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Amman” (con G. Piccinato), capitolo VI in UNCHS-Habitat, SUP, Informal Settlement Upgrading, the demand for capacity building in six pilot cities, a research study conducted with the support of the governement of Italy, Habitat, Nairobi, 1998

Introduction (1)

Although “Jordan … has received scant urban research” (Bonnie et al. 1994), the issue of informal settlement in Amman has been discussed at large in international forums; for instance, the upgrading scheme for East Wahdat was awarded by Aga Khan Architectural Fund and by Habitat itself.

In Amman, several public bodies have undertaken several upgrading projects since the beginning of the eighties, developing a lasting competence in the field of land tenure regularisation and settlements upgrading. At the turn of the Eighties, the Government of Jordan co-operated with the World Bank to formulate a “practical yet innovative attack” on the problems of urban development, focused on the housing needs of low income groups. This resulted in a development strategy that combined the provision of affordable shelter for low-income urban households through upgrading and sites & services development with parallel social and economic development initiatives.

During the 1980s the Government has undertaken three successive Urban Development Projects with funding assistance from the World Bank, based on this development strategy. The first Urban Development Project (UDPl) focused on Greater Amman; it started in 1980 and was completed in 1987. It included the upgrading of four settlements, (including East Wahdat); the second project (UDP2) also focused on Great Amman and was completed in 1991. UDP3 started in 1987 and involved developments in other major urban centres (such as Zarqa, Aqaba and Irbid).

Even if a full evaluation has not been elaborated, UDP outcomes seem relevant. Available sources mention upgrading schemes implemented in 13 informal settlements, covering almost 10,000 households, and approximately 60,000 people; and more than 7 sites & services schemes accommodating 70.000 people in nearly 9,500 plots. Somehow, 7,500 people have been directly affected by state policies per year since 1980, that is less than 1,300 dwelling per year in Jordan. However, “the net increase in the demand for new dwellings in Greater Amman over the period 1987-1991 is estimated at approximately 44,100 dwellings” (GAM-JTT 1987), of which 24.630 are zoned as “popular” dwellings, i. e. 5,000 dwellings per year.

An indirect but consistent outcome of state intervention in upgrading has been soliciting “informal” upgrading of present sites, that took place in a sub-optimal way, through elevation of extra storeys and substitution of temporary materials.

But notwithstanding these earlier efforts, informal settlements and less developed urban areas still appear a major urban issue some 15 years later, although in a changed institutional framework. It is uneasy to evaluate the situation of informal settlements 15 years later the first intervention. The population of Greater Amman has grown, and the whole city has widely changed, although the major increase occurred in the neighbouring municipalities. Several efforts have been paid in upgrading schemes and site & services, which brought to the improvement of dwellings in informal settlements, to the demolition and relocation of some others, and to the realisation of some housing units.

However, informal housing is now confronted with a broader “poorest areas” issue, that is a problem of poverty as well as a political problem with Palestinian refugees’ enclaves. Very few areas can be considered real slums, but slum areas are only a part of the broader poverty problem.

However, poverty risks worsening the general housing condition in the next years. Moreover, this occurs when a deep “distortion” in land prices, partly due to a scant planning regulatory system, weakens the market supply of dwellings; even more so when the private sector might be called to complement public supply of low-cost housing.

Housing and urban policies have than to solve three interlaced problems: a) a broad regularisation issue (lacking of proper title on the land), mainly affecting public areas outside Amman; b) a huge poverty issue (poor housing, irregular income, etc.), partly caused by land and housing market distortion (almost two thirds of population in Jordan are not able to face market price for land: World Bank 1987); c) finally, a wider urban environment issue (lack of basic amenities and equipment, etc.). The three main issues do not ever coincide: for instance, informal sites present a wide difference in status, according to their age, location, land legal ownership, and employment rate of the inhabitants.

While there is a general agreement on basic issues in the field of upgrading (infrastructure and basic services, regularisation, job creation, housing improvement) there exist differences on time and sequences to be adopted in the strategy for the most deprived settlements. Such different positions might create misconceptions among public agencies that are expected instead to co-operate when dealing with regularisation and upgrading.

This is probably the outcome of a housing policy that is not sufficiently linked to the complex spectrum of the new urban society. It seems necessary to tailor public interventions to the specific problems of the interested communities and to devise a methodology that brings the projects in that direction. Thus, the first point for housing and urban policies should be diversifying approaches in order to deal with separate combinations of problems in each site.

The specific objectives for the case-study of Amman were: a) first of all, to carry out a survey of the legal, regulatory, technical and institutional constraints and opportunities regarding informal settlement upgrading, focusing especially on the wide experience of upgrading projects run by the former Urban Development Department since the beginning of the eighties; b) second, to identify the components of the municipal actions and to collaborate to establish a local settlement upgrading capability, evaluating above all the upgrading strategies already implemented by the municipality; the institutional arrangements occurred among the municipality, the government and the main stakeholders; and the evolution of the informal settlements upgrading policy, and the resulting guidelines for ongoing upgrading projects; c) finally, to elaborate a framework for comparative evaluation of past experiences in order to prepare a proposal for a new capacity building project, paying particular attention to the subjects directly and indirectly benefiting from the activity of local authorities, like public companies, NGOs, CBOs, residents, etc.

During the first phase contacts were established with local partners, i.e. with the Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDC) and the municipality of Greater Amman; a working agreement were proposed and discussed with local authorities; and basic information on the situation of informal settlements was gathered in order to structure the following inquiry on case-studies.

During the second phase three case studies were evaluated and compared: the first case study concerns an upgrading programme of the former UDD, substantially implemented; the second case study regards an ongoing upgrading programme; the third refers to a proposed upgrading. The case studies were analysed by direct surveys, interviews with public servants, and interviews with local stakeholders.

In particular, data and information were collected with reference to local upgrading programmes and community initiatives; constraints and results of implemented programmes; constraints and objectives of ongoing programmes; the solutions implemented or envisaged for the regularisation of land tenure, for the upgrading programmes, for the site & services programmes etc.; new problems arisen after implementation: for instance, “infill areas” etc.

The development of a new policy option was discussed in a workshop organised jointly with the local partners, HUDC and GMA.

Finally, during the third phase policy orientations the inventory of the capacity building actions was organised, drawing on the results and inputs from the two previous phases. The proposal for a capacity building project formulated jointly with HUDC and the municipality.

Amman, housing and upgrading: a General Description

City urban growth

Amman is the capital of Jordan, a large town of more than 1,4 million people and is distributed over 528 sq. km. It is located between the Jordan river valley and the desert. Urban population is highly concentrated in Jordan. Amman and the neighbouring municipalities of Ruseifah and Zarqa represent 2/3 of Jordan population; they are expected to absorb the majority of the urban population growth up to the year 2000. The other towns are much smaller and function primarily as local service centres for their agricultural hinterlands. The exception is Aqaba, located on the Red Sea, where growth has mainly been due to port-related activities and tourist investments.

More than 70% of the 4,1 million inhabitants in Jordan live nowadays in urban areas, after three decades of high population growth and significant migration from rural areas to the towns. The rate of population growth is still about 4% per year; in major urban areas, it is about 5%.

The Ministry of Planning reports that the total population growth has risen from 3.8% in 1979 (of which 3.3% is attributable to natural increase, 0.5% to net migration) to 5.3 % in 1991 (2.8% due to natural increase, 2.5% in net migration as a result of the Gulf crisis.) This is a high rate of growth compared to world standards.

The last Population Census reports 963,490 inhabitants in Amman and 1,307,017 people in Amman Nahia, that is the centre with the suburbs (Department of Statistics 1997). The city centre is then still growing with, yet at lower pace, while the conurbation keeps growing in number. In fact, the Census distinguishes between the region of Amman, i.e. the Governorate of the capital, with more than 1,5 million people, and the administrative sub-district where the urban population concentrates; while urban growth has invested several municipalities, now merged in Greater Amman.

Although definition of boundaries have changed overtime, and census district does not correspond with municipal boundary, urban growth is impressive compared to previous population score.

Urban rapid growth in Amman was generated mainly by immigrations from the countryside and by sudden wave of refugees from Palestine (Amman received 26.000 immigrants from Palestine in 1949; 200,000 in 1967 and 300,000 in 1990 after the Gulf War).

For instance, the registered Palestine refugees in Jordan are over one fourth of Jordan’s total population. Most of them live in the capital, however with a regular Jordanian passport; only 20% lives in 10 UNRWA official camps.

In 1958 Amman had 170,000 inhabitants, of which 26,000 people were Palestinian refugees living in camps and 20,000 people occupying shelters in informal settlements (Hacker 1960, quoted in Cavaliere 1994).

In 1979 Amman municipality population was already growth to 623,900 (with the rest of Greater Amman 735,000: GAM-JTT 1987), and to 900.732 people in 1985.

Urban growth, however, is now taking place in a less favourable economic situation. Until 1981, in fact, rapid economy growth produced major structural changes in the economy of the country, and Amman received a great share of immigrants. Amman had the greatest concentration of both population and economic activities, and the highest provision of infrastructure and services: 72% of total private employment is concentrated in Greater Amman Municipality. Commerce and offices provide 34% of all jobs; government employment provides a further 26%. Construction employees 15% of the work-force, whereas industry share is less than 10%.

However, since 1981 development trends in Jordan have been reversed, as well as in many countries of the Arab World. Increases in gross domestic product dropped from an annual average close to 15 percent in 1975-81 to slightly above 3 percent after that period.

