October 15 2013

Rabat, Morocco: On A Quest to Become A World Class Capital or Elitist Capital?

Rabat is Morocco’s political capital. For most Moroccan citizens, Rabat is sooner or later a necessary stop due to its concentration of major administrative, health and educational facilities. The city also offers better employment and career development opportunities compared to other Moroccan cities.

Hassan Mosque, Morocco

But since 2000, Rabat has wanted to be more than just Morocco’s capital; Rabat wants to affirm its role as a leader at the regional and continental level. As stated by its Mayor, Mr. Fathallah Oulalou, the city aims to become a center of creativity and innovation, where urban policies and strategies will allow the creation of a new identity for agglomeration within the next ten years.

This October 2013, Rabat hosted the fourth congress of United Cities and Local Governments which addressed the theme of democracy and participatory planning in cities. This was an occasion for the city to position itself as a dialogue platform on global issues and challenges, such as sustainability, urban development and democracy.

In its quest to create an image of a world class capital, Rabat has attracted renowned tourism developers, investors and star architects. Zaha Hadid is the architect of the Grand Theatre de Rabat, while Foster & Partners designed a luxury residential project as part of the development of Bouregreg Valley. Further urban development projects are transforming some of Rabat’s least appealing and long neglected sites into real assets. In addition, the city regularly hosts festivals, cultural events and professional gatherings targeted towards an international audience.

Apartments by Foster & Partners, Morocco

To reinforce its international exposure, Rabat successfully applied to be listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2012. This year, a transportation infrastructure project in Rabat received the Agha Khan Award for Architecture.

But despite all these communication and branding efforts, what image does Rabat send to the world and more importantly, to its residents?

Marina and tramway on new bridge, Morocco

Few citizens of Rabat can relate to these new projects and communication campaigns. The country’s capital, like most Moroccan urban centers, suffers from pollution, urban poverty and a lack of affordable housing. Most of the cultural spaces and events are inaccessible to the average Moroccan citizen because of their selective audience, high price and lack of communication targeting lower social categories. Furthermore, housing and tourism projects marketing campaigns remain directed toward a group of wealthy, and sometimes foreign, investors.

“Elitist” urban developments can have a critical impact in countries still suffering from unequal development and high poverty rates. Do urban policies contribute, in your opinion, to creating more spatial segregation at the city level? How would you describe some of these dynamics?

Credits: Images by Sarah Essbai. Data linked to sources.

Sarah Essbai

Sarah Essbai graduated in 2013 with a Master of Urban and Regional Planning from Ball State University in Indiana where she pursued her studies as a Fulbright scholar. Prior to moving to the US, Sarah obtained her Diplome d’Architecte from the Ecole Nationale d’Architecture in Rabat, Morocco. In Morocco, Sarah worked on the development of a green lodging facility in the Moroccan desert as well as the historic rehabilitation of the historic center of Fez, her hometown. Sarah’s interests include affordable housing, which was the subject of her master’s thesis, community development, real estate crowdfunding and social design. She believes that within these topics, sustainability should be inherent and should be a necessary component of every design project and development.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 at 9:06 am and is filed under Architecture, Branding, Community/Economic Development, Government/Politics, Infrastructure, Social/Demographics, Urban Development/Real Estate. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


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