Unplanning the City: Patrimonial Governance, Unregulated Development, and Neoliberal Urban Transformation in Amman, Jordan

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
AbuHamdi, Eliana (2015)
  • Publisher: eScholarship, University of California
  • Subject: Architecture | Urban planning | Middle Eastern studies | Governance | Neoliberalism | Planning | Political economy | Refugees | Urbanization

The influx of refugees throughout the history of Jordan, from the Circassians of 1890 to the Iraqis of 2002, created moments of interruption in city planning and subsequently the opportunity for the lapse in accountability of the various municipal administrations to their intended planning and development goals. Indeed, each moment of interruption allowed for and inspired a reinvention of the city and a new modernist vocabulary for its development. In this way, the state (albeit not a monolithic actor) employed the disruption caused by each influx of refugees as an opportunity to rewrite systems of planning. These systems however, as history reveals, were only to be interrupted by the next influx of refugees, and so, planning in Amman has been historically unregulated.Development in Amman is complicated first by these refugee interruptions, second by the inadequacies of planning savvy on the part of the Greater Amman Municipality, and finally by a continual divergence between private and public interests, mainly problematic due to the lack of state land holdings and the power of tribal land owners and the political clout of their elite. The role of the state has been thus in constant competition with the shifting allegiances within tribes and amongst their elite. The state, throughout the 20th century, during the reign of King Hussein, exerted its power in an attempt to harness the various tribal, political, and ethnic allegiances into a united front, under the arm of the state. To accomplish this, Hussein’s regime attempted to dismantle established systems of tribalism, redirecting allegiance towards the monarchy and its state led modernization and liberalization efforts. Modernization produced a series of bureaucratic systems, such as the Greater Amman Municipality, limiting the reach of tribes and their elite by dismantling tribal village councils. Additionally, the 1988 Master Plan proposed a new satellite city as prototype for a modern way of life, one outside the network of tribal communalism.Further, the state utilized the continual influx of refugees and subsequent lapses in planning administration to legitimize its intervention over the city or the making of parts of the city, particularly after liberalization. To this end, I will interrogate the role of the state first as an instrument of welfare, and, later, as a collaborator in the privatized enterprise of neoliberal development. In this way, the dissertation reframes neoliberalization as a process, and presents a new understanding of the relationship between state power, capital, and the built environment.First, as a rentier state, the monarchy was able, through the dispensation of welfare funds, to purchase allegiance and maintain political quietism. Later, after the loss of rentier capital, and operating as a neoliberal state, Hussein turned to social mechanisms of moderated governance, such at the manipulation of voting rights in order to ensure the election of favorable, pro-state candidates. As a result, governance systems in Amman were highly coercive and continually rescripted in such a way as to ensure first the autonomy of the state, and second, the security of the regime.A historical analysis of the political economy of urbanism in Amman makes clear the governance structure of the state, and reveals the limitations of civic democracy that it imposed on its public. Informed by a historical perspective of Amman’s moderated governance structure, I conclude that the state, during the reign of King Abdullah (Hussein’s son and heir), employed its coercive voice through various political campaigns to rewrite systems of planning and development and produce two major projects with agency that act on, or neoliberalize a city.Through my research on Amman in the contemporary moment, I demonstrate that neoliberalism is not only a process, but also a placed based, or site-specific process. In this way I recognize buildings and the sites they occupy as having more agency as a neoliberal construct, as opposed to neoliberalism as solely an economic project. In so doing, the critique shifts to the built environment, and recognizes the architecture within it as a significant actor in the process of transformation. Specific to Amman, two neoliberal projects, the Jordan Gate Towers and The Abdali Plan, prompted transformation and challenge the discussion of neoliberalism as the sole agent of global change. Further, by measure of impact, these urban transformations demonstrate that neoliberal restructuring can manifest as not only a site-specific process, but also as a political project.Un-planning is a derivative of the historic condition of unregulated planning in Amman and is defined by conditions of unregulated policy, the re-scripting or continual reconceptualization of the states role in planning, and finally, the constant battle with entrenched systems of tribalism that compete with the state for allegiance, and ultimately obstruct the formation of a national identity.These three components of interrupted planning in Amman (unregulated policy, rescripting the role of the state, and the fight for allegiance) have evolved from a provisional system of planning into a system of intentional un-planning, one that allows for an informalization of planning policy that has since culminated in unregulated development in the city.The dissertation will reveal that the primary reason unregulated planning is preferred is that it allows a certain range of autonomy for the state when it is not confined to planning regulations. In so doing, the state has released itself from liability to the often-detrimental cost of development decisions made in Amman, allowing it to pursue development in terms of capital incentive rather than impact study.
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