World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th - 24th 2010


URBAN SPACES OF IDENTITY VERSUS SPACES OF URBAN IDENTITY IN THE ARAB WORLD - 1/2: Urban Spaces of Identity versus Spaces of Urban Identity in the Arab World (009) - Panel

· Date: MON 19, 2.30-4.30 pm

· Institution: CERAW - Institute of Geography, University of Mainz

· Organizer: Ala Al-Hamarneh and Nadine Scharfenort

· Language: English

· Description: Chair: Ala Al-Hamarneh, CERAW - Institute of Geography - University of Mainz, Germany

Paper discussant: Nadine Scharfenort, CERAW - Institute of Geography - University of Mainz, Germany

Various urban development projects have been changing the structures and the pictures of the major Arab cities in the last decade. The scale and scope of the projects vary from restoration and renovation of medieval urban heritage (Cairo, Damascus, Marrakesh) or re-planning and re-constructing of city centers (Beirut) to such large scale projects and plans that develop new urbanities (New Cairo, Dubai, Abu Dhabi). The urban re-construction processes are not predominantly products of rulers' visions and architectural visualizations but rather are outcomes of economical, political and social dynamics and interactions. The question of city/urban identity is highly addressed in all these plans and projects; especially the notions of ‘modernity’, ‘globalism’, ‘Orient’, ‘progress’ and ‘heritage’ are frequently used and out-lined. The need for urban infrastructural innovation and development is embedded in the highly speculative economy of construction, the shifts in the political structures, the state governance, the expansion of the GCC construction capital, the increasing social gaps and the rising intraregional and interregional migration. The global cultural domination of the North American city planning and image as well as its local pioneer modifications in Dubai, Riyadh and Kuwait City (shopping malls, gated communities, transit and by-pass highways, commodification and museumification of cultural heritage, ethnic segregation, privatization of public spaces) are challenging the urban heritage and the social fabrics of the Arab city. Urban spaces are supposed to present the identity of a city and to reflect the collective identity of the city’s main social groups. The up-down practices of planning and implementing urban developments in the Arab world generally do not include public participation and democratic mechanisms of design making. Established and emerging social groups are loosing their ‘rooted’ urban spaces in favor of huge reconstructions. The new developed urbanities are lacking the ability to deliver spaces of alternative belonging. The cities’ urban spaces are becoming more fragmented, ‘exchangeable’ and less authentic. In the context of globalization and post-modernity, partially, similar phenomena may be noticed in democratic industrialized countries. Nevertheless, the question of scale, intensity, participation and socio-economic standards gives the developments in the Arab world a different character. The panel includes eight papers dealing with factors and backgrounds of urban design, governance of urban planning, spatial reflections and interactions of identities, urban presentations and images in the Arab worlds as well as papers dealing with theoretical aspects of spatial identities in general.

Paper presenter: Yannick Sudermann, University of Edinburgh, UK, "Making the Medina ‘Modern’ – The 'Islamic City’ Between ‘Revitalisation’ and ‘Urban Revanchism'"
For almost three decades cities in the Middle East have undergone remarkable transformation. Their historic centres in particular have seen striking changes, celebrated as ‘revitalisation’ or ‘modernisation’ by politicians and scholars alike. In the
aftermath of the colonial era the medina was considered to be a symbol of the region’s backwardness. Therefore those who could afford it moved to the modern, Western style ‘villes nouvelles’. In recent years, Islamic cities became focal points of new ‘Oriental’ identities. In their present search for ‘authenticity’, parts of the middle classes return to the medina and push forward into neighbourhoods now inhabited by urban poor. There is an already extensive body of detailed studies on ‘revitalisation’ and its positive implications on the historic old towns throughout the region. However, many studies neglect the impact on those excluded from the above development. Neil Smith1 developed his high profile ‘revanchist city’ thesis based on research in New York. Up to now, relatively little attention has been paid to the applicability of this thesis to non-western contexts. Therefore, it will be asked who is included in or excluded from cities in the Middle East due to urban redevelopment projects. Who are the beneficiaries and, just as important, who are the victims of ‘revitalisation’ in Middle Eastern cities? Which policies are implemented to enable new target groups (tourists as well as members of the local upper and middle-class) to consume in the old town free from interference by ‘disruptive elements’ such as beggars or street traders? Can strategies such as gentrification and marginalization be classified as revanchist in this very different context? If so, what are the parallels with and differences from revanchism in its purest (New York) form? What theoretical and policy lessons can be learned from recent developments in Middle Eastern cities? The paper will address the above questions and thereby contribute to a broader understanding of ‘urban revanchism’ in the Middle Eastern context.

