Amman’s New Mega-Mall is Antithesis of Sustainable Development

taj mall, amman jordan
The Taj mall in Amman, Jordan seems as current and eco-sensitive as a polyester leisure suit.

Costing in excess of $170 million and with a total floor area of 150,000 square meters, Amman’s newest mega-project is located in a middle class residential area, skirted by vacant lots of grazing goats and humble concrete houses.  Access to its underground car park on Opening Day was blocked when a sheep sprinted from an adjacent field, a typically surreal Amman experience.

Just in time for Christmas and joining the existing team of city shopping centers, Jordan’s latest retail-abalooza has arrived: Taj is Amman’s newest shopping mall, boy does it  have a ‘shiny nose’. Pitched as a “lifestyle destination”, right now this 21st century citadel is the antithesis of sustainable development.

Taj is a glitzy retail and multi-purpose facility intended to “entertain and serve chic travelers and cosmopolitan city residents” – or at least it will be someday when the shops, movie theaters, restaurants, bowling alleys, arcade and kids’ zones actually open. A massive stone box stretching five stories high, it’s largely empty yet fully powered, illuminated, heated and cooled in support of a single supermarket, a handful of European clothing chains, and a lot of empty space.

taj mall amman jordan(Pictured left – one of the mall’s next-door neighbors)

Launching a major retail center in mall-crammed Amman in the wake of the global financial crisis is a gamble. According to Al Ghad, tourism income is down 18 percent, and the Jordan Times reports unemployment as hovering between 12-14%. Although the average household income sits at $45,000,  fewer than 10% of households make more than $14,000. Who’s shopping?  Will locals dine at places where the bill for a meal is higher than a week’s salary, or drink a mega-brand cup of coffee that costs a day’s pay?

I’ll bet foreign tourists will continue to blow their holiday time and money bobbing in the very-near Dead Sea or crawling around authentic Old Downtown, instead of sipping a Starbucks in a place indistinguishable from malls back home.

Artists’ renderings depict views of the complex invisible to any Ammanian, except perhaps to a roofer working on the equally gigantic Saudi Arabian Embassy under construction across the street. Maybe embassy employees will keep Taj afloat. Or it could appeal to the sizeable ex-pat community: it’s interior architecture and non-Jordanian offerings are as safely familiar as any airport Duty-Free shop.

I wish developers would quit with the mega-malls and instead build upon more authentic urban experiences.  Mall-mania is middle-aged, born half a century ago in the USA as a means to consolidate shopping into a one-stop climate-controlled experience.  A paean to the automobile society, they were particularly attractive to people living in goods-starved rural and suburban places.  Malls in major cities are oxymoronic: the point of a city being, well…it’s a city.

taj mall amman Organic, largely uncontrolled free-market commerce responsive to evolving needs of its users.  Intense competition from other shopping venues, not to mention the internet, has shown these “lifestyle experience” palaces to be non-starters in most US and European cities.  Successful United Arab Emirates versions are from another economic time and scale.

To its credit, Taj is built with beautiful stonework and will (one day) offer lovely outdoor public “rooms”, but big-scale sustainability is much more than regionally sourced materials and daylight views while you have a smoke.

Better site selection; elimination of urban light pollution; onsite generation of renewable energy; and education of the local community to a greener way are just a few of the low-hanging sustainable fruit the Taj developers could have picked.

At a minimum, they might have greened-up ongoing maintenance.  I cringe at the acres of horizontal plate glass: how much water will be wasted keeping them clean?  Taj seems as current and eco-sensitive as a polyester leisure suit.

Ironic how a project’s opening can be both too soon, and too late.

::Taj website

16 thoughts on “Amman’s New Mega-Mall is Antithesis of Sustainable Development

  1. Bisher

    Most of the people in Mega mall area do not have money to eat or feed their kids. I’m wondering how they are going to bring Mega spending. The good things about this project is that the mechanics in that area will get the opportunity to see beautiful girls every morning. The person who built this project is so out of touch. business should not be his passion. it is like building las Vegas beneath the sea.

    Reply
  2. Laurie Balbo Post author

    sa’ada –

    Right on. And you made me choke on my tea with the city mall/mecca mall observation: new to Amman, I came out of Mecca and hopped in a taxi to go to City – and the taxi driver threw me out of the cab and said “Just walk!”.