Thus, the urban and regional context has dramatically changed in the last 20m years or so. The growth that Amman has undergone had the effect of incorporating into the urban texture areas that were once peripheral. Such is the case of a number of informal settlements, including refugee camps, that occupy at this time central or semi-central locations. More over, the split between the western part of the city, where the best living environment can be found, and the eastern part, where conditions are poorer, has deepened. Planning regulations are responsible for the existing unusual condition where a substantial amount of vacant land on the west side is matched with overcrowding on the east side. If one adds that public transportation within the city seems unable to provide a reasonable good service, it is clear that the “divided city” is a reality that is threatening to aggravate in the next future.

(Map. 1, Greater Amman and the Amman-Balqa region)

Local administration

In Jordan there are 238 municipalities, 2 regional Authorities (Mid Region and Aqaba) and 340 villages. The Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) has been approved in 1987 by the first legislation enacted by the National Assembly. The new municipality covers a wide area of 528 sq.km combines the previous administration of 14 Municipalities and the new town of Abu Nuseir. The Municipality is governed by a council composed of elected representatives and nominated officials from major national and regional development authorities. The Government nominates the mayor. Municipality main competence is either in the field of road and traffic planning or in the field of building permits and regularisation, and it has no experience on the field of upgrading and community development.

Although government is responsible for planning and development controls, the larger municipalities such as Amman do their own planning, while smaller entities rely on the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs. The Ministry is in principle responsible for Housing and related infrastructure. The Department of Land Zoning in the Ministry of Municipalities is responsible for zoning and building regulations in Jordan; while the Department of Lands and Surveys (DLS) is the sole reference for verifying land ownership and rights. In the Land Register are recorded the owner of each land property and the reference for the property’s location, boundary, and area within the cadastral maps.

An effort to increase decentralisation have recently been undertaken by the government, who enhanced the powers of local and regional committees, hence enabling them to revise existing approved plans with respect to zoning, building regulations, roads, footpaths. The regional authorities, such as the Amman-Balqa Region, are responsible for planning standards, approvals, and budgetary matters.

However, all policy, planning, and implementation work in the sub-sector is entrusted with HUDC. The Minister is the Chairman of the Board of the National Housing and Urban Development Corporation. HUDC is the government agency concerned with low income housing: it prepares plans for new housing estates or existing upgrading sites and presents them for approval by the various planning committees.

Other relevant institutions are the Housing Bank and the Royal Geographical Centre. The Bank is a private bank and the major financial institution, which operates in the financial market supporting land development operations. It provides loans for all kind of sectors (private investors, public agencies and individuals), but its role in supporting the lower income is limited. Discussion about land management issues have highlighted that “there is basically no long-term financing for land in Jordan” (HUDC, WB 1993). Loans are limited for the purchase of residential Land (one plot only). The maximum loan amount is 30.000 Jds, reimbursable in 15 years, under condition of: a) a title for the land; b) an income not exceeding 375 Jds per month (the poverty-line is close to 150). Rates are 50% under the market value.

The Royal Geographical Centre is a specialised public centre mainly concerned with aerial survey and map production. The RJGC provide necessary data for DLS cadastral maps, and produces thematic and base maps for the different Government agencies including planning authorities. The centre is equipped with a mainframe computer and a GIS system: it is responsible for all basic mapping.

The two public bodies mostly involved with upgrading programmes in Amman are HUDC and GAM. Relationships between HUDC and local authorities are rather uneasy, due to different behaviour, culture and political responsibility.

HUDC is a government agency with strong technical capabilities, aptitude to implement programmes in diversified environment, availability of financial resources borrowed on international and national market. HUDC has a small Department of community development, which carries social survey before interventions and promotes the establishment of Community centres in some sites. However, HUDC was created as separate body only in 1992, by the merger of the former Urban Development Department (UDD) and the state owned Housing Corporation. The merger was intended to rationalise the delivery of land and housing for lower income households and provide support to local governments. UDD was initially created as a department of the Amman Municipality in 1980, fulfilling the role of executing agency for Urban development Projects 1 (UDP1) and partly funded by the World Bank. UDD was expressly set up for this purpose and acted as a project agency, recovering all but Government’s grant contributions for certain physical and social infrastructure, from project beneficiaries. The success of UDD in the provision of low–income group housing within the Amman region was seen to have application to the rest of Jordan so the agency was transferred to become a department of the Ministry of Municipal, Rural Affairs and the Environment (MMRAE) in 1986.

HUDC’s stated objectives are now to move from direct project implementing to enabling and supporting of effective housing policies and strategies that leverage private and public resources. HUDC’s upgrading projects are than intended to become more diversified. The type of projects should vary and became part of a continuum of upgrading approaches. The main criteria should be: community’s sauce–economic status, environmental conditions, location, densities, level of existing services, land tenure, community cohesiveness and the institutional framework for planning and implementation.

However, HUDC did not succeed to operate in the Amman area since the completion of the second Urban Development Programme. The reason is partly due to the intention of GAM to get involved in upgrading policies as the main actor. Competition between the two public bodies affected the intervention in the area of Mahatta where the agreement for a joint programme was never achieved.

The spatial features of the city

The topography within Amman is variegated and “often scenically dramatic” (JTT 1987). It has often been stressed (Razzaz 1989; Cavaliere 1993 and 1994) that the city of Amman is roughly divided in two socio-economically and geographically distinct parts: western Amman, and eastern Amman.

The western zone lays along the edge of the Jordan Rift Valley and coincides with a temperate climate zone, with rainy winters and mild summers; the central zone include most of the existing urban area and it is where most of the main wadis within Greater Amman join Seil Amman. The wadis have steep sides and major exposed rock. The western part is characterised by upper income neighbourhoods, low density, good infrastructure networks.

The largest zone, extends into the eastern desert to the south and east of Amman, with gently undulated land; it is a zone of warm steppe climate (divided by the centre by a narrow north/south zone of cool semi arid steppe climate), with temperature growing significantly and rainfall decreasing moving to the extreme East of the municipality. Eastern part is characterised by lower income households, overcrowding, scant equipment. Informal settlements are all located in the eastern part of Amman, and some of them (older settlements and some UNRWA camps) in a very central location, close to the downtown commercial district. Most informal sites are located where there is no cultivated land, and land itself is cheaper.

It is noteworthy that the two sections of the town coincide with two climatic regions (Cavaliere 1994): the better-off districts are located in a humid and temperate environment; while the worst-off are in pre-desertic lands.

(Map 2, Districts in Greater Amman)

Housing, land and service

Housing in Amman

In 1985 Amman had 141,000 occupied dwellings and almost 16,000 vacant dwellings, 10% of the total (GAM-JTT 1987). Almost 15 years later these figures have doubled: occupied housing units are 283,000, while vacant or non occupied units are almost 50.000, 15% of the total (Dept. Statistics, 1997).

A great effort has than been paid to satisfy housing needs. However, it was estimated that between 1980 and 1985 almost 80 of all dwellings constructed in Greater Amman were privately built by small scale contractors and developers or individual home owners. And that in the last ten years urban growth spread beyond Amman boundaries, affecting neighbouring municipalities of Zarqa and Ruseifah (north-east of Amman), where the largest number of unregistered land subdivisions can be found. For instance, the population of Zarqa has increased sharply between 1985 (257,000 inhabitants: GAM-JTT 1987) and 1991 (424,000 inhabitants: HUDC 1991).

As a result, 60% of the overall dwelling number are estimated in low-rise apartment buildings, 30% one or two storey villa and attached houses, and 10% are estimated single storey dwellings (mainly within refugees camps and informal housing areas).

Almost two thirds of all dwellings are owner occupied, with only one quarter rented, and some 9% “having no legal title” (GAM-JTT 1987). More precisely, almost all rented dwellings are in apartment building, just a few are in so called “dar” (small detached houses); whereas all other type of housing units are mostly owned (Department of Statistics 1997); however, the “informal” rented sector (i.e. dwellings owned by relatives) amounts to 6.1% of total dwellings.

Existing Legislation & Patterns of Land Tenure

All land in Jordan is registered under either private or public ownership. Historically, the state is the owner of all land that is abandoned or lies barren. Existing patterns of land tenure are intrinsically traditional and derived basically from the Islamic law “Shari’a” and the Ottoman Code of 1858. Prior to the formation of the Kingdom, “most of the land was divide among tribes and villages into Dirahs (domains). The stronger the tribe was, the more fertile land and herds it controlled” (Razzaz 1989). Within the tribe or the village land was mushaa’ (privately combined and unshared ownership) among the members, a type of ownership somehow intermediate between the communal property system and the divided property.

Traditionally, there were two dominating classes of land tenure: the “amiri” land which belonged to the state and included arable and desert lands; the state exercised ultimate control over this land, imposed taxes on individuals for using it, and regained full rights even when the land was freely sold or purchased; the “tafweed” or unalienable lands which were originally of the amiri type but full ownership rights have been granted through the governor to individuals or tribal groups.

