Category Archives: Rabat region

The “Trabway”

Traffic in downtown Casa has been particularly congested in the last few months due to tramway construction. Drivers found some boulevards suddenly reduced from four lanes to two, and the historic Boulevard Mohammed V is almost completely blocked. Here’s what it looks like these days:

I think Casa is still in the “grumbly” phase of this major infrastructure project, because I’ve rarely seen much enthusiasm from Casaouis about the new Tramway, scheduled to be finished on 11/11/2011. One friend told me that the project is sometimes jokingly referred to as the “trabway.” “Trab” means dirt, which is all that we see so far of the tramway project.

A rep from Casa Tramway says that the company did a lot of outreach, both to take into account the public’s input and to let them know about the project once it was underway–where to park, how to drive around the blocked streets, etc–but having never heard of any of this from anyone else I’m skeptical about the efficacy of their outreach… (although a very cute animated tram popped up today on their website to give tips on avoiding roads under construction)

It’s hard to imagine how a city will look like, and feel, and function, once a project like this is completed, but here in Morocco Casablanca will not the guinea pig. Rabat, just an hour away, is very close to offering tram service to the public. Right now the system is up and running, but only on a testing basis. What a tease…

In my very unscientific poll of taxi drivers in Rabat, I’ve found that there are some mixed, but generally positive, feelings about the tramway. The construction and newly narrowed boulevards have caused some traffic headaches, I’m sure, but at least the project has taken shape. And compared to the mess that is downtown Casa right now, boy does Rabat look sleak and sexy. Check out the “zellige” (mosaic) motif on the trams.



Filed under Casablanca, Morocco, Rabat region, Transportation development, urban development, Urban Morocco

New modes of circulation in Rabat

I was in Rabat last weekend and I got to re-take some pictures that I’d lost on my first trip (earlier post: “Which is better, Rabat or Casa?”)

Tramway construction is well under way in Rabat, and in some places is in test-run mode.

In the meantime, this particular tramway route serves as a pedestrian-friendly area along the walls of the medina. It’s a rare open space where people don’t have to compete with cars, and during my walk I didn’t see so much as a moped or donkey cart. It’s not meant as a pedestrian hang-out spot, and there isn’t much along the road besides some bench-like structures right near the wall.

In some spots it’s clear that the tramway track area is not meant for circulation, but the fence that encloses those areas can easily be pushed aside. It’s just too useful an alternative to the very busy Hassan II boulevard, which runs parallel to the wall, or the inside of the medina, which is congested all day long, to resist the shortcut.

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Filed under Rabat region, Transportation development, urban development, Urban Morocco

“Which is better, Rabat or Casa?”

I feel full of energy and enthusiasm after spending the weekend in Rabat. Or I should say returning to Rabat. Although even as I write this I’m coming down from my high because it’s around midnight and I’ve finally adjusted to the different time zone. One week, right on schedule.

Rabat is at the same time exactly as I remember it and drastically changed in the past five years. The few months I spend living in the medina were the most stimulating of my life so far, so I have every detail of my stay burned into memory. I’ve been away long enough that all the children I knew have grown a foot or more, but I feel like I never left when I hang out with Safa and her family or walk around the medina. I am happy to brag that I was walking around with a fellow Ambassadorial Scholar and found the English bookstore on my first try—I’d only been there once. In the interest of full disclosure, though, I have to say that I did get a little bit confused when I thought it would be fun to try to find my way from the CCCL to my homestay family’s old house…

The city is undergoing a lot of exciting changes. The tramway I mentioned last year is underway, and I really hope to see it in operation. Construction is a pain, but it looks promising.

I wouldn’t have really noticed the quality of the roadways in 2005 since I almost never left the medina but Safa says that the city has done a lot of repaving. Oh, and I did a double take when I saw…a bike lane!

The riverfront has been completely redeveloped, although on the other bank it looks like about half a dozen hotels sit unfinished. That project was started not too long before the economy went down the tubes. They were supposed to accommodate the ten million tourists who were supposed to visit Morocco in 2010.

Yes I know, all this would be more interesting with pictures, but I accidentally erased all of mine from this weekend.

