The Right to the City and Land Property in East Amman

Rand El Haj Hasan [1]

Jabal Al Joffeh, Amman – Rand El Haj Hasan

Jordan is a rather recently established nation that did not make use of architecture or urbanism during its nation-building process. As such, Amman is a city that was shaped mostly by migration waves; refugees have almost organically sculpted it. They gave shape to the cityscapes and the urban scenery, as they started building in its peripheries, which later became central neighbourhoods. Research on refugee camps has often helped in following the process of home-making. It is a meticulous work that brings out the architect in the refugee. In older camps, the state has often interfered over time and the built environment was rehabilitated as refugees integrated the city.

“City making” and “Home making” are two scales of analysis of the refugee’s knowhow in shaping their living conditions and stimulating their integration with the urban fabric. The refugees’ “City making” can be analysed through the study of neighborhoods made for and by the individuals recreating their communities in exile. As these neighborhoods grow and the state rehabilitates the unofficial camps, they become part of the city and give identity to its urban scenery. As the city expands in size, what was the periphery becomes the center and the camp becomes central to the city’s geography and history. Hence, local Jordanian typologies include inventions made by the city dwellers themselves.

The refugee camp, being a pretext for the state to intervene less in the area, turns into a zone of innovation where the inhabitants have no choice but to “make city” as they find fit. Due to the dense urban tissue, a sort of inward organic urbanism evolves and the inhabitants come up with their own facilities of collective space. Anthropological fieldwork, spatial mapping and specially adapted visual representation from Jabal Al Joffeh neighborhood demonstrate the means available for the marginalized neighborhood to create conviviality despite density. These urban margins composing vast surfaces of the city are what represent Amman as made by its migrants.

This research is based on interviews with inhabitants from different generations. Its latest phase covers Palestinian refugees in Jabal Al Joffeh neighbourhood, which is an informal refugee camp, a settlement that refugees improvised as they fled their hometowns. The fieldwork also covers the entire neighbourhood to include Armenian immigrants and Jordanian migrants coming from the city of Tafileh.

The objective is to map urban practices of the inhabitants and to understand their relationship with the city through their daily and seasonal practices. The mapping also includes a survey of spaces that compose the public space of the neighbourhood creating categories and typologies that help adapt to the density and preserve the local urban tissue.

So far, the research has generated findings on the evolution of the unofficial Palestinian camp, the impact of the camp on the rest of the city, the camp as a geo-localized identity of the refugee, and the specific typologies of the built environment of the unofficial camp.

El Haj Hasan’s research within the LAJEH network focuses on Amman as the result of the migration of different populations. It aims at reading the socio-political structure that emerges and is maintained, within specific neighbourhoods as the result of the identity of the geographical areas and not that of the nationality of origin of their inhabitants. It starts by following the history of different forced migration waves and aims at reaching an urban reading of the forced socioeconomic stagnation.


Photos taken by Rand El Haj Hasan are available here.

[1] Rand El Haj Hasan is an architect who studies the right to the city in Amman. She is pursuing her postgraduate studies in social science at the EHESS in Paris. She follows the impact of the major urbanism projects on the inhabitants in the popular residential zones.  She also conducts an anthropological research in the purpose of contrasting being a city dweller with being a citizen in a country of biased citizenship. The backbone of her current work is the right to property and how does land tenure affect the people’s rights and the relationship between the Ammanis and their city.