In 2008, Chicago Mayor Daley launched the US-Arab Cities Forum in partnership with the mayors of two of Chicago’s sister cities, Amman (Jordan) and Casablanca. The stated purpose of the event, attended by mayors from American and Arab cities, was to build city-to-city relationships between the two regions at a time (ongoing) when many people see a “clash of civilizations.”
At this year’s forum, hosted by the City of Casablanca and co-organized by Sister-Cities Casablanca-Chicago Association, about two dozen city leaders from the US, Morocco, Jordan, Mauritania, Somalia, Palestine, and Saudi Arabia met for two days in downtown Casablanca.
As a volunteer at Casa-Chicago I played a limited role in helping to put together the event. Mayor of Casablanca Mohamed Sajid now recognizes me as “the woman who does translations” rather than “that person who accosted me at a party once.” As a volunteer I got to enjoy some really nice perks, like the privilege of chatting with mayors about their cities and a continental breakfast during every day of the event. Yum.
It was a thrill to be immersed in a days-long conversation about cities, urban development, and exchange between the US and the Arab world. I also got to get a visiting dignitaries’ perspective of Casablanca: tours of the Hassan II mosque and Art Deco architecture in downtown Casa, lunch at the top of a skyscraper with panoramic view of the city, dinner as a guest of the king in one of his palaces (though he wasn’t there).
I’m exhausted now, and way behind on my schoolwork, but I have renewed excitement about this city. While I experience Casablanca every day as a student, commuter, pedestrian, foreigner, woman, café patron, shopper, etc., it’s fascinating to get more of a bird’s eye view, and to tap into the perspective of those who are shaping this and other cities in the long term.
Although some mayors touched on concrete projects in their cities, the event had more of a diplomatic feel than anything else. In the three workshops, which focused on cultural programming, technology, and gender, nothing much was said that couldn’t have been put out in a city hall press release. I wouldn’t say that those conversations were particularly academic. But then again, this was a conference of politicians.
As for press coverage of the event in Chicago, it’s all quiet on the western front. There’s just mention of Daley’s visit in an article criticizing Daley for traveling. There was also no coverage at all of the first forum held in Chicago in 2008.