The Urban Impact: Public Spaces

 Without public spaces, abandoned lots have become the places for picnics, and football.

Without public spaces, abandoned lots have become the places for picnics, and football.

 
 

No parks and no courtyards: where to socially integrate?

In Irbid, there are a few public parks, but they are small, unkempt, and mostly unused. To an outside visitor, this is one of the first complaints about the city. Children are seen playing in the streets, or improvising soccer fields in abandoned dirt lots where families have picnics. At night, the wide sidewalks along sharia aj-jama’a become improvised sitting areas for men and women, young and old who put out shisha waterpipes and plastic chairs to socialize.

This lack of public spaces may simply reflect Arab social norms where people prefer to meet in the home rather than in public outdoor areas. As Amro & Bahauddin (2014) describe, the courtyard of the home serves the social function that parks do in Western cities. However, in today’s Irbid, most residents are unable to afford a house with a courtyard, so living room salons have taken on that role. I [Charles] would regularly arrive at my building late at night to find every apartment with its doors open to let heat out, filled with dozens of people sitting on the floor chatting and while children ran and played in the hallways.

This preference for private instead of public socializing may make integration more challenging, since socializing at home removes the possibility of the numerous chance encounters that build connections with a diversity of people and humanizes Others who are observed just hanging around with their children and friends. Syrian refugees we spoke with regularly complained about never having set foot in a Jordanian’s home, even after many years of living in the country. On the other hand, while this may limit the breadth of social connections, it may support small numbers of deep social connections, as many Syrians like Agyead described having close personal connections with their apartment neighbors.

The Jordanian community in both Irbid and Jerash are notable for the friendliness of neighbors. When I was hospitalized due to illness, there was a group of Jordanian neighbors that came to support me during the hospital visit. They also cared for me after I left the hospital and visited me several times to check up on me even though I did not live alone in the house. That was in in addition to their constant interest with me and my Syrian flat mate in Jerash, who later immigrated to Norway.
— Agyead Abo Zayed

The city has been impacted in eight other sectors:

Housing, the education system, the security apparatus, jobs and the local economy, the healthcare system, the transportation system, water & waste management, and the impact of the presence of large INGO’s on the city.


[1] UNRWA. (2018). “Irbid Camp.” Online. Available at: https://www.unrwa.org/where-we-work/jordan/irbid-camp

[2] Al-Kheder et al., 2009

[3] Bani Mustafa, 2017

Note the number of Syrians in Jordan is highly political. Jordanian government ministries have an incentive to over-estimate to increase foreign aid/development revenue. The UNHCR describes only 98,000 Syrian “persons of concern,” in Irbid (UNHCR, 2016), down from a peak of some 125,000 in 2014 (Stevens, 2016). However their data is likely an underestimation as only a minority of Syrians in Jordan register or interact with the agency for support.

[4] Healy & Tiller, 2013

[5] “Social stress” including a spectrum of experiences from feeling discriminated against, to being assaulted.

[6] Alfadhli & Drury, 2018

[7] Based Al Athamneh & Al Momani, 2016