Paper presenter: Jessica Jacobs and Claudio Minca, Royal Holloway University of London, UK, "Re-branding the Arab City: Modernity and Heritage in Amman and Damascus "
New concepts of heritage and history have recently started to emerge in the Arab World that are beginning to transform the urban spaces of many major Arab cities. Dominant Western discourses tend to portray ‘culture’ and ‘heritage’ as an innate material product – passive and waiting to be discovered, restored and presented to tourists as a leisure experience in return for revenue. In the Arab World, local ‘rediscovereries’ of national urban and regional heritage in both the private and government sphere are on the ascendant and have begun to form a complex relationship with these pre-existing Western (colonial, ‘universal’ and state) imaginations of non-Western history.
Urban heritage plays a crucial part in the ongoing production (and negotiation) of collective social and national identities, especially those concerning the development of urban space, and ideas of cosmopolitanism. This paper will focus on two major Arab cities: Damascus, often described as the city with 'the longest history in the world' and presented as a paradigmatic site of traditional Arab-Levantine heritage; and Amman, popularly perceived as embodying a more recent tradition of Levantine modernity seen as crucial in the formation of a postcolonial national identity. These two cities thus symbolize two very different understandings of the Arab urban and national heritage. In brief this paper will discuss:
1. the emergence of new geographies of heritage in Damascus and Amman and how these intersect with globalised understandings of local and regional cultural and political identities.
2. the relationship between a growing interest in 'rediscovering' urban heritage and the broader impact of tourist 'colonial nostalgia' in that region;
3. the role of film and participatory video production in theorizing and disseminating understandings of the concepts of heritage, particularly in relation to newly emerging local and regional discourses about the spatial management of the urban past;
Keywords: urban heritage, urban development tourism, modernity, spatial identity, participatory video production.

Paper presenter: Christopher Parker and Pascal Debruyne, University of Ghent, Belgium, "Neoliberalism and the iconography of the local"
Over the past decade, Amman has been transformed. Via interventions into the built infrastructure, and through the remapping of regulatory arrangements, policymakers have sought to present Amman as an attractive destination for global tourism and investment. These changes have in turn been accompanied by significant changes to the representation of people and places within the city. New modalities of government have been introduced in ways that redefine spaces (e.g., neighborhoods or urban quarters become communities) and reconfigure the human relationships within them (e.g., citizens become stakeholders and managers of social capital). Concurrently, changes to the built environment have displaced populations, and—more generally—reconfigured spatial relationships between places (and the people within them) across the city.
Drawing on analysis of the wadi Amman project, we investigate how claims about “the local” (i.e., authenticity) and “the global” (i.e., necessity) are being deployed, interwoven and contested through neoliberal urban projects. Particular concerns include the way in which neoliberalism mediates between representations of authenticity and necessity, and—more specifically—the tendency of these projects to localize themselves via references to globalized tropes of orientalism. What might this paradox tell us about the relationship between the local and the global, and the ways in which the tropes of global-local interplay (e.g., glocalization) condition the ways in which we understand the political world? Looking at “the global” and “the local” as paradigms—i.e., as sets of examples and claims rather than as deterministic structures or rules—this paper advances a dialectial understanding of the relationship between neoliberalism and the production of urban space.

Paper presenter: Traudel Schwarz-Funke and Michael Schwarz, University of Sharjah / Ajman University, UAE, "Can Dubai serve as an example for a new urban development in an era of globalization?"
Can Dubai serve as an example for a new urban development in an era of globalization?
The development of Dubai in the last 15 years was subject to a process of separation, in
which Dubai tried to be in contrast to its environment and other metropolitan cities. To
reach this goal many things had been tried, but which could not be found or recruited in
the own country. This results in a conglomerate of ideas and projects, implemented by
other cultures, which are less interested in the development of a city, but to participate in the wealthiness of this country. Economical, short-termed goals, prevented healthy
development. Rather the goal was to create a mega resort and to apprehend the city as a
theme park. In Dubai a homogeneous density like in a traditional Arab city does not exist. Dubai consists of clusters, which constitute the city. There is no spatial coherence between these clusters. The link between the clusters is not really physical, it is immaterial, which makes this city fascinating. The density is not reflected by the spatial structure of the city, it is reflected by the identification of the inhabitants with “the situation Dubai”, determined by the number of different nationalities and the multicultural experiences of the daily life. The three-class society in Dubai (locals, expert-expats and serving-expats) leads to a kind of ethnic segregation and isolation instead of integration. Surprisingly the city is capable to integrate this kind of isolation in the overall concept of Dubai. There is a big chance that the term urbanity can be newly defined in the future, if we understand Dubai as the worldwide first globalized city. An identification not with the place itself, but with the sustainability of an event. The discussion based on this scenario leads to extreme interesting conceptual approaches in architecture. How can we deal with the development of Dubai? How can we gain a sustainability of an operative artificial system and how can we use the high complexity of those issues mentioned above for this development?