A few days ago I stopped by the Jardat Mardoukh, a park five minutes away walking from my apartment, to see what was behind that high, green-painted metal fence. The surrounding neighborhood, Mers Sultan, is pretty ritzy: high-end apartments with colorful balconies and names like Résidence such-and-such, and villas with plaques indicating the names of lawyers or doctors who receive their clients there.
Since a major 4 Million Dh remodeling in 2006 (around half a million USD) the place is officially named ISESCO Park, after the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. I wasn’t able to find out why or how the park got renamed, but I will update when I find out.
Casablancans know this park as “Jardat Mardoukh,” a Hobson-Jobson form of the words “Jardin,” French for garden or park, and “Murdoch,” the name of a British businessman after whom the park was named when it was built in 1907.* According to a 2006 article in Le Matin, it’s the first of its kind in Morocco.
This park and others had been essentially abandoned for years before the City Council initiated a city-wide park reclamation project in 2004 targeting several parks built during the French Protectorate (1912-1956).
safety – quality of life – historic preservation
From Aujourd’hui Le Maroc, “Renaissance du Jardin Murdoch” (September 2006)
Les Casablancais ne peuvent que se réjouir de cette opération de rénovation qui permet, d’une part, l’amélioration de leur cadre de vie et, d’autre part, de les protéger contre les délinquants qui trouvaient refuge dans ces lieux. «Il est vrai que ces jardins se trouvaient dans un état de dégradation fort avancé à cause d’un manque patent d’entretien. Il faut dire que depuis leur création, ils n’ont bénéficié d’aucune action de rénovation». En effet, ces espaces verts, chargés d’histoire, ont été transformés en dépotoirs ; voire en lieux de débauche.
Casablancans can but celebrate this renovation project which allows, first of all, for the improvement of their quality of life and, second of all, for their protection against the delinquents who found refuge in these places. “It’s true that these parks were in an advanced state of disrepair due to a lack of upkeep. Of course since their creation they had never benefited from any renovation.” Indeed, these historically significant green spaces were transformed into dumps; it might even be said that they became places of debauchery.
On a Monday afternoon in January
I didn’t know about any of this when I visited Jardat Mardoukh/Parc Murdoch/Parc Isesco, though. I had heard in regular conversation with people that parks are “not used in the same way” as they are in Europe or the U.S. This could be chalked up in part to cultural practices and use of public space, etc. It seems more reasonable, though, to say that people don’t like to hang out in spaces that are dirty, poorly lit, and have no space for kids to play.
Early on a Monday afternoon, my friend and I saw maybe forty people spread out over the 3 acres of Mardoukh. Women and small children in strollers, kids climbing a jungle gym, a snack vendor, a woman exercising, pairs of friends just walking and talking as we were doing, possibly homeless men napping on benches, presumably non-homeless men napping on benches, city employees sweeping the path with palm tree leaves. All in all, a picture of an urban oasis on a beautiful day in Casablanca.
For your reference…
It’s rare to find intact garbage cans in the street. They tend to “disappear,” get smashed by cars and trucks, or at the very least, end up just sort of supporting a mountain of trash that apparently never gets picked up.
*Cohen, Jean-Louis and Eled, Monique, Casablanca: Mythes et Figures d’une Aventure Marocaine. Editions Hazan, 2004. This is THE definitive oeuvre on architecture and urban planning Casablanca. More on that later…