The Housing Bank Park in Amman’s upscale neighborhood of Abdoun is well defended. While the evenly spaced grey bars of its fence would not deter even an unambitious climber, they form a striated membrane daunting enough to deflect causal visitors. Initially designed to resemble an urban oasis, the park hunkers in the middle of a shopping mall’s parking lot, insulating its fiefdom from the surrounding restaurant complexes, in fierce defense of its… bank.
At noon on a Tuesday, all of the access gates remain locked. The park’s manicured plantbeds betray not a single intrusion of animal life. In one corner, a brightly colored jungle gym commemorates playfulness with unoccupied slides and motionless swings. Two rocking-horse rides, a duck and a horse, stare vacantly, their coiled springs threatening a latent ability for rollicking movement. They’re not, I assume, sculptures.
At the far end of the park, the Housing Bank holds court. Its triangular glass structure seems thrown into the ground at a jarring angle, a gleaming relic of an unnaturally smooth aircraft crash. All concrete walkways in the park lead to the bank. The walkways are lined with trees, which are in turn lined with large rectangular grey shapes resembling oversized handrails. A few parched roses stand out among the careful lines of shrubs.
From its perch, the Housing Bank doesn’t exactly invite the neighborhood children, frightened perhaps of stray sticky fingers on its contemporary exterior, nor does it welcome a family strolling after dinner. Rather it seems to offer escape from needless frivolity, sending the message that it’s no longer necessary for playtime to interrupt your search for financial solutions.
Whether economically efficient or just ill-conceived, the Housing Bank has succeeded in creating a monument to new economic progress – sleek, shiny, and neatly absolved of the chaos of unbridled expression. Loud maps in each corner parsing the elements of its tiny premises have completed the desertification of creativity.
A Better Model
Where the Housing Bank “park” has failed to provide a modicum of urban relief, another park – tucked off of central artery Wadi Saqra – has created a lush wildness on an Ammani hillside. Curving stone walkways beckon up its steep hills, winding through a maze of eucalyptus trees, desert shrubs, and artfully placed boulders. Ascending to the top grants the quiet thrill of having found a secret hideaway.
The park, clearly cared for, does suffer from its arbitrary location. Mostly uninhabited, it boasts a swingset, a seesaw, and even a tennis court at its very top, which also lie dormant on a weekday afternoon, their concealed location clearly a drawback for families.
Yet, while its nearest landmark is also a bank, the hillside park refuses to allow nearby commercial development – the cluster of Dubai-style high-rise office buildings that compose the Abdali project, or the glassy office buildings that it faces – to disturb its ambiance. Trees rustling in the wind, not fences, form a gentle barrier from an adjacent lot.
In a city caught between new and old, between those who consider its tessellated brown buildings to be an eyesore and those who consider the Abdali Project to be Amman’s biggest blemish, between those who protest the status quo and those who defend it, the Wadi Saqra park offers a vision of what Amman needs more of: creative integration with nature, and a reminder that Jordan’s inherent beauty resists being overly manicured.