Present categories were established by article 1 of the Land Settlement Law of 1933. They include: State domain and lands owned by the public sector such as the military, various ministries, para-statal groups, and public enterprise; “Miri” land which is mainly arable and agricultural land located outside municipal boundaries; in such case, the holder has the full right to use and invest the land which keeps belonging to the state; “Waqf” or endowed land whose ownership cannot be transferred from the possession of an owner or his descendants (there are, however, two subcategories related to this pattern of tenure; lands endowed to charitable or religious institutions, and lands bequeathed solely to the heirs); Tribal lands whose ownership has been granted by the monarchy to various tribal groups. Tribal land is usually held in common and every member is reallocated a share as needs arise; “Mulk” land which is located within municipal boundaries and owned under full private ownership rights or freehold whether by an individual, limited joint holdings, or collective shareholdings i.e. “mushaa’” (in present urban practice, the term mushaa’ also applies to any parcel of land having more than one owner).

Although the Land Settlement Law of 1933 has contributed to a determination of titles to land, “mushaa’” is still registered in the name of individual shareholders. Eventually, re-allocating land to reflect changes in the community becomes impossible and no effective measures for rationalising such changes are included in the law. Fragmentation of land continues to increase while joint holdings become common. The traditional laws of inheritance further worsen this problem. In certain situations, however, the superimposition of modern concepts of private land ownership on traditional land tenure systems has called for special interventions by the Government and the development of specific legal and administrative tools to overcome land tenure problems. This is particularly valid in rapidly developing areas.

At this time, public domain has substantially decreased in urban and suburban areas due to sale of large tracts to private developers. The Government has placed the priority on modifying the structure of land tenure system in favour of private ownership, but such a policy seems to make pursuit of rational land use policies extremely difficult.

Informal land occupancy

In a few areas the original squatters built their dwellings “under an agreement with the landowner in a form known as hejeh” (or Hujja: proof) (UDD 1982a). Hejeh is a form of customary land purchase not recognised by the Department of Land and Survey, that declared it illegal and non-binding; it therefore conveys no legal rights, as the sellers -usually Bedouin members of a tribe claiming right upon the land – do not possess legal title to the land: “In the hejeh the tribal seller guarantees to protect the buyer against the encroachment or invasion of other tribal members or neighbours. However, it is explicitly mentioned that the tribal owner cannot protect the buyer from an unpredictable state action” (Razzaz 1989) (2).

There is another hybrid form of tenure under which a group of squatters purchases a block of land and register it under group ownership. This form of ownership renews the old “mushaa’” in order to side-step legal restrictions on land registration. In fact, the Department of Land and Survey does not register plots smaller than 100 sqm.. However, collective ownership does not allow renegotiating the land and the land cannot be used in the financial market, for instance as guarantee for a formal loan.

However, “the squatters in Amman appear to have occupied their land without any form of arrangement with the owners of the land” (UDD 1982a), and squatter-owner antagonism is quite common. The main reason is that such land, once almost valueless, is worth considerable sums at this time.

Actually, a major factor influencing the location was indicated in the efficiency of landowners in preventing squatting, that tends to be lower as the land is under the ownership of a larger group of people (mushaa’, heirs, etc.). Quality of land is another factor. Squatter areas are often located on steep slopes, or in the floodable beds of wadis.

It is worth to stress that, since 1967, government did not appear to have been very effective at protecting its property; sometimes it tried to manage the conflict. For instance, the land of Al Nadhif was let to the Palestine Affairs Department after “some problems” between land-owners and occupiers (however, it is not registered as an UNRWA Camp). Land regularisation was part of the upgrading programme in UDP1.

Even some official Palestinian Refugees Camps, located on land temporary rented by the government from private landlords, were submitted to the Court after the request of eviction presented by the landlord.

A number of the informal sites are located near official refugee camps; informal settlements appeared commonly as “overspill” centres, or unofficial camps. Although in many areas there were people living since 1948 or soon after (more in Jofeh and Wadi Riman, a lower proportion in Wadi Haddadah and Nuzha), “there has been considerable movement into (and presumably out of) these older areas since their foundation” (UDD 1982a); researchers advice is that the relationships between camps and squatters are complex.

However, the share on total population of people who resided previously in Palestine was high (70% in Jofeh, 47% in Wadi Riman, 45% in Wadi Haddadah, 43% in East Wahdat, 31% in Nuzha).

Services and infrastructure

Until the late 1970s, high urban land prices coupled with large minimum legal plot sizes, restrictive planning and building regulations, and inadequate access to established financial markets combined to deny a high proportion of low income households access to reasonable housing at prices they could afford.

As a result, much of the rapid population build-up in urban areas, especially in Greater Amman, took the form of illegal settlements, populated by growing numbers of the urban poor. These families lived without security of tenure in poorly constructed overcrowded dwellings, with inadequate public utilities or other facilities.

In most informal settlements, mains water, electricity and sewage service almost no dwelling. Water must be carried in tins or hosed and stored in barrels. Even when public facilities are available in the site, as in the case of “mature” urban settlements such, networks as well as connections with houses need major improvement.

However, at the beginning of the Eighties (UDD 1982a) most dwellings in the informal sites appeared to have electricity and the great majority had even water or sewerage mains. Households that have no metered supply, were often able to buy water or electricity from neighbours, though at very high prices. The price of water in the informal sector, reported by the 1982 survey, was at least 5 times the official charge or more .

This is particularly apparent for older, mature settlements, usually closer to the city centre. For instance, in Al Mahatta most dwellings have electricity (73%), the great majority have water mains (82,3%), although linkage to main network has been obtained very recently (51% in the previous ten years). Some dwellings are linked to the main sewage network too (29,4%) or to pits (44,8%). The two small plots of Al Hashimi, in the city old centre, are serviced with most of the infrastructure services (water, sewerage, electricity and telephones). In fact, the settlement dates back to the late 50s. However, service standards are low, roads and footpaths are not adequate, and the site is penetrated by Al-Istiklal high-way.

Responsibility for the provision of physical infrastructure lies at the national level. Three power companies provide electricity. Water and sewage are under the authority of a national agency, the Water Authority of Jordan. Local authorities are responsible for street cleaning, street lighting, solid waste and the construction and maintenance of local roads.

For this reason some public works has been occasionally carried out while waiting for a more comprehensive upgrading scheme. For instance, Municipality of Greater Amman constructed two walls as dividers between Al Mahatta and the heavy traffic Al Jeish street, and some trees were planted within the walls, while footpaths and vacant land along the inner wall were paved.

While there is a general agreement on basic issues (infrastructure and basic services, regularisation, job creation, housing improvement) among the various agencies involved, there exist relevant differences on time and sequences to be adopted in the strategy.

More particularly, GAM considers necessary to act in order to ameliorate environmental conditions of informal housing areas whatever the legal status is. HUDC seems considering regularisation as a first step that is going to develop into a greater involvement of the citizens in the following ameliorating policy. Projects are ranging from comprehensive upgrading that includes reblocking, tenure, infrastructure and community facilities in densely settled communities; land regularisation projects in lower density sites, such as Abu Alia and Hamlan where residents have opted for phased infrastructure development from the relevant authorities; public/private co-operation for the redevelopment of a commercial area and the increasing use of non–government organisations (NGOs) in community development activities including a micro-enterprise program; and integration of upgrading activities within a structured land management policy for urban municipalities as part of future projects.

Informal settlements in Amman

High density low-income squatter settlements are less widespread in Jordan than in many other developing countries. There is a general consensus that there are relatively few clandestine settlements or unregistered subdivisions, although overall figures could widely vary. However, the problem is not only of poor estimates; a more puzzling concern arises with definition.

The subject of upgrading policies is almost always limited to illegal squatter areas, while informal housing is widespread in Amman poorer (but non necessarily illegal) areas and, moreover, it characterises Palestinian Refugees Camps. Whereas Refugees Camps are often located in the middle of downtown and people living there interact freely with people living outside, they are not subjected to the same administration.

In fact, some sites are commonly considered as “informal camps” (Nuzha or Nadhif, for instance: Razzaz 1993; or Mahatta, to whom people refer to using the same word, moqaiam, utilised to define refugees camp: Cavaliere 1994). However, two refugee camps are located in Greater Amman, and they have been under the responsibility of UNRWA since 1948. For instance, Amman New Camp (Wahdat Camp) covers an area of 488 dunums (1 dunum= 1,000 sqm.); initially it accommodated 5,000 refugees in 1,400 UNRWA constructed shelters; in 1957 some 1,260 were added. The UN official description does not hide that informal activity transformed and developed the site: “over the year the refugees improved their shelters and added more room to them.

Now the camp has grown into an urban-like quarter and is surrounded with areas of high population density” (UNRWA 1994). Population was estimated in 45,000 people by official source (Ministry of Planning 1987); in 1994, according to a UN source, the camp accommodated some 72,000 persons. Jebel Hussein Camp covers an area of 420 dunums with 35,000 people (Ministry of Planning 1987), whereas it was set up in 1952 in an area of 367 dunums with a population of 8,000 refugees (UNRWA 1994). Such camps should have been submitted to the same building restrictions operating in Amman, but unauthorised construction resulted as the only way to face demographic increase and immigrants pressure.

In fact, dramatic changes occurred since the Eighties. In 1991 a HUDC survey pointed out that in Zarqa the built-up area had increased by 40% during the ten years before, whereas one third only of houses had a regular building permit, compared to an average ratio of 84% estimated in Jordan.

In Ruseifah “the majority of buildings was found to be without permits since most it was built on state land”; however, in all the areas of the four cities surveyed (Irbid, Zarqa, Ruseifah and Amman) “the majority of the plot areas violate the zoning regulations, as well as a lot of buildings violate the building regulations” (HUDC 1991). It is worth to stress that, as 1987 and 1993 studies paid attention only to Amman city, Zarqa and Ruseifah fast growing sites (Jana’a and Yajouz Road) disappeared from the lists reported in table 1.