I also paid a visit to the Center for Cross-Cultural Learning, which houses the SIT program I attended. After catching up with a few wonderful staff members, I had the surreal experience of sitting in on an orientation lecture with the newly arrived American students. They spent the last fifteen minutes of class discussing how to be a guest in this country, and what it means to be sensitive and respectful in an unfamiliar culture.

On Saturday night I gave my first formal introduction in Arabic—and to a minister, no less. A real bigwig, apparently, although neither Safa nor I can remember what he’s the minister of. The occasion was a very fancy ftour hosted by I’m not sure who, but attended by members of Safa’s Young Researchers Association. I was underdressed. In any case, I am always a little bit lost these days but found myself sitting at the table where louazir wanted introductions all around. So I let loose: Ana Taliba fi bi3ta tha9afia bilmaghreb min Chicago, 3andi minha min ljama3ia Rotary linqra fi 7assan teni. *

*I am a cultural exchange researcher in Morocco, from Chicago. I can have a scholarship from the Rotary foundation to study at Hassan II.

This weekend I also reached the point where I actually believed that I will be conversant in derija by the end of the year. It’s one thing to be given that assurance by everyone here, it’s another to actually start to understand whole bits of conversation.

As for the title: Rabat and Casa, like Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, are only an hour away from each other by train. The rivalry is alive and well, and I am being pressured from both sides to accept that each is better than the other. Recording vocabulary in my little red book was confusing this past weekend because Casaoui and Rbati derija are slightly different. I am sure to get some laughs when I use a Rbati word in Casa, or a Casaoui word in Rabat.

This picture business is getting silly. I promise to work on that.


Filed under Ambassadorial Scholarship, Arabic, Casablanca, derija, Rabat region, Rotary, Transportation development, Uncategorized, urban development, Urban Morocco

Promoting “social cohesion” through urban policy

I apologize for breaking a major rule of blogging– it’s a long one! Please stay with me, though.

On Sunday the International Federation for Housing and Planning kicked off its annual conference in the Moroccan capital city of Rabat. A Le Matin article relates an interview with Fadéla Amara, a French politician of Algerian descent, and current secretary of state in charge of urban affairs in France for the UMP center-right political party. (Check out her fascinating bio on Wikipedia)

Amara’s remarks touched on urban development very broadly. Although she’s coming from a French context, she says, “Personally, I’ve always thought that we have to pool our experiences in terms of urban development.” (her words: “il faut mutualiser les experiences des uns et des autres”) In light of this, I want to take a closer look at how she frames what she identifies as the two main challenges of urban development:

1) Promoting social cohesion by ensuring that there is social, educational, and cultural programming to accompany physical development. She says:

“We must reinforce social cohesion in cities so that residents can coexist, make use of urban space and can access services, green spaces, and economic development. We must therefore focus our efforts on space, the built environment, and especially men and women.” (emphasis mine)

The work of the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, a major partner of the Chicago-Casablanca Sister-City relationship, embodies this “beyond bricks and mortar” angle of urban development. Through art, music, mentoring, and youth development programs, the Sidi Moumen Community Center aims to improve the community on a level beyond basic resources and infrastructure.

If you click on the link to the website for the Cultural Center, you’ll find that it’s actually run through IDMAJ, a neighborhood association whose name means ‘integration’ in Arabic. (At this point I should disclaim that I don’t yet have first hand knowledge of the center and its programming, only its website and descriptions by Sister City folks.) In just the language of the website, you’ll notice that a theme of “integration into society” dominates. The word “integration” is largely absent from the vocabulary of community developers in the U.S., whose clichés are more along the lines of “empowerment.”

Cautiously, I’d say that this has to do with our distinct national characters. In the U.S. we tend to focus on cultivating power and influence on the level of individuals and interest groups, whereas in French society (Amara’s point of reference) “communautarisme” is generally taboo. In Morocco, which is also much more of a collective society than either the U.S. or France, it makes sense to talk about bringing marginalized people back into the fold.

Amara’s second challenge:
2) Preventing social fracture by providing equal access to services in terms of housing, medicine, education and transportation. As told by Amara, equality is a means to achieving social cohesion, which itself is important for the good of the country:

“If we lose track of what is at stake, we risk a fracture between rich and poor neighborhoods, which could weaken national solidarity.”

I don’t believe I’ve ever heard this kind of argumentation in the U.S. in any mainstream way–too Marxist?– but it absolutely rings true. Of course here in the U.S. we are generally uncomfortable talking about socio-economic class, but plug in race instead and the argument resonates.

