Spatial (in)justice and the quest for a just Amman
In its simplest forms, ‘spatial justice’ is one outcome of social justice into space coalition. As a crucial dimension of human existence, the organisation of space reflects social relations and interactions; consequently, justice and injustice manifest in the urban space and scholars have analyzed these interactions to inform research around spatial justice. To what extent do planning policies in Amman aim to achieve spatial justice as an ultimate goal and what is the role of grassroots embodiments in the process is what this article seeks to explore.
Soja– “a self-described “urbanist”, and a noted postmodern political geographer and urban theorist on the planning faculty at UCLA”–for example, argues that spatial justice is possible in the current economic meltdown through tools and methods of grassroots mobilization, theoretical innovation and coalition-building. His narratives celebrate two core niches; the strong connections between academic research and the grassroots social justice movements. In Amman however, activist-scholars are a vanishing breed; whether due to insufficient funds, program cuts in early stages of research or the incapability of designed theoretical frameworks to translate ideas into ‘realistic’ social praxes (Praxes: The practice and practical side of a profession or field of study, as opposed to the theory Word Origin)
Grassroots involvement in the design process seeks to increase the local actor’s sense of ownership and empower local communities to create more conducive environments by granting individuals and groups the opportunity to rediscover their cultural identities. When communities are in crises situations, grassroots humanitarian interventions can be quite helpful. While this is true in Amman, and humanitarian interventions have been quite helpful in many cases, short-term funded NGO’s, initiatives and programs that are purely emergency-oriented tend to lack a sustainable long term vision, despite the fact they have the potential to contribute to urban development and economic growth in a very positive and unique way.
External donors of humanitarian aid and development assistance are insensitive to Ammani social and cultural needs and ignore important contextual issues, which results in failure to effectively mobilize community and local actors. Furthermore, the top-down approach to planning in Amman can contribute to using funding mechanisms and donations as political tools to direct community development where communities become overly dependent on these funds and makes community ownership almost impossible.
Considering the aforementioned, this article argues that utilizing grassroots and grassroots activities to encourage public participation instead of dictating solutions, can facilitate and empower instead of impose. In addition it can help mobilize community programs that minimize dependency on third parties and create a sense of community ownership.
Amman truly is a blossoming flower within a turmoiled region, and in many ways, it has done achieved incredible feats despite its challenges and limited resources. This article does not, in any way, profess that all that is being done is wrong; rather, it simply alludes to the fact that it can be done better!