Yet in 1987 it could be read that “squatting on Government lands on the urban fringes, while a relatively new phenomenon not yet involving many people, has been increasing in recent years… The quality and size of the houses in these newer informal areas are generally better than in the more centrally located slum areas” (World Bank 1987).

Later, it was recognised that “construction on the state land to a great extent is out of the control of the authorities in spite of all serious effort” (HUDC 1991). However, in Ruseifah the title of land was contested between the State, which had enacted a law in 1976 to end a long traditional practice of granting mawat (unused, unowned) land to tribe members, and the tribe itself, which started subdividing and developing small parcels for lower and middle income groups that found residential area in Amman far too expensive (Razzaz, 1989).

(Map. 3 The less developed areas in Greater Amman)

Living and dwelling condition

Intensive investigations of illegally developed settlements in Greater Amman have been carried out since 1979-80. In a earlier study (UDD 1982a), squatters settlement were defined as “areas built illegally on land to which the developers did not possess proper title”, with exclusion of housing which was illegal only in the sense of having been built “in infringement of the building regulations, which is more widespread” (ibidem).

Investigations of 17 areas in Greater Amman drew to an estimate of the total population living in squatter settlements as defined above: “Of the 169,000 households in Greater Amman it seems safe to say that about 13,900 households or roughly 8% live in squatter settlements, with a total population of about 96,000. These are of course additional to those households who live in official refugee camps… whose inhabitants do not have title to the land either” (ibid.). However, informal settlements date often back to 1948 or early ‘50s.

The report of the 1966 Social Survey, quoted by the same study, described the main squatter areas existing at that time, which all were still present 16 years later; the only informal sites to have disappeared, according to some reports, are some areas briefly occupied and then destroyed during the events of 1970.

Dwellings in informal sites has only one or two habitable rooms: it follows that occupancy rates were high (mostly 3 persons per room, in some cases 4 or more).

A fair proportion has separate rooms or apartments occupied by related households. Relatives live usually rent free, but in the more substantially developed areas more a third of the households rent their accommodation. Most landlords appear to follow the “legal” practice of charging a constant rent for the duration of a tenancy. Two room apartment with electricity, water and its own kitchen and toilet appeared to be rent for around 30 Jordan Dinars (1 JD was approximately 1.47 US$ in 1996) per month, a rather low rent compared to similar dwellings outside the informal areas.

The average plot is just over 100 sqm., but there are quite wide variations within each area (from 20sqm. to 1000sqm. or more). The plots are mainly developed right up to their boundaries, leaving only a small courtyard. Most buildings have one storey only, and development rarely exceeds three floors. Most of the site are fairly intensive developed, with densities of around 500 persons per hectare. By 1981, 81% had concrete or cement block walls and only 43% had metal roofs (while as earl as in 1971, a survey of Jofeh, quoted by the 1982 report, found that the great majority of dwellings were of these materials).

The minimum cost for a housing in a new site & service project is about 12,000 JDs (approximately 18-20,000 dollars) whereas the average family income in a site like Mahatta is 145 JDs per month (i.e. 213 dollars per month and less than 2,500 dollars per years) (UDD Social Survey, 1988). The ratio between the cost of a new accommodation and the annual income of poor family is then 7, that is more or less the same ratio in wealthier countries between the average family income and the cost for a standard market accommodation. This does not mean that the cheaper legal accommodation in Jordan is as expensive as a market accommodation elsewhere, but that the family effort is the same (and possibly heavier for a poor family).

The major part of the cost is due to the land price. The lowest price HUDC was able to practice on government land was 2,65 JDs/sqm. The price for a minimum plot (sized at 300 m.) sums up to less than 800 JDs, i.e. approximately 7% of the housing cost. But this rate of land price is very unlikely, as HUDC itself plans to sell new plots at the average cost of 22 JDs (in Abu Alia project for instance).

However, prices are often higher and contested: both reasons undermine the effort of upgrading. For instance, the dispute between land owner and settlers in the site of South Hashimi concerns a contested price of 13 JDs/sqm. This price would bring over 30% the rate of land on the cost of a house in a site & service site. The occupants of Al Hashimi (approximately 100 families), a mature site in the city old centre, maintain to have paid in 1967 the landowner at a price of 1 JDs/sqm., but the sale was not legally registered at that time. The new landowners (who inherited the land) followed a court case against the occupants and required a financial settlement for the land price. The court estimated the land price at 11-15 JDs/sqm. (according to plots location) and ordered the evacuation of the site if the “squatters” did not paid. The majority of the occupants has rejected the court decision in 1995. In fact, the financial settlement will result in a change of the legal status of the site: from a squatter to a Masha, without parcellisation and without private ownership of individual plots.

In Mahatta the land price is even higher: in 1982 it was estimated at about 25 JDs/sqm., but it has later arisen to 40-50JDs. Being the minimum plot size fixed at 300 sqm., the market price of the land sums to 7,500-15,000 JDs, more than the cost of the house itself.

The number of squatters

Official data often underestimate the extensions of squatters areas. Still in 1987, for the purpose of the Comprehensive Plan of Greater Amman, population of “slum and squatter settlements” was estimated only in 50.000 people (GAM-JTT 1987), paying reference to a study by UDD on 16 sites within Greater Amman.

In that study, slum areas were defined as “older, run down and/or obsolete housing units, either apartments in the older central neighbourhoods, or substandard areas of badly maintained traditional construction, with inadequate water, electricity, and sewerage facilities”; squatter areas were defined as “more recent settlements that do not conform with planning and building regulations, occupying land where the tenure is uncertain, or privately owned land where the land and buildings are held by different people”.

More recently, the 1994 Census substantially endorsed that estimate, while confirming both the trend to a quantitative growth and to a relocation process: 59.273 inhabitants were reported in almost 11,000 informal housing units in Greater Amman (refugee camps not included), while the same figure was grown to 26,311 people in Zarqa and 46,706 in Ruseifah.

However, a different source already had estimated in 1986 21 small squatter areas sheltering approximately 135,000 people (UDD 1986) in both Amman and Zarqa. The only other recognised squatter area in Jordan was then located on government land in Aqaba and accommodates about 15,000 residents. According to another view, the number of squatters in Amman was at least 100,000 people at the time (Bisharat & Tawfic 1985).

A similar figure, some 150,000 people, has been indicated in 1987 by the World Bank as the overall number of people living “in squatter or slum areas that are characterised by illegal tenure and serious deficiencies in infrastructural and social services” (World Bank 1987). The Bank records also 130,000 refugees living in official refugee camps.

However, the last official estimate suggests a figure of about 80.000 people (GAM 1993) on a population of 1,230,000. The subject of Gam 1993 study is not limited to squatting, but to the more comprehensive subject of “the less developed areas in Amman”; and it does not take charge of informal settlements outside GAM boundaries.

Comparison is not an easy task, of course, as many changes occurred in time and within the sites. Nevertheless, the overall population living in deprived or informal areas has not changed over time, as shown in Table 1 comparing different sources:

  1. first of all, Amman Municipality boundaries have changed in 1987: since then, some sites belong to Zarqa or Ruseifah municipalities (for instance, Jana’a, Jebel Faisal).

  2. some sites have disappeared, with good reasons, from one list to another thanks to the implementation of upgrading programmes: for instance, East Wahdat, Jofeh, Wadi Riman are not to be considered informal housing;

  3. demolition and relocation affected the overall number of the inhabitants of Wadi Abdoun and Mahatta, which were partially demolished due to the construction of new road network;

  1. the definition of the boundaries of a site could change; for instance Nuzha is sometimes indicated as a whole or as the sum of a lower, upper and middle part;

  2. some sites developed only recently; Umm Inah, Umm Nuvara and Tareq were still in “embryo” before 1986;

  3. mixed sites were not taken in charge in 1986; for instance Zuhur results from the imposition of an informal development and a regular one.

Moreover, trends of development of informal settlements are different. Some sites loose population, like Nuzha, Wadi Abdoun and Mahatta, whose extension was also reduced; some other sites almost doubled their population, like Al Nadhif, although it was unable to extend the built area, due to the bad topography of the area. Older sites seem to risk a process of development (as far as extra storeys are tolerated) which eventually results in heavy overcrowding of the site.

However, the overall size of population in informal settlements of Greater Amman (not considering Zarqa and Ruseifah) does not seem have changed, although some sites have grown and some others have declined. Major changes depend either on the upgrading of an old site, or on the acknowledgement of a new one. Moreover, new settlements are not located within Amman boundaries, but in the nearby fast growing municipalities of Zarqa and Ruseifah.

Finally, old settlements have reached during the last forty years a semi-stable or a full recognised status (depending on the implementation of governmental upgrading policies) and even a “urban like” shape (depending mostly on informal upgrading); whereas new settlements started mainly on public land and are almost fully equipped.

Discordant conclusions of studies on informal settlements can be drawn from table 1. In fact, the magnitude of the issue varies according to the definition of informal settlement, i.e. according to the number and quality of sites taken into account.