Consider the difference between saying, A) “we must improve access to services, infrastructure, and economic opportunities across the city because society has a responsibility to ensure a safety net for the marginalized,” or, “so that communities can become empowered,” and saying B) “We must improve access to services, infrastructure, and economic opportunities across the city, or else risk a fractured society.”

In Chicago, as in many American cities, problems arising from inequality don’t only affect marginalized individuals and communities. Systemic inequality in Chicago has created a city that is fractured and tense, so that simple interactions between people can often weigh heavy with historical baggage. Stay in one enclave and you might feel pretty comfortable. But transgress geographical, social, or racial boundaries (they are often one and the same) and be met with confusion, often hostility.

* * *
As Fadéla Amara says, urban and community developers should be able to learn from one another. One of the exciting aspects of studying urban development is that cities are so unique. Each has its own particular character, a combination of architecture and planning, history and circumstance—all shrouded in layers of cultural subtleties.

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Filed under Chicago, Morocco, Rabat region, Sister Cities, urban development, Urban Morocco

New tramway connects Rabat and Salé

It was announced last week that testing will begin on a tramway that will link Rabat, the capital city of Morocco, with Salé, a city that sits right across the Bouragreg river just 6.5 km, or a little over 4 miles, away.

The tram line has been built and will undergo eights months of testing. It’s scheduled for general public use starting in January 2011. If things move according to schedule I’ll be able to report on the tramway en direct! reported that the price of a one-way ticket between the two cities will run around 6.5 to 7 dirhams. That amounts to approximately 80 cents. According to Magharebia, this is less than the current cost to travel between the two cities.

Normally, the same commute requires taking either a city bus or a “grand taxi.” Grand taxis are larger than normal taxis and cover bigger distances. Typically, you pay for or negotiate the price for your seat and wait until there are enough passengers to fill the car before driving on to your destination.

You can also cross the Bouragreg in small boats. (**edit: no longer! see comments below) There has been so much development in the region, particularly along the coast in the region that the agency overseeing regional development (Agence pour l’Aménagement de la Vallée du Bouragreg) reached an agreement with the boat owners whereby the “barcassiers” would be paid to sit by during some riverside development.

One student is quoted in Magharebia as saying that her commute by bus from Salé to Soussi University in Rabat normally takes three hours. If the tram system works, it will greatly ease commute times.

Here, in wanting to comment on this news, I bump into my lack of knowledge not only about the new tramway network (I can fill in some of those holes thanks to Google) but also the bigger political picture. What does urban and transit development look like in Morocco?

TelQuel, an incredibly valuable francophone source for political news (sometimes to its detriment–the editors have been sued and censured several times) has an article out today on a proposal by the Interior Minister to create a structure, independent of municipal planning agencies, that will facilitate the “Bouragreg Valley Project.” (**edit: the article is actually a several years old.) The project covers not only the Tramway, but also various transportation, commercial, and tourism development. According to TelQuel, these are projects that would normally have to be submitted to the review of various local governing bodies or committees. The Bouragreg Valley project has the blessing of the king, however, which will expedite the process. The urban development agency of Rabat has been told, for instance, that authorization for development projects is delegated by the “administration” in the first place (meaning the national government, i.e. the king), and as such can be taken away.

The implication, of course, is that a rubber stamp government serves mostly to turn the wishes of the king into reality. This is a recurring theme in TelQuel’s coverage of Moroccan news.

The Tramway offers a great example of the puzzle of urban development–that is, fitting together the picture of day-to-day city life with the process of pushing ahead with development meant to improve people’s lives and contribute to the general health of a region.

Pour mes amis francophones, obtenez plus d’infos sur le réseau tramway, ainsi que sur la région, ici.

Et pour un article du mensuel TelQuel sur l’Oued Bouragreg barcassiers, ici.

Pour la version française de l’article, clickez ici.

N.B. On voit le lien Maroc-Québec dans l’article TelQuel du 19 Avril:

    “Le seconde tranche, évaluée à 5 milliards de dirhams, comporte une île artificielle pour le fun.”

Comme on dit, “Je trippe!”


Filed under Morocco, Québec, Rabat region, Transportation development, Urban Morocco