Streets and Pedestrians
It is no question by now, that so many people know that there is in fact a problem in the transportation system through which Amman (and Jordan as a whole) functions. Now I won’t be discussing any politics per se, rather I will describe how the societal politics have played a part in getting us to where we are now.
Just a glimpse outside for a now-trained eye of an Architect can easily tell you that there is a force that is pushing things out of order. That force, I believe, is the culture itself that we have unwillingly nurtured; just as many parents mistakenly cultivated a culture of following rather than experimentation and leadership.
Now culture itself is nothing but an outcome of the surroundings and societal fabric made by the hands that be (users and investors primarily) and vice versa. Our streets are shaped by who we are, and what we use; the more people walk and use buses, the more their problems would be visible, and that in turn creates a cycle of reporting and repairing. The same logic goes for personal vehicles; the streets are shaped by reports and repairs of people who use their own cars.
Our streets are clearly catering to cars, our sweet little spoilt babies. While we do all preach “humanity and peace”, our streets scream: “hide from your fellow countrymen”. The pedestrian waits at the side of the street, like a cornered kitten, waiting to cross the road, when a car boasts its horn in rage as the person stutters a step back to a wobbly stone on the sidewalk’s edge (if it had one). The car gets catered to by inferior beings and gets parked, while the pedestrian is forced to squeeze between a tree’s leaves and trunk and a shiny car with an alarm (which god forbid should cry to its owner). A human should make way for a car and adapt to it, and the car can take the human’s public space.
The car is even a place of comfort for people to let off some steam when they’re angry. The car is a place for young lovers to make out. The car is the place where you hang out with your friends because there’s nowhere else to go but to to another cage. The car is the place people pre-drink in. The car is the place where we have cozy discussions with people rather than an appropriately proportional room. The car is the only thing in the youth’s life that is appropriate. The car is a person’s room because their room at home is too dependent on their “naggy” parents who wish them to merely follow in their footsteps and their understanding of growing up. The car is a celebratory space when it expresses joy with its open windows, flashing lights, and beeping horns. The car has become deeply rooted in traditions and cultures for some reason and is so deeply rooted that most people can not bear the thought of being without their own car.
The car has shaped our culture in many different ways, even our economy (I would not be surprised if 20% of Jordan’s cash flow is based around damaged cars due to roads and car repairmen). I think it has allowed for an easy way out of arguments and compromises which create a leveled society and way of thinking. Instead of people arguing on the streets, they yell slurs at each other from behind a window and (at best) step out of their car to express anger – and I’m sure everyone feels that things are becoming serious when someone gets out of their car. People who have problems with how women dress yell at them and are never seen again, and nobody would ever understand what the problem is, and truth is, if any of those “men” stood in front of a woman dressed “inappropriately”, they would stand there in silence and not do anything except maybe talk to his friend.
And on that note I think this is where the car has damaged our culture and introduced unhealthy habits such as car-dependence rather than being forced to go out in the streets where -god forbid- you would talk to people and be polite to them, and learn to respect them. Due to different classes not mixing, there is no benefit spread to the “less fortunate”, and the “more fortunate” don’t learn about the other side of Amman’s culture, thus avoiding the healthy mixing of both sides of our culture.
Isn’t that what a public space should be? A leveled field where everyone can enjoy themselves without judgement? We lack public spaces, and that is a fact. No, you can’t call a restaurant a public space, and yes, putting a bouncer outside a “Souk” does ruin its point and stature as a public space (although you can’t blame them for deciding to do so). Streets are the major public space of any city, and our “public spaces” put the drivers and their cages on top of their list of priorities, not the pedestrians and should-be-users of the public space who are further pushed out of the streets by the “invincible” name callers, and poor sidewalks. Rather than making the streets less welcoming to pedestrians, make the driver lose some of its perks to show the pedestrian that she/he is cared for in at least one aspect.
A place where you truly see the car priority over humans (even on sidewalks) is that spot near the 2nd circle, when you’re driving from Rainbow Street’s end back to the circle. That spot right before you reach the circle is a vibrant area where people could actually walk around and go to restaurants and even do a bit of shopping. Do you see those people moving around? Somewhere within the sea of cars, yes, or when you’re driving by and you see them pop out because a car is blocking the sidewalk.
What can the poor pedestrian do other than avoid the parked car? Nothing but sigh and work around it. What does a car do when a person is crossing the street and happens to block their path? Car horn ear-penetration, road rage, and the poor pedestrian’s shaken day; “Oh, me, get out of the way, so annoying…”. Truth is, they should be the priority, and not you and your cage. Yes, some people are horrible at crossing streets and end up running across the street out of nowhere and giving you a scare, but would the be forced to do that if they were at least respected? Nope. Pedestrians even have to run across pedestrian walkways, and no car would stop for them. Why? I have absolutely no idea.While this is a bit of a generalization, but it is quite a prevalent type of driver.
That is exactly why “Rainbow street” is successful as a public space:
People whine about the street being “bad for the car”: the street paving is what helps make it more pedestrian friendly;
People whine about vulgar comments by people: the openness of the public space is doing its job already! People are mixing and disagreeing, then reaching a compromise.
People whine about the lack of parking spaces: the street pulls people out of their cars to walk even if for a little while, and be part of the experience of being meshed around with other people, rather than merely throwing words at them from behind a glass and steel cage and wishing for change.
In fact, valet parking should not be a must, but rather a privilege. In a place like Rainbow Street, it should not even exist; in a place as public as that, people should not be safe in their cars, but rather safe within the confines of the new-forming culture of the
only functional and not torn away from everything else in Amman public space. That would however, cause less people to go there, but I can’t think of how you could at least create a small push for pedestrians. Oddly, people feel safer alone in their homes or cars, rather than in a public space surrounded by people, because that is where they are actually sure of what the prevalent culture is.
So next time the gas prices go up, and you see people getting pissed about it, know that somewhere in the government’s plan, someone realized that making the car less viable would push for a better public transportation system. However, why they do not fix the buses and make sure they are improved and viable as well is beyond me…
Seriously, no idea how hard it is to print a paper with bus routes and running time of buses, even if it is not accurate, let people know when they stop or start. Just until the car use starts to decrease.