Then, the definition of the problem is part of the problem itself, as it is clearly understandable with reference to some 130,000 inhabitants of refugee camps who are not comprised in the target population of upgrading policies. Definitions can affect policies: the real issue in Amman appear to be the variety of policies implemented or envisaged to face a number of different situations, while Zarqa and Ruseifah, where regularisation have been dealt (almost) without upgrading programmes, are good examples of the need to differentiate approaches. However, it could be stressed that:

  1. the population of some sites has largely grown since 1982 (see for instance Wadi Haddadah) or at least has grown between 1982 and 1987;

  2. the extension of sites has not changed that much (for instance, from 6.8 hectares to 7 in Wadi Haddadah; from 9.4 to 11 hectares in Mahatta);

  3. finally, growth in population in Amman city ended in overcrowding of existing sites more than in extension of slum areas.

Table 1

Inhabitants of informal sites in Amman

UDD 1982a


GAM 1993

East Wahdat







Wadi Riman




Wadi Haddadah North




Wadi Haddadah South






















Upper Hamlan




Lower Hamlan







Wadi Marbat/Mahatta






Amir Hassan Camp Marka




Yarmouk Road, L.E. Wahdat





Wadi Saqrah



Moh. Amin Camp-Ras Ain




Abu Alia, Tareq


Umm Tinah


Umm Nuwarah


Amir Hassan Quarter Ruseifah



Jebel Faisal/Musheirfeh Ruseifah


Yajouz Road Ruseifah


Jana’a Zarqa


Other Areas







Housing and poverty

Statistical surveys (Department of Statistics, 1995) have shown that at least one third of the population of Amman have no saving capacity (i.e., the difference between earning and expenses is zero and even less); other source (Word Bank 1987) points out that two third cannot afford the market price of the land.

These official data does not represent the real economic capacity of family, as far as informal economy is not concerned by statistics. Moreover, housing often escaped economic measurement, as it can imply the use of other resources: human resources, manual skills, reclaimed building materials etc. However, there is no doubt that a large share of families cannot afford the market price.

The bulk of employed residents in the informal areas of Amman are manual workers, mostly in the private sector. The average household size is 7, slightly higher than the average of 6.54. According to a general survey (UDD 1982a), casual workers and unemployed amount to 13%; moreover, one in six households has no person working, and receives small remittances from relatives employed abroad. Thus, “many live literally on the bread-line” and their lack of purchasing power will cause great problem” to any upgrading projects. Since then, and particularly after the economic crisis that followed the Gulf war at the beginning of the Nineties, the situation has deeply worsened.

In Al Hashimi a survey indicates that 35% of households are below the poverty line. However, among the households, there are 35% of public employees with regular income, 15% employees in the privates sector, 50% of semi-skilled occasional workers (HUDC 1995). Then, the majority of the households would be able to afford the whole required land price if the Housing Bank had given a loan, that was refused instead as “too risky”.

Urban policies on land use, low cost housing and upgrading

It is commonly recognised that there are “serious signs of distortions in land markets in Jordan” (HUDC 1993, World Bank 1993). As it has been stated in a very recent evaluation, priority issues are high land prices; a growing affordability issue; a large number of vacant plots in Amman; an increase in the amount of informal occupation of government land.

Under current planning legislation, all land within municipal boundaries is available for urban development: New urban land can be easily created by simple extension of already approved municipal boundaries. Greater Amman Municipality introduced a new Comprehensive Plan in 1987, but it has never been approved. The amount of existing zoned land is sufficient to accommodate two or three times the existing population (GAM-JTT 1987). About 44% of total Greater Amman planned residential areas could accommodate up to 3.3 million, a figure that “will not be reached for another 20 years or more. This premature zoning has had several negative effects, such as: the rise in land prices, encouraging scattered housing development and causing inefficient infrastructure provision and urban development” (HUDC 1995). Public housing developments are often indicated as responsible for similar negative outcomes.

Land market distortion heavily affect housing issues in Amman, and is one of the key factors in the settlement of squatter areas.

Existing building regulations are widely criticised. Several studies (GAM-JTT 1987; GAM, 1993; HUDC 1991) pointed out the unsatisfying outcomes of urban land management in Amman, due partly to the present state of zoning regulations.

The recent Land reconnaissance survey (HUDC 1991) shows for Greater Amman: a large oversupply of plots in zones A (1000 m2) and B (750 m2); a deficiency in plots C (500 m2) and D (250 m2); a lack of residential plots zoned E (below 250 m2).

The existing zoning allocation is not consistent with the actual demand. Out of 186 km2 zoned for residential use, 62% are allocated to A and B, while only 38% are allocated to more affordable C and D plots. Moreover, large volumes of more expensive plots are still vacant, while the demand concentrate on cheaper D or even E plots.

The outcome of its situation is that people illegally divide their plots or request zoning amendments.

Table 2

Developed lands in Amman per zoning allocation

% Zoned % Built-up

Areas Areas

Plots type A 35 12

” B 27 17

” C 18 32

” D 13 62

Source: HUDC 1991

Major constraints affecting urban development and planning in Jordan reflect the mismatch between supply of and demand for low, middle, and high income housing. Some alternative options were proposed by the Shelter Unit of the Ministry of Planning, to influence development of urban land. For instance, public policy statements made some stimulating proposals in order to have on the market more small, serviced plots (e.g. in the range 150 – 300 sqm.) in locations that were suitable for moderate and lower income households; to halt inefficient urban extensions and simultaneously to densify those areas which are already planned and serviced but are under-utilised, creating disincentives toward vacant land holding within towns.

It is quite apparent that these statements place emphasis on indirect public intervention rather than direct supply of urban land by the Government. Only implies some form of action where certain public agencies such as the UDD might enter land markets directly.

The Shelter Unit/Nation Housing Strategy (NHS) considers that the highest priority should be given to addressing the problem of urban areas that have already been serviced or planned. It is clear that the Government believes that legislation alone is adequate to fulfil control and development of land. Most of these proposed actions will apparently imply the enforcement of a variety of existing and amended jurisdictions.

Despite the fact that private entities own the lion’s share of urban land in Jordan, none of the above stated options comprise a clear incentive to the private sector – and particularly those with sizeable under-utilised parcels – to intervene wholeheartedly in the provision of land affordable to poorer families. Such a system will encourage the development of privately and publicly held land through qualified building co-operatives, who will be responsible for leasing serviced small plots at fixed rents to private holders on a medium or long term leasehold basis. This will certainly release targeted lower income groups from high land purchase costs. Owning a piece of land is essentially a prerequisite to obtain a housing loan from any relevant financing resource in this country. Public agencies can also lease most developable urban land owned by the Government to lower income families and building co-operatives for a specified period of time.

upgrading schemes in amman

There is a general recognition in Amman that the conditions informal settlements are not among the poorest in the developing world, and the information collected so far seem to confirm that conclusion.

Amman has experienced a deep involvement in upgrading, but notwithstanding all implemented programs, the amount of people living in informal settlements has not decreased. Even more so, some settlements were born as an overspill from the refugee camps or from other informal settlements.

If such a phenomenon has become rare today for most urban settlements, there is another development deserving to be seriously taken into account: the growth of informal settlements and occupations in the neighbouring municipalities of Ruseifah and Zarqa. There is a spontaneous process of growth and relocation of the low-income inhabitants east of Amman. while this leaves Amman in a better (or non worsened) condition, the problems are simply moved nearby. The need for a co-ordinated regional strategy appears most clearly also from such point of view.

The policies adopted in upgrading existing informal settlements were always decided and designed by local authorities within a philosophy of “problem solving”. Stated the nature of the problem, assessed the size of the investment, obtained the necessary funds, the program could be implemented without any other delay. Appealing as this could be, one must however recognise that, after so many years and a heavy economic commitment, the problem is still there and that other areas (in fact all urbanising areas of the Nation) present similar conditions.

As a matter of fact, public agencies seem recently changing their approach. The new approaches go in the direction of stirring up greater involvement of the interested population, in form of substantial economic participation (although graduated according to own possibilities) and community control of environmental choices.

There is an apparent agreement that a “softer” approach is needed for at least two reasons: the national budget cannot afford overall radical interventions on the existing settlements and, moreover, the growth of informal housing in urban areas other than the capital city’s calls for continuing public involvement. Community participation seems to be the key word. However, this has to be carefully graduated for different levels of needs and possibilities and, in our view, not confined to the financial aspects.

This leads to consider public intervention as a way to social development more than just environmental amelioration. Public agencies seem only partially equipped to go this way: their technical know-how and professional background is heavily rooted in the fields of architecture and engineering, although some other qualifications start to be called to work. On the other side, there is a clear competence in programme design and implementation that promises to offer a strong support for any future policy.

The following sites can exemplify different “generations” of upgrading methodology in Amman in the last fifteen years, the last being chosen as the case-study for the capacity building proposal.

(Map. 4 Three informal sites in East Amman)

The first intervention: East Wahdat

The first site, East Wahdat, presents all the classical feature of a “model” intervention: legalisation of tenures, upgrading of existing accommodations, careful design of public facilities, a variety of functions (residential, commercial…), a sophisticated financial linkage of new and old realisations, quick implementation, high-level integration of technical and social concerns, a strong programme of cost-recovery. In fact, the programme was quite successful and established the standard model of intervention for the following projects.

The site is located in the southern part of Amman, close to UNRWA “New Camp”. It was started soon after the 1967 war. Its area is approximately 9 hectares, in a shallow valley, with a population of 4,000 people in 1993. At the close of 1982, prior to the inception of upgrading works, there were some 390 families and about 2,750 people (UDD 1982a) “living in some of the most deplorable conditions existing in Amman Region” (UDD 1987). Net residential density was about 342 persons per hectare, rather low compared to most informal settlements in Amman (ranging from 400 for post 1967 camps, to 650 for older post 1948 camp: highest densities of 750 and more were reached in Nadhif, Nuzha and Jofeh).