    Thanks for your comment – laurie

    Reply
  3. sa'ada

    sorry, jtr, you’ve never seen a mall until you’ve seen one of the malls in the middle east. until you see it, you would not believe just how much worse the malls are here. especially the new ones.

    and some of them stand side by side. city mall and mecca mall in amman are not even 5 min walk apart. and the only appreciable difference is the grocery stores. most of the other stores (mothercare, claire’s, etc) have locations in both of the malls.

    dhahran mall and rashid mall, in saudi arabia, are also only about 10 min walk apart (if you could walk between them, but khobar is not very pedestrian friendly). hayat mall and sahara mall in riyadh are right next door to each other. i’ve not seen anything like this in america. probably something to do with ammani’s comment above. i wouldn’t want to get in the way of any rich developer here, that’s for sure.

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  4. JTR

    If the growing population has money to spend they’ll have plenty of customers and make a lot more money I’m sure. But the underground parking space might need air conditioning.

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  5. Local Resident

    Taj Mall will actully create 2000 Much needed jobs for Jordainians and will prove to be a lovely destination for Ammanites when it’s fully open by this summer. And for your information Taj has 2000 underground Free parking spaces so there is no need for people to park on the surrounding streets.

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  6. JTR

    The growing population provides the excuse for economic growth, like new shopping malls, but too much of any good thing turns it bad. Seven billion people are polluting and warming the Earth into ever more violent weather as the ice caps melt.

    Reply
  7. Laurie

    @SAS – Point taken.

    The article wasn’t intended as a comparison between malls, but rather as a question as to why they continue to come online in a persistently un-improved way.

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  8. SAS

    Exactly why this Jordanian mall is any more or less damaging to the environment than its counterparts elsewhere in the region or elsewhere in the world is something the above article fails to adequately explain.

    Reply
  9. JTR

    The city could organize a bike sharing system, ban all motor vehicles and create pedestrian malls. Then the smog and traffic jams would be gone and people could shop safely and happily.

    Reply
  10. Laurie

    So right, Feras!(I’m in Amman) the traffic clog is horrendous – and this with only a fraction of the Taj shops open. And the rush for on-street parking will surely cause headaches for the lovely, smaller scale restaurants and shops already alive in Abdoun.

    I’m just back from Dubai: we skied in the Mall of the Emirates, my kids had a blast in the amazing Dubai Mall aquarium. But Amman isn’t Dubai, and not too many folks were buying in the UAE shops.

    Taj will create jobs, I understand Spinney’s food market employs 250. That’s about the only positive aspect I could see.

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  11. Ammani

    Former Mayor Nidal Hadeed issued the mall permit. Former Mayor Maani tried to develop a master plan to prevent such mistakes from happening again. Guess whose behind bars now?

    Reply
  12. JTR

    The reason this is happening is because the population is growing, otherwise there wouldn’t be enough customers to pay off the investment and a make profit. So, peacefully reduce the human population with family planning education and there will be no mega-malls or traffic jams anywhere, but instead a network of workshops and shopkeepers.

    Reply
  13. Feras B.

    One thing the writer didn’t mention (or notice, perhaps. Is Laurie in Amman?) is the monumental traffic jam caused by this mall and the poor road infrastructure surrounding it. As usual for Jordan, services for such mega-projects are not even a second thought. Basically, this means drivers in Amman are aware of certain no-go areas where artificial grid-lock is almost guaranteed at certain times of the week (e.g. start of the weekend). This means going “around” these areas, adding to fuel emissions as well as cost and time. It annoys the crap out of me to add yet another area of Amman to this list.

    One other disaster is City Mall, situated in such a way that a major artery is closed due to over-flow of drivers. This adjacent highway literally becomes a choke-point and near-parking-lot at times. Hilarity ensues when the near-by hospital’s ambulances try to make it through the raging sea of stopped cars.

    What is odd is that as far as credentials go, most Jordanians hold at least a Bachelor’s degree in something, but obviously not in common sense.

    Reply
  14. JTR

    It can’t be any worse than the sprawling mega-malls here in the USA. The problem is the Earth is not growing to accomodate our growing human economy around the World, but instead slowly shrinking with less ability to absorb the tons of pollution we dump every day.

    Reply

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