The Urban Impact: Housing
From a house to a home and the smell of integration
In 2016 I [Charles] walked through a mostly-Syrian neighborhood in Irbid with a Syrian friend. He had not been to this neighborhood before but remarked about how much it reminded him of Damascus: “Everything is like Syria, the way women tie their hijabs, the way people hang clothes out the windows to dry, the jasmine on the apartment buildings’ gates.” If smell is the strongest receptor of memory (Hirsch, 1992; Mondry, 2013) and could elicit such powerful feelings of belonging to a place, is the refugee resettlement community’s fixation on housing as simply four walls and a roof (Setchell, 2017) emotionally deadened to how refugees actually experience integration through all five senses? Could a jasmine garden mean more to a refugee’s sense of belonging than a cash stipend?
As Syrians have spent many years now living in Irbid, they have begun taking ownership of the urban space and improving it. Compared to 2016, the apartment buildings of Syrians appear to be a little better off. The floors are still dirty in public areas like the stairwells, and there is usually some exposed wiring in the basement area of buildings, but even nice apartment buildings across Jordan have these features. However, since 2016 I noticed many of the doors were replaced, and look new, windows are cleaner, and some had new glass installed. Jasmine grows on refugee residences like jungles on railings, gates, patios, and doorways.