Presenting the project implemented in East Wahdat (3), UDD was emphasising two features: that a “relatively short period” was needed to implement a massive transformation; and that “people were in a state of deep slumber awaiting someone to wake them up and show them the way to help themselves” (UDD 1987).

For the speed in upgrading, UDD explained that residents were not removed but, “with the help of neighbours, they built the first room and then dismantled the old shack while completing the house”.

UDD maintains having played “exactly” the enabler role, establishing since the beginning a field-office at East-Wahdat, drawing up special regulations with the municipality, designing housing models according to individual needs and income.

But “the greatest effort was conducted by the UDD social workers” (ibid.), either assessing the needs of each family, either gathering basic information. This task was difficult to be achieved with a population fearful of eviction.

Upgrading East Wahdat involved some features:

  • the construction plan was simple; it drew on traditional Arab/Muslim dwelling, and single houses had a separate entrance, a courtyard and an external wall (likely a rural model);

  • each plot was provided with a sanitary core outside the house and a front wall (during the development, this feature was often changed, and a new bathroom was built inside the house);

  • each plot was connected to water mains, electricity and sewage; roads and footpaths were built; hygienic improvement resulted in a tangible improvement in health (for instance, a sharp drop in infant mortality rate);

  • the price of each plot included all these facilities and the cost of the land; training all possible labour residing within the project enhanced productivity of manpower. In general, development costs are kept as low as possible through stringent design standards and provision of a range of on-site development options to make plots affordable to households. It is noteworthy, however, that the income of the UDP of the UDP target group should be no more than 40% and no less than 10% of the average income. Besides, the price of the cheaper units is reduced by cross subsidy within a scheme from commercial units and housing plots sold at market prices.

  • granting of legal tenure to squatters removed a major constraint to the self-improvement of dwellings (that households are reluctant to do when faced with possible eviction). Security of tenure encouraged people to improve their homes. Moreover, households were able to build one room (or less) at a time to match their budget, needs, taste and inclination. Experience showed that this method resulted in a significant reduction in development costs, and that it effectively had increased the quality of standard that participating households can afford for a given level of investment.

  • basic community facilities were provided, as well as vocational training, building materials loans, assistance with building designs and small plots (none of which were available before UDD intervention).

(Map.5 East Wahdat)

An unsuccessful proposal: al Mahatta

The second case-study, Al Mahatta, illustrates the failure of generalising the methodology previously experienced for two main reasons: a) the high land price, that undermined the cost recovery programme, blocking the “virtuous financial circle” between land title regularisation and the realisation of public facilities; b) the competition between the new local authority and the government agency, that concern more problems of convenience and priorities than different approaches to the upgrading problem. However, in front of a substantial new problem, the methodology of upgrading project did not change.

Mahatta (4) is a squatter settlement within Amman central area, 2 km far from downtown. Its area is approximately 8.9 hectares, and it lies between an important commercial road (the “penetrator” road known as Al Jeish street, 20 m. wide) and Mahatta street.

Originally, the site area was much larger, but many of the inhabitants were relocated when the highway was constructed. The site is on concave slope facing south east with the gradients about 30% at the upper level; the lower plots lie on an area that slopes more gently (5-15%) to Al Jeish street. The site is bisected north south by a local road (12 m. wide) and is surrounded by main roads with the exception of a small northern tract. The median street is the only main way within the site, but there are a number of passageways that connect the three parallel streets (Mahatta, the median street and Al Jeish street). At this time, the average walk to the nearest street is about 50 m. long, with a maximum of 80 m. The importance of the site comes from its location on the eastern entrance of Amman, along the main street connecting Amman with Zarqa city.

As many other sites or even refugees camp (some of them, as already reported, look like “urban-like quarters”: UNRWA 1994), Mahatta could not be considered as a real slum or a temporary settlements. Since people have been living there for some 40 years and more, it is hardly defined a precarious habitat. In fact, Mahatta has been at least partially transformed into a stable neighbourhood, with a liveable community. Most of the previous shelter has been turned into decent dwellings, although many of them still need some improvement.

Besides, the site does not appear as a closed world, a social enclave tied to Palestinian origins: people from East Bank, renting from previous Palestinian squatters who left the neighbourhood, amount to 10% of the present population (Cavaliere 1994). There are also, as in the nearby Nadhif Site, a small number of immigrant workers from other countries, Syria or Egypt, that found in Mahatta more affordable accommodation than in the legal market.

The two programmes of HUDC and GAM for Mahatta share a deep concern for opening roads, and differ mainly for the decision by the Municipality to proceed to a partial upgrading (and in a “make-up” of the frontside on the road to the international airport) without addressing the unaffordable and politically sound problem of land regularisation.

Municipality goals can be summarised as follows:

  1. ameliorate the environmental aspects of the site creating proper roads and accesses, clearing some courts and open space “without disturbing the urban and social structure”, i.e. minimising the destruction of buildings and adopting the existing road network;

  2. providing “some” social and community service;

  3. enhancing the aesthetique of the site “especially the facade on the main highway of Amman-Zarqa”;

  4. investigate the possible and proper means to solve the problem of ownership.

HUDC’s scheme main concepts are:

  1. “introducing new road network to penetrate especially the lower part”;

  2. providing open space at the eastern end of the site to act as a public garden and a buffer between the site and the adjacent major traffic network.

Moreover, the scheme expects to demolish 94 dwellings, occupied by 180 households (15% of total household) and 94 partially demolished case: to regularise ownership; to upgrade infrastructure and circulation network; to develop community programmes ( a community centre); to relocate families.

(Map. 6 Al Mahatta)

Towards a new approach: Hai Abu Alia/Tareq district

A third approach to upgrading projects has been recently presented by HUDC (HUDC 1995), justified by some changes of the sites under study (Mahatta and Abdoun, Qaisyeh, Lawziyeh, Al-Hasemi, Al Nadhif, Hai Abu Alia). This new approach tends to be more co-operative with local authorities and other agencies; a greater attention is paid to social and economic actions finalised to enable and support the inhabitants.

The new «generation» of HUDC proposals is based on: full involvement of Municipality in cost recovery, site planning and the administrative and procedural action, affordable solution, limiting the financial burden on residents. However, HUDC maintains its role of technical advisor and project facilitator and financier (surveying the area, assessing the needs, supervising works, programming implementation, etc.), leaving to the Municipality the role of: paying the costs allocated for municipal services; following the approval of zoning; evacuating houses, compensating the demolition cases, providing housing alternatives; adopting proposed building regulations.

However, HUDC claims to pay a great deal of attention to local communities. In the new approach it is promised that: “all proposed actions will be discussed with the sites communities. Their priorities and needs will be taken into consideration in the final recommendation that will be implemented” (HUDC 1995).

Among the new sites proposed in Amman, Hai Abu Alia represents an important shift in HUDC’s approach to upgrading and sets a precedent for future activities in land management. Residents had a determining preference regarding the costs they were willing to incur. Residents have opted for a “regularisation-only package”, with phased infrastructure development by utility authorities. Obtaining consensus from residents regarding the development package was a major challenge.

The site of Hai Abu-Alia (5) is about 32 hectare and lies in the eastern part of Greater Amman city, close to the main highway that connects Amman and Zarqa cities. Located near the highway, the site has direct access to employment centres in Amman, Marka and Zarqa, just 5 km far. The village of Tareq is a very active area that contains many housing projects, commercial centres, schools and many governmental departments.

The topography of the site follows a variable slope, that average 15% in different directions through different parts of the site. Many tracks cross the site identifying large areas with scattered building and rudimentary unpaved footpaths. Only 5 of them were modified into access roads connected with the main 20m road that crosses the site and connects with Yajouz highway.

Families illegally settled on the site and built their own scattered houses through the last 15 years, mainly after 1980. According to the occupants they bought the land from “Da’ja Tribe” on Hejeh basis, paying 3 JDs per sqm.

More than 76% of the residents of Abu Alia site work in regular professions both in the private and public sector, while 7% are unemployed due to the decrease in the economic growth. The monthly average household income is about 106 JDs. Thus, 2,3% of the households are considered to be social cases, due to poverty conditions, never the less more than one third of the households income is more than 150 JDs per month.

Table 3

Hai Abu Alia: household monthly income

% of households

less than 50 JDs 2,3

51 – 100 JDs 20,4

101-150 JDs 40,6

more than 150 36,6

The HUDC proposal includes 189 existing plots, 392 infill plots (average area 320 sqm.), 42 core shops and commercial centre on the main 20 m. road. Only a community centre, a central green area, and an extension for the existing mosque are proposed for this scheme as the site is located near a developed area that is equipped with the needed communal facilities.

The site has already partial coverage of water supply network, telephone and electricity connections, and roads. This minimises the cost of these items.

However, more roads and footpaths network, storm water drainage system, telephone electricity connections and renovation of the water network are needed.

The land is owned by the Government and was allocated to the Army. In 1989, an agreement from the committee of land tenure and the Prime Minister Office for acquiring the government land had been taken.

