King Faisal Square in 1958. From Getty Images: http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/3378711/Hulton-Archive
Does the Amman Municipality and do Ammanis want that Amman’s downtown is turned into a a cheap-looking touristic area? Because that’s EXACTLY what is happening at an alarming speed.
I had breakfast at Hashem, the famous Hummous and Fuul restaurant yesterday and then went for a quick walk down Faisal Square. I can tell you: the way things are going in downtown Amman is scary.
First of all, there was a smell of sewage in several places. I know it’s summer and the heat causes sewage smells to leak out. But there is definitely something wrong with the sewage system. Also, the downtown sidewalks are totally grimy and the level of street cleaning is not great.
King Faisal Square in particular is currently at a very critical stage.
The current moment can be described as follows: the decline of downtown Amman has now reached its lowest point. Almost all good retailers are gone. Cheap stores have taken their place. A lot of things on the streets are in a state of disrepair and dirtiness.
At the same time, however, new commercial functions are moving in as downtown is gaining a new level of entertainment and tourism attractiveness. And there is an ambitious project by the Amman Municipality to rehabilitate Faisal Square.
It’s like we’re seeing the deepest decline and the beginnings of a revival at the same time.
Faisal Square was the first boulevard of Amman in the early 20th Century. It is where the young Hashemite State displayed its presence through military parades. It was where the Arab Bank choose to build its impressive Amman building in the 1950s. It is where the best shops and offices where. In short it is a street that deserves to to be revived and celebrated.
While I am hopeful that GAM’s revival project of the street will be well done, I am extremely worried about the new cafes/restaurant phenomenon that is spreading like wildfire in and near Faisal Square.
These are all imitations of the now-famous Jaffra cafe that opened some years ago opposite the old Post building.
While Jaffra itself was an interesting development, as it attracted people back to downtown (the pirated DVD shops where another factor, of course), it already had its own design and image problems. It clearly suffers from what some are calling the “Bab el 7ara” phenomenon. People opening cafes and restaurants in the old neighborhoods of Amman are totally misunderstanding the word “heritage”. Instead of celebrating the real URBAN heritage of Amman’s downtown, they make their restaurants look like something out of a village or like a fake version of old Damascus.
Just have a look at the design of this new restaurant on Faisal Square.
Brown wooden pergolas! Strange additions to the windows! Copper lanterns! Yellow stone facades stuck on the original buildings! There is even an image of Petra made in yellow stone!
I am sorry but this has NOTHIG to do with old Amman. The image created here is “touristy”, fake and cheaply done. Because of lack of guidance and followup, well-meaning entrepreneurs will simply replicate this model until Faisal Square all looks this. This is what is happening to Jordan’s historic boulevard!
It has to be said that this is hardly the fault of the restaurant owners who probably believe they are doing something beautiful and great. It is either the fault of the unclear regulations, or the lack of enforcement of regulations when these businesses apply for licensing. Dealing with these facts on the ground is tricky, as people have already spent money on these additions.
Mayor Maani is already aware of the same problem in Rainbow Street and something is being done about it. But now downtown Amman is in danger too.
A final word on the work that has started on rehabilitating Faisal Square. Sidewalks are being ripped open. Manholes are covered with wooden planks. Construction material and equipment is placed here and there. I’ve seen how mothers, children and the elderly are walking over the rubble of the sidewalk. It’s dangerous and dirty.
The contractor of this project should be required to work in a manner that is safe to pedestrians. This is also an active commercial street. The well being of shopkeepers and their shops needs to be taken into consideration too.