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Territorial heritage gentrification in Abdali in Amman, Jordan


Having established itself as a heritage discourse, planetary gentrification is being studied in terms of how it operates in the Global South. This study focuses on the case of Abdali Amman, a significant mixed-use neighbourhood in Jordan that has experienced numerous mega-gentrification initiatives. According to Bourdieu’s theories of the state and dispositional practices, this study critically evaluates urban gentrification practices. In terms of gentrification governance, which takes place in two adjacent ‘state’ and ‘civic’ zones inside the Abdali district, this study analyses the interactions between transnational and state actors and the intragovernmental (state-municipality) governance system. Gentrification in Amman is connected to the revitalisation of historic sites, is a matter of urban governance, and operates from the transnational sphere along national and local lines. Furthermore, gentrification is caught in a desire/resistance paradox with calls for legitimacy and recognition. As a country in the Global South, Jordan has welcomed capitalist urbanisation. Gentrification is articulated within a flux between deterritorialisation/reterritorialisation, producing a form of ‘heritage gentrification’ in which history and national heritage are sacrificed through a process of satellite gentrification that is rooted in generative cultural transformation and governed by decentralised power structures. Introducing a Western blueprint of planetary gentrification through narrow gates into non-Western environments is a prevailing challenge.

1 Introduction

1.1 Gentrification under urban neoliberalism: Towards a territorial habitus

The critical analysis of gentrification, one of the essential global processes affecting cities, is still lacking. Lees et al. (2016) contend in their seminal book on planetary gentrification that gentrification is a phenomenon that can be observed in any city and takes various forms of urban restructuring. Additionally, gentrification cannot be viewed as static or limited to the Northern Anglo-American sphere, particularly in London and New York City. This phenomenon is directing global urbanism in a neoliberal world (both in the Global North and the Global South), which justifies the rise of urbanisation on a global scale and the generalisation of gentrification as a global strategy (Smith 2002, 437). Scholars should also explore the gentrification of the Middle East and the Global South, but these areas have received little attention in the discussion thus farFootnote 1. This is primarily because scholars emphasise gentrification as an urban product (the architecture and design of new developments/modernities) that affects a city’s reputation and social structures rather than as an urban and spatial process (displacement and replacement caused by gentrifying policies).

Earlier research discusses the limitations of gentrification theory in non-Western settings. Scholars have suggested that planetary gentrification needs to be understood in broader contexts outside of Anglo-American communities. For example, D. Asher Ghertner’s study on ‘Why gentrification theory fails in much of the world’ criticises the conventional gentrification theory, which focuses on market mechanisms and privatised land, for its inability to explain displacement in areas with diverse tenure systems (Ghertner 2015). He calls for a more nuanced understanding of displacement and urban transformation in areas with varied tenure systems and partially privatised land. Likewise, Alan Smart and Josephine Smart argue that ‘gentrification’ should be investigated as a topic of inquiry rather than as a comprehensive theory, emphasising local terms and conceptual diversity (Smart and Smart 2017). Their study illustrates how local displacement processes may be missed when viewed through the lens of gentrification, stressing the need for a more inclusive and pluralistic approach to urban research.

Scholars also advocate expanding the concept of urbanism and performing comparative relational analyses beyond merely comparing how gentrification urbanism is applied in various cities. Instead, studies should investigate real-world aspects of the Global South and North that support preexisting gentrification theories. This can make gentrification urbanism more adaptable and responsive in an increasingly neoliberal and interconnected world. For example, Michael Herzfeld highlights the tension between historical space preservation and contemporary ‘gentrifying’ urban planning (Herzfeld 2006) (Herzfeld 2017). He looks at the effects of spatial cleaning and historic preservation on social power structures and cultural identity in Greece, Italy, and Thailand (Herzfeld 2006). He explores the connections among economic ideologies, urban depopulation, and historical space reconfiguration as well as the relationships among architectural symbolism, societal resistance, and spatial cleansing. Herzfeld continues to examine gentrification in new contexts and settings. In 2017, he studied the effects of urban beautification on Bangkok’s traditional communities, specifically Pom Mahakan (Herzfeld 2017). He highlighted the paradox of urban beautification, which aims to improve aesthetics but neglects the social repercussions for the poor population. Hence, he argues against the sustainability, morality, and cultural ramifications of urban beautification methods. He favours a more inclusive strategy that considers the social, cultural, and economic well-being of all inhabitants of the city.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region would benefit from a broadening of the definition of gentrification because, in addition to aiding in the development of comparative urban thought in various locations around the world, the concept planetary gentrification can assist in tracing the dynamism of gentrification and its varied forms of application in different global locales. Moreover, according to Atkinson and Bridge (2005), gentrification may evolve into a new form of urban colonialism in new peripheral geographies that are not part of the main Anglo-American domain (Atkinson and Bridge 2005, 1). This is not to suggest that, regardless of local contexts and circumstances, Western notions of gentrification should be imperialistically imported as blueprints into postcolonial cities; rather, we need to reevaluate our understanding of gentrification. Although there is a growing colonial tendency towards transnational policy mobility, we advise that Western-based approaches be the focus while still exercising caution when interacting with neoliberal urbanism theories (Lees, Shin, and López-Morales 2016, 7).

This study also emphasises the significance of researching gentrification in the Global South and the Middle East. It discusses how gentrification is a complicated territorial process with cultural and political ramifications rather than an urban product. Placing planetary gentrification and Bourdieu’s dispositional practices in context, the study highlights the interplay between governance systems and how neoliberalism impacts urban development in heritage territories. Megaprojects and government-led gentrification are highlighted as crucial tactics in urban transformation, underscoring the role of the state and government in promoting gentrification, especially in historic military settings.