A nominal value of 2 JDs/sqm. has been paid by the HUDC. In 1990-91 the property of the land has been allocated to the existing residents (177 families) taking in consideration the existing boundaries and lots, on a cost of 2,65 JDs/sqm. (made payable in 5 years having a bank interest of 8%). Empty plots have rarely been sold, partly because the price was set at 22 JDs/sqm.; partly because the bank refused to give loans for the site families as it found not enough guarantees.

Main problems of the envisaged programme can be summarised as follows: a) the cost of regularisation and subdivision was perceived as too high from citizens, who had often paid for the “hejeh”; b) moreover, the betterment cost (for a full site upgrading) appeared exorbitant, due to the availability of most of infrastructure services within and in the neighbouring sites; c) residents providing “informal” services (water, electricity from private generators, etc.) were among the opponents of the project, for fear of losing their business; d) economically feasible regularisation was implemented by another government agency, the Land and Survey Department, namely under a strong political pressure (due to a sharp legal and street conflict took place between a tribe claming right on governmental land and police and governmental bodies).

(Map. 7 Hai Abu Alia)

Constraints and opportunities of the current situation

In the last ten years, notwithstanding the upgrading of some sites, the overall situation of informal sites has worsened. Figures give an increase of population and an increase of overcrowding and it is not clear how it can be solved. Only very few sites were attacked, and it is not envisageable that the general problem would be solvable in the next years.

The sites that have been indicated for upgrading actually did not develop in the same way. Some have been declining in population, some other did grow. The real problem is overcrowding, one of the consequences of the increasing demand. Overcrowding is the result of a process that may have many causes. One of the main issues is of course affordability; most young couples of people living in informal sites, once married, cannot afford to go elsewhere. But there are also reason of mutual aid among relatives, often recently immigrated from elsewhere.

The problem is often presented as an unwillingness to accept any regulation by the inhabitants of the informal sites; but it could also be explained with a implicit acceptance of informal activity by the planning authorities unable to give alternative solutions to a growing demand.

However, some specific features of Jordan experience should be reminded: first of all, the long lasting concentration of housing needs, the peculiarity of the sudden waves of migrants and subsequent housing shortage; on the other side, the stability of many informal sites over several decades that allowed both densification and growth.

Among the positive outcomes of Amman housing processes, in fact, it should be reminded the relatively limited extension of informal settlements; the mixed socio-economic environment in several areas.

Finally, with regards to policies implemented so far, it is widely acknowledged that national housing policy and land management policy (and a number of unresolved issues in these two domains) affect negatively the upgrading policy, in particular in the area of Amman and surroundings municipalities.

Corrective measures are at the stake, mainly with regards to planning and financial problems. For instance, several proposals are related to “down-zoning” (i.e. a partial change in land use regulations), the densification of existing built areas, a revised land use system or a change in planning regulatory orientations (i. e., a new plan for Amman, or a new law for urban planning), the down-sizing of minimum plots, a compulsory law to enforce the development of urban land, etc. In the financial field, measures are envisaged such as compulsory or voluntary contributions, linkage practices, cross-subsidy interventions, etc. Cross-subsidy for instance means that surplus taken from the sale of residential plots is put in the service for low income people, as the Housing Corporation used to apply in its projects.

actions for a capacity building activity

Co-ordination of public agencies

A capacity building programme can be set considering the need of improving administrations capabilities through training or through innovative experiences.

In Jordan there is a strong civil service, but expertise and technical capabilities are divided between several public agencies. Their technical know-how and professional background are heavily rooted in the fields of architecture and engineering (although some other qualifications start to be called to work).

Although there are several ways to realise an enduring co-operation between public agencies, it is possible to start with the set up of a programme for mutual exchange and for discussion around technical issues and innovation; and a local initiative aimed to practice new methodologies.

Thus, the co-operation among public agencies has to be enhanced, in order to share major technical expertise and to develop self-help supporting techniques, as well as the differentiation and innovation of housing strategies, developing measures and programmes specifically “tailored” according to the needs and possibilities of the targeted population.

Besides, a regional level for planning and housing policies should be considered and translated into official statements. Since a spontaneous process of growth and relocation of the low-income inhabitants East of Amman has taken places in the past decades, problems are not vanished but have moved nearby. The need for a co-ordinated regional strategy appears most clearly from such point of view; the establishment of a region-wide housing policies programme could provide a remarkable impulse to this task.

And finally, a local administrative office in charge to produce and spread information on economic and business matters on a regular basis should be established. Since very little is known about stock, tenures, prices, and trends in Amman housing markets, there is a need for continuing surveillance but also for detailed surveys of different sectors behaviour (retailers, offices, residential etc.), geographical divisions etc. Also land markets should be investigated in the same way.

The initiative of an Observatory of Housing Markets and Processes or a “Housing Watch” could be taken in partnerships with main private actors (banks, investors, and companies…). The Observatory should gather relevant information on housing issues, promote investigations of processes of change, and help focusing the interplay between legal and informal activities.

Legal and planning actions

As already stated, under current planning legislation, all land within municipal boundaries is available for urban development. Since the new Comprehensive Plan prepared by GAM in 1987 was never approved, new urban land can be easily created by simple extension of already approved municipal boundaries. The amount of existing zoned land is sufficient to accommodate two or three times the existing population (JTT 1987). About 44% of total Greater Amman planned residential areas could accommodate up to 3.3 million, a figure that “will not be reached for another 20 years or more. This premature zoning has had several negative effects, such as: the rise in land prices, encouraging scattered housing development and causing inefficient infrastructure provision and urban development” (HUDC 1995). Public housing developments are often indicated as responsible for similar negative outcomes.

In fact, it seems that planning authorities are rigid against any technical measures suggested since the beginning of the ‘80s. Every technical report, even those from the government or international organisations, has unsuccessfully insisted on down-zoning, re-parcelating, subdivision of plots, permits to build social housing or small flats in residential areas, etc.

From this point of view, the present national framework for urban and land management policies appears as the major constraint that is not expected to change in the next future.

Moreover, planning orientations such as an envisaged further decentralisation of Amman, seem to confirm this opinion and sharpen the division among planning policies, housing issues and anti-poverty initiatives.

Among the negative outcomes of this situation, two issues seem particularly sound: a) inefficient urban land market and land management, and consequently lack of adequate offer of affordable dwellings; b) lacking of adequate financial measures in order to enable and support poor families.

Reconsidering the national framework of planning regulations is possibly the first necessary step. A second one would be reconsidering the housing sector and its links with the more general anti-poverty strategies.

Technical actions

According to a recent evaluation “the process of registration does not seem to present major problems” (World Bank 1993); cadastral maps are commonly used and the registration office “seems therefore to fulfil one of its function (i.e. ensuring the transparency of land transactions) rather well (ibid.).

Main problems are related to the registration of traditional lands in the outskirts of the city and on squatting on public lands, i.e. to the administrative side of the problems.

Present situation seems a little improved. Computerised mapping is expected to be fully at work in five years; satellite mapping is already in use in rural areas. Besides, co-ordination with various agencies dealing with land (for instance, the Royal Geographic Society) is expected to improve the land information system.

A major need seems to be a systematic survey of land development, based either on cartographic and cadastral basis, either on numeric information data-bases (on subjects like: land-use, socio-economic activities, etc.).

Economic Actions

Limited financial resources have already risen a sharp dilemma between conflicting priorities of the national policy. Should be privileged the regularisation issue, as some agencies seem to believe, delaying any interventions in upgrading? or should instead be privileged an intervention committed to a “partial upgrading” of built environment, “freezing” the regularisation issue?

Although in a severe economic climate we have observed so far a continuous self-help activity for the improvement of existing dwellings in informal sites. In several informal sites a mix of tenure forms is present and consequently, an informal rent market. Somehow, a more sophisticated financial circuit has developed compared to the earlier form of land invasion. It means also potentiality for small business in the housing sector.

Economic actions should aim to favour private investment and entrepreneurship in the housing sector, offering public guarantees and defiscalisation measures simplifying existing regulations, moving administrative obstacles, supporting the transformation of the informal sector into a regular economic activity.

Until now, policy for low income housing almost coincided with direct public intervention; now, it is envisaged a greater involvement of people, private companies, and different financial sources.

In fact, upgrading is often considered as a comprehensive action, with permanent and no negotiable outcomes, resulting from a strong technical commitment to the provision of basic infrastructure and a predominant concern with economic feasibility and cost recovery.

This orientations caused several negative outcomes, such as a) conflicts between the communities and technical agencies; b) obstacles to a effective citizens’ participation; c) limited capacity of grassroots organisations to mobilise communities; d) lack of basic information on households “strategies” coping with poverty and housing issues; e) unwillingness of residents to pay for urban services.

From this point of view, it is possible to stress that a different approach could benefit from: a) the organisational capacities of citizens’ organisations on their own or under the guidance of implementing agencies; b) a greater effectiveness of the projects in which citizens’ involvement is achieved; c) the effectiveness of citizens’ participation in mobilising economic resources for collective purposes.

Proposal for a capacity building project

Aims of the project

The proposal for a capacity building project has been conceived having in mind a specific case study in the city of Amman, i.e. the Abu Alia area. But, since its main feature is a methodological one, it could be fitted to any site in the surroundings municipalities. While a detailed project lay-out cannot be presented at the stage, we must understand that there will be three main fields where it will be operating: technical assistance, training, local structures.

The framework of the proposal is based on the idea of a “local project”, i.e. of the integration of different concerns (infrastructure, housing, social development, vocational training, job creation….) in one programme.

