About two years ago, I wrote an article arguing that cities should consider developing their own urban charters. Such charters would be documents that examine the aspirations, opportunities, needs, and challenges affecting a given city, and would consequently present roadmaps for future action and development. These documents should be authored in an inclusive participatory manner. A city charter therefore should be conceived through the participation of a wide range of stakeholders that includes representatives of public and private sector institutions, students, home-makers, and retired people, rather than being a document that a public body – such as a municipal authority – develops on its own and imposes on city residents. In other words, the charter should represent the geographic, demographic, and socio-economic diversity that characterizes the city.
Here are my thoughts for the Amman Urban Charter:
- The residents of Amman should be empowered to actively participate in the decision-making process regarding issues that affect their daily lives as urban citizens. This participation should take place through the institutions of local government, which essentially consist of municipal authorities.
- Amman should be run in a decentralized manner, and should therefore consist of a number of administratively independent urban districts or even independent municipalities. A central institution would act as a coordinating entity between those independent bodies.
- The councils and mayors of these districts / municipalities should be elected. Each council member should not represent more than 20,000 residents – at least for the foreseeable future – in order to develop close relations between elected officials and their constituencies.
- These councils should be fully representative of the diverse constituencies that make up the city of Amman.
- These councils should have the necessary autonomy, authority, and financial resources to effectively carry out their tasks.
- All efforts should be made to encourage the development of neighborhood-level organizations.
These organizations should be provided with funding and also with places in which they may meet and carry out their activities. Local schools are ideal places for such meetings and activities. These neighborhood-level organizations will form a very important link between city residents and municipal councils and employees.
- City employees should undergo continuous training and assessment to ensure that they provide high-quality services to the residents of the city and that they take pride in doing so.
It should always be kept in mind that the residents of the city pay the salaries of municipal employees through their taxes.
- The municipal bodies of Amman should be involved in public services relating to education, health, transportation, water and electricity distribution, and discharging sewage, in addition to their more traditional responsibilities.
- Amman should have a city-wide waste recycling program.
- The city should be fully accessible to pedestrians. This means that Amman should be served by well-conceived sidewalks, and that pedestrians should be able to cross its streets easily and safely.
- The city should have an efficient and comprehensive public transportation system. People who do not own an automobile should not be discriminated against in terms of mobility, and should be able to easily move through the city.
- Serious efforts should be made to develop alternate transportation systems such as cycling paths.
- Priority should be given in the city to the movement of pedestrians and public transportation vehicles over the private automobile.
- Amman should have an adequate supply of well-maintained and easily accessible open, green (and also low-water consuming) public spaces that are well distributed throughout the city.
There should be no less than 20 square meters of such spaces per resident. This means that Amman should have 60 square kilometers of open green spaces.
- Zoning regulations should promote healthy densities.
This means that the facilities that city residents use on a daily basis should ideally be within a ten-minute walk (this translates to a distance of about one-kilometer). Such facilities include shops, restaurants, schools, offices, parks, and health clinics. A rough benchmark for urban density in Amman may range from 100 residents and jobs per 1,000 square meters in central areas, to 40 residents and jobs in outlying areas.
- Zoning regulations should limit urban sprawl and protect existing agricultural land.
Allowing sprawl to continue unchecked will result in increased traffic congestion, environmental degradation, and will raise the costs of providing infrastructure services.
- Disruptive changes in land use, particularly those that bring high levels of traffic, noise, waste, and pollution to a given neighborhood, should be avoided at all costs.
- All changes in land use should be made through extensive consultation with the local community. The local community should also have the right to veto such changes.
February 25, 2012