Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Building People Instead of Buildings (or why would Amman even WANT a skyscraper)

I'm not sure why people think of putting up buildings or trading in land as progress or an economic boom. Somehow the excitement of throwing up yet more apartments that no one can afford and that will simply sit empty escapes me. I was talking to someone recently about the challenge in the Jordanian landscape of companies that spend money upon money to build fancy new offices. These same companies spend nothing (or next to it) on developing their people. They are rotting on the inside, but pretty from the outside. The same might be said of this "economic boom" in Jordan. If all it does is move land from one person to another or put up a skyscraper, the country has not benefited. When, I ask, when will Jordan begin to place building people ahead of building structures?

I belong to fairly small professional association with maybe 200 members. In the US, a group like this is typically purely volunteer-managed. While they might (okay, most likely not) acquire a part-time staff person, they would NEVER consider having a physical location. And, what is this group in Jordan fixated on? Hiring staff and opening an office. Why? Because somehow doing this provides status and that, apparently, is why the group exists. Now, call me crazy (many do), but I think the purpose of a membership organization is... (wait for it, here it comes...) serving the members. How does opening an office do that? How does having someone to answer the phones do that?

For those of you who've been to Dubai recently, I imagine that you likely saw what I did (and it's been over a year since my last visit). Dubai is a town that beggars the imagination. Buildings are springing up everywhere with no thought the the necessary transportation and infrastructure to support the residents. It is actually surreal to see the cranes out as far as the eye can see. It also feels very artificial to me. So they have the tallest building in the world (or will when it opens, for like 10 minutes). So what? Has that built the people of Dubai? Do you see significant improvement in the lives and fulfillment of the average Emirati? I don't get the sense that you do.

One of these days, Amman will have to throw off this inferiority complex it has about its rich cousin Dubai. But perhaps, that's one of the foundations of Jordanian culture, the pursuit of the other. Keeping up with the Jones' is a national past time. But, at some point, one must learn to appreciate the absolutely stunning beauty that is Amman - its people, its structures, its lifestyle. El 3atal has tried to convince me upon occasion that we should consider moving to the Gulf. And each time I think about what life might be like there. I consider the benefits we've found living here, and I say I just can't imagine it. For me, Dubai holds no allure. I look at its skyscrapers and see parking troubles. I look at its 8 lane highways and see traffic jams. I look at its new museums and airports and see the attempts of a country to buy credibility. And, I'd much rather keep what Amman has. Tomorrow I'll be posting about what I see when I look at Amman (and the 10 most awesome things from this Southern gal's perspective). But even today I'm thinking about how much I love this city that I've adopted and that seems to have adopted me...

Happy people-building!


At 9:41 AM , Blogger joladies said...

great post mommabean! I agree with you absolutely. It is build, build, build. New hospitals and who is going to staff them and maintain them? It is great to build new govt schools but what about the teachers? We really need to invest in people. I always put up the example of the Mafraq Sanatorium which has very simple buildings but wow, what a wonderful place, so warm and hopeful and caring. T

At 12:44 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

MommaBean, far from crazy, this was a great post! I have a friend writing an article who will be calling you for your opinion about such things soon. :D

T, I completely agree! Can't build on no infra-structure. Re Mafraq, I've been there once, and it felt like a dose of San-ity. It must be ri7li time.

At 12:18 AM , Blogger UmmFarouq said...

Yes, let us concentrate on providing affordable heating, cooking fuel, and vegetables/grains to the people of this country. Let us concentrate on building roads that do not cave in from 10 cm of snow sitting on top of them. Let us build schools for the kids down in Shona who are sitting in hallways all day after walking for two hours from their homes, because there are no classrooms for them. Let us provide water to the people of Irbid in the summer time, who have no municipality-based water supply. Let us stop glorifying this emerging class of super rich who are really basing their wealth on credit, which can all come crashing down at any moment. Let us focus on educating our children to be globally competitive, globally aware, sensitive to the underprivileged. Let us begin a kingdom-wide No Smoking campaign and make its focus LIFE and LONGEVITY and LOVE.

The Gulf does not allure me, either. This place, with all of its hidden treasures and endless potential, is where we chose to be. We have to get busy. To heck with skyscrapers.

At 3:27 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, indeed. I agree wholeheartedly. I find it sad to see the new skyscrapers go up and I wonder who is going to fill them? Who can afford it anymore? Funny to think part of the reason we came to Jordan was to live a cheaper lifestyle. Well, that was a joke from the beginning. Now we only stay for the Arabic, the Quran and being with our Muslim community. (The inlaws are not here.) For those who can afford to, I expect to see people leaving soon. But what about those who can't afford to leave but can't afford to stay? It is a scary thought.

At 7:48 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Thanks, all, for your visits and comments. It's nice to know that while I may be crazy, perhaps not about this :).


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