of the mega conferences that continuously seem to be taking place in Dubai The workshop was led by a Swiss gentleman who was explaining a database being developed by a number of Swiss financial institutions to help track the prices of real estate properties in the country in a more accurate and systematic manner During the workshop s discussions one of the participants all of whom were from the region mentioned in passing the common practice in our part of the world of buying an empty plot of land and simply leaving it for some time to appreciate in value before selling it for a profit This is what we refer to in Arabic as throwing away the plot of land you pick it up again when you want to sell it The Swiss gentleman was genuinely shocked by the concept and seemed unaware of it He reacted by saying that one buys land to utilize it as with building on it or using it for agricultural purposes but not simply to keep it and then sell it I expect that in a country such as Switzerland the taxes imposed on empty plots are high enough to prevent their use as tools of speculation or even long term investment The taxes one has to pay on an empty plot of land from year to year would make it a financial burden rather than a money making asset The rationale behind such taxes is clear Land is what we live on We use it for growing agricultural products or for housing the components of the urban fabric such as buildings gardens and streets At times we also protect is as part of our cultural and natural heritage as when it is the site of historic buildings or events or is of natural significance or beauty What we should not do with land is to use it to burry our money for the purposes of speculation or even long term investment as this does not result in any significant sustainable economic activity or growth

    Original URL path: http://www.csbe.org/publications-and-resources/urban-crossroads/to-tax-or-not-to-tax-amman-s-empty-land-plots/ (2016-02-13)
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