This idea has already been partially experienced in some of the HUDC interventions, and these previous experiences represent a valuable background, although the “local project” methodology would put some of them a little further.

The proposal maintains the following as the chief components of the local project: the collection of information on either physical aspects or social processes; the development of design tools, technologies and manuals; the involvement of the inhabitants in the conception and programming of the upgrading actions; possibly, the direct realisation of some of the works required to improve the environmental conditions by the inhabitants, in order to reduce the overall cost of the scheme and to foster a greater community feeling; the financial balance between loan and subsidies on one hand and cost recovery fees on the other; the development of local business activities.

The key-word is than greater involvement of the interested population, either in form of substantial economic participation (although graduated according to possibilities) or in form of participation to the elaboration of the scheme.

As it is unlikely to collect money from the poorest, it could be worth giving them the chance to work in the realisation of upgrading works, allowing them to provide an income to their family.

This means that the upgrading scheme depends from a broader concern with job creation and community development. Standard technologies and utilities have to be modified according to this aim. The physical layout will also be designed linking environmental standards to people needs and preferences.

Organisational model

The proposal for the Abu Alia area is articulated in a two tiers system: a “neighbourhood laboratory” and a “local housing association”. They are different tools for co-ordinating various forms of intervention. For these purposes, it seems that the organisational tools that mostly suit the Hai Abu Alia programme should be:

  • on one hand the neighbourhood laboratory that could be easily be set by public agencies into the area chosen for the experimentation. The “neighbourhood laboratory” is a socio-technical tool for planning and monitoring urban rehabilitation, enhancement and maintenance activities that allow for direct participation by the local citizens in the project. The main aims are: a) the upgrading and maintenance of the neighbourhood; and, b) the analysis and assessment of the inhabitants needs, in order to collect relevant data about dwelling conditions and inhabitants feelings. The laboratory can also supply information regarding the buildings, promote a heightened awareness of upgrading, and prevent the problem of building decay. Moreover, the laboratory can set out a programme for the gradual upgrading of the neighbourhood and effect on-the-spot interventions.

  • on the other, a local housing association (LHA) which can assume some features of a local “trust” (mostly the concern with mobilising social network and the capacity to intervene directly in the realisation of some works); and possibly some features of a broader housing associations (in particular, the capacity to deal with financial activities, like savings, borrowing, etc.). The local association should involve local inhabitants and than be supported by existing networks. It is quite clear that it could not be created from the top. However, experiences show that for the aim of an effective upgrading, co-operation with local representative is important.

In general, for “Housing association” is meant any not-for-profit housing provider that is controlled by a voluntary committee and is constitutionally independent from the government. It therefore embraces charitable housing trusts as well as “public utility” housing societies (including housing co-operatives). Bodies similar to housing associations have often been present since decades in several countries, depending from disparate controlling subjects (religious charities; unions and workers mutual aid organisations; pension schemes; companies; municipalities; hospitals, etc.).

LHAs often take on non development roles, including community organising, social services provision, advocacy of neighbourhood strategic interests, etc. However, LHAs participate in development projects in several ways: as owner-builders, general partners, limited partners, etc. However, local community organisation is the principal goal of LHAs, met by physical revitalisation of the housing stock and creation of affordable housing.

LHA are usually supported by public funds (possibly also by international aid), but can benefit from several financial sources: for instance, from voluntary contributions of private citizens as well as from contribution from companies aiming to create a better social climate; they can profit from “linkage” project (as already experienced by the HUDC with the practice of cross-subsidising); they can even take a part in the development of local business. The most important feature of LHA is that they operate in a specific area co-ordinating or implementing programmes promoted by different agencies, that otherwise would be operated in distinct and often unconnected ways. Housing associations could play a remarkable role in the financial and saving sector. In several countries housing associations of some sort are allowed by the government to collect voluntary savings or compulsory contributions by workers and employers and to invest them in the finance or provision of dwellings.

Main activities to be implemented

The project shall start with the instalment of the neighbourhood laboratory and can advance gradually through the establishment of the local housing association. Some of the activities are in common between the Laboratory and the Association, some are exclusive to one of them.

The neighbourhood laboratory follows the implementation of a geographical information system linked to a data base concerning the informal dwellings. This activity could be the first example of co-operation among public agencies.

It would also carry out surveys on physical conditions of the site, but should moreover analyse the social processes involved, like the financial tools, the direct involvement of dwellers in the construction activity, the level of rent etc.

The laboratory has to develop design models in order to help the inhabitants to upgrade their dwellings (as already implemented in some sites) and, moreover, it designs adequate solutions for infrastructure, utilities etc., identifying the technologies that correspond to the objectives of the project; besides, the laboratory elaborates a proposal for an upgrading scheme, indicating aims and priorities.

Actions to be implemented are: to finalise planning and parcellisation approvals from GAM and Land and Survey Department; to finalise the procedures of legalising and obtaining the land property documents; from a technical point of view, to prepare roads and foot paths layout and profile; to prepare infrastructure layout, taking in consideration the existing services; to prepare landscape layout and design for communal spaces (community centre, green areas,…); to facilitate building license procedures.

Finally, the laboratory takes care of the implementation of the necessary improvement works.

Actors to be involved

Different institutions as well as individuals will be involved. Given the nature of pilot project a scientific programming and monitoring committee (PMC) should be created as a first step.

It will be formed of experts from HUDC and from the 3rd University of Rome. Its task will be to set up the project’s machinery – the Neighbourhood Laboratory and the Local Housing Association – and to monitor through the time the outputs.

The inhabitants of Hai Abu-Alia would be the first actors of the project. The Local Housing Association should be their instrument of confrontation with government agencies and other subjects (like the banks, for instance); local community organisations and major ONGs can participate to the establishment of the local housing associations and to social activities.

Greater Amman Municipality follows the planning approvals, possibly subsidise the inhabitants; it can also supports the LHA, adopting the measures for tax relieve, and participating to the elaboration of LHA strategy and plan; HUDC should provide technical assistance and qualified people for the Neighbourhood Observatory; Land & Survey Department could participate to the Neighbourhood Observatory activity related to land survey, land assessment and local GIS; Water Authority, can improve water and sewerage connections, networks renovation. Other service companies, as well as private building companies, could participate to the neighbourhood Observatory in order to elaborate jointly the research programme on Housing and Construction activities to be firstly implemented on Abu Alia site, and then generalised to the all municipality; the Jordanian Environmental Society can collaborate to the environment impact analysis and to the landscape design.

The project requires three years for a real implementation. The first period (six months) is for the project lay-out and for the design of the two operative structures, the Laboratory and the Local Association. Before the end of the first year the two structures shall be established. The training activity is organised in 6 week-courses concentrated in the first half of the project life (since the third month to the 18th). Monitoring will take place during the all project life; however, main activities will be executed since the establishment of the two structures (since the 12th months). The evaluation of the project will take place at the end of the period.

Summary and conclusion

The project proposed here will operate in three main fields: a) technical assistance, b) training, and c) the organisation of a local operative structure. It is based on the idea of a “local project”, i.e. of the integration of different concerns (infrastructure, housing, social development, vocational training, job creation….) in one programme.

The local operative structure is articulated in a “neighbourhood laboratory” and a “local housing association”. These are “organisational tools” aimed to co-ordinate various forms of intervention and to foster a greater community participation.

Besides working on physical design and operational programming, they will promote financial and operative contributions, job-creation, and saving cost activities in the fields of environmental improvement and community development. Capability building actions are envisaged in the fields of information systems, housing and property markets analysis, finance and management techniques, and implementation tools.

The expected output are: a) a greater effectiveness of public interventions thanks to an improved co-operation among public agencies and a substantial participation of local communities; b) the implementation of a more sustainable cost recovery strategy through the combination of direct contributions, finance management, and community granted loans; c) an environmental upgrading policy proceeding along with social and economic development.


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1 Third University of Rome. The authors would like to thank the mayor of Amman, Eng. Mamdouh Abbadi; the director of HUDC Eng. Y. Hyasat; the Director of Interior Control & Inspection Directorate, Land & Survey Department, Husan Azar. The study was possible thanks to the ability of arch. Emman Jayyousi, who organised the visits and meetings; and the kind suggestions of dr. Khaled Jayyousi, from HUDC.

2 The court does uphold the contractual aspect of it. When the buyer make the entire current payment to Land and Survey Department in order to register the land, he is entitled to recover the original payment from the landowner through the court “but we doubt whether many squatters exert their rights in this way” (UDD 1982a). Thus, the squatter have to make a further payment to register the land.

3 Information on East Wahdat was collected through site inspections, interviews, data from upgrading studies (UDD 1987, UDD 1988), and kind suggestions of Mr. Jamal Dali and arch. Sanàa Mihear, both from HUDC.

4 Information on Mahatta site was collected through site inspections and interviews. For general description, surveys and infrastructure evaluation, we have heavily drawn on some HUDC and GAM studies (UDD 1982a; UDD 1986; UDD 1988; HUDC 1994; GAM 1995a and 1995b). A number of useful suggestions has been collected for the evaluation of the site thanks to the willingness of the technicians of both the public bodies appointed to the elaboration of the upgrading scheme, in particular with Arch. M. Khayyat and Arch. Abir Saheb from HUDC, and Eng. Waddah Kilani and Arch. Samir Mousa from GAM.

5 Information on Hai Abu Alia was provided through a visit of the site in February 1996, co-ordinated by K. Jayyousi from HUDC.

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