2 Methodology

This study explores the dynamics of territorial gentrification in the Global South, specifically those occurring in an historic district of Amman, Jordan. To comprehend these dynamics from an ideological and practical standpoint, the following are considered: What is the nature of the interaction and collaboration among state, local, and international actors in orchestrating and implementing gentrification policies for military heritage sites, and how does this interaction influence the power dynamics within the governance structure? Given the complex dynamics of desire and resistance highlighted by Bourdieu’s dispositional practice, how much do discursive formations contribute to maintaining (or otherwise reformulating) power relations in gentrification governance? What role do historicism/neoliberalism narratives play in influencing the discourse on territorialism, and how do these narratives help shape policies and decision-making processes at different scales of governance?

Using qualitative techniques, the study uses a multimethod approach to analyse the complex dynamics of territorial gentrification in the historic district of Abdali, Amman. A review of the literature is performed to comprehend the theories of gentrification that are currently in use, with a primary focus on planetary gentrification and Bourdieu’s notions of state and dispositional practice. This provides the research with a theoretical foundation. This study uses a thorough case study methodology to investigate the unique context of the Abdali district. To fully convey the district’s historical and cultural significance—including its military past and current gentrification issues—archival research, stakeholder interviews (mainly with government officials), newspaper logs, and on-site observations are considered. Interviews (n = 6) were conducted with local planners and officials who took part in the two most recent projects in Abdali Amman—the state-led Abdali Boulevard Project (in the central business district, CBD) and the municipal-led Abdali Park Project (a transit-oriented development, TOD, project). The official documents, policies, and media portrayals of gentrification in Abdali are examined through content analysis. This approach offers perceptions of the discourses surrounding the gentrification projects, pinpointing crucial narratives, and framing the techniques used by different players.

An analysis of the case study elucidates the ideologies and mechanisms of government-led territorial gentrification as it has unfolded in Abdali, Amman. Discourse analysis is a powerful tool for investigating the discursive constructions supporting the gentrification governance framework at military heritage sites, and the present study uses Pierre Bourdieu’s theoretical framework, particularly the notion of dispositional practices. This study highlights the complex duality between historicism and neoliberalism by delving into the intricate dynamics of desire and resistance. This is accomplished by emphasising the interactions between state, local, and international actors in shaping and implementing gentrification policies at various scales. By carefully examining the discursive formations surrounding these phenomena, this research investigates how power relations are negotiated, contested, and authorised in the intricate world of gentrification governance.

3 Bourdieu’s dispositional practices: territorial gentrification habitus and the desire/resistance duality

The present research examines territorial gentrification as a form of urban governance and explores how it relates to historic site regeneration. Usually, the term ‘gentrification’ refers to a process of urban renewal involving the influx of affluent individuals into formerly lower-class neighbourhoods, frequently resulting in changes to the neighbourhoods’ culture and character. On the other hand, territorial gentrification is political. It can be defined as the transfer of authority or resources from a centralised entity. This term is used to imply that several entities, including state actors, local governments, and transnational actors, are involved in the gentrification process. Hence, at the core of gentrification lies a duality characterised by both resistance and desire: ‘resistance’ to the changes brought about by the process of gentrification and a ‘desire’ for recognition and legitimacy within the power habitus. This duality is deeply connected to the broader concepts of territorialism, deterritorialism, and reterritorialism. Gentrification produces territorialism, where prevailing groups try to control and alter urban environments to suit their cultural and economic agendas, often displacing existing communities (Smith 1996). Urban environments are becoming more deterritorialised (disconnected or disassociated from a specific territory) due to global economic forces, as gentrification spreads globally and has local implications, such as a loss of an area’s original character and identity due to acts of local transformation and alteration (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Reterritorialism essentially refers to creating new territories, reclaiming already existing territories through urban renewal initiatives, or creating new cultural and economic institutions (Kunstler 1994). This process ultimately results in an increasing number of communities being excluded from and marginalised within their communities.

According to Soja (2000), deterritorialisation is the phenomenon of weakening attachments to place and to territorially defined communities and cultures ranging from the family, the urban neighbourhood, and the town or city to the metropolis, the region, and the most potent of modern territorial communities of identity: the modern nation-state (Soja 2000, 151–152). In the current global context, the idea of a capital city has come to reflect the influence of a class of capitalists and patrons rather than that of a nation, as the former are more likely to be connected to a global marketplace than to a local, national identity (Atkinson and Bridge 2005). Their efforts are supported by the structuring logic of the New World, which predicts the nation’s downfall and the city-state’s ultimate ascent. Additionally, the idea of the capital city emphasises the city as a crucial (analytical) setting in the story of cultural globalisation (Oren 2003, 52).

This study uses dispositional practice and Bourdieu’s theories of the state to explore the parallels between Bourdieu’s theories of the social field and habitus and governance, particularly in the context of gentrification. The concept of habitus represents shared practices and cultural norms that determine an individual’s position in governance, highlighting the potential of territorialised gentrification practices.

3.1 Territorial gentrification habitus: a stance of ‘desire’

The involvement of the state (along with other governmental agencies) in the habitus of gentrification governance is crucial because of two interrelated factors: the legitimacy to practice symbolic violence and recognition for gaining distinction and merit. As far as legitimacy is concerned, Bourdieu terms this desire ‘involution’. Involution promises to achieve ‘revolutions’ because it invokes the authority of ‘progress, reason, and science (economics in this case)’ (Bourdieu 1998, 34–35). More importantly, involution successfully claims a state’s legitimate use of symbolic violence. To establish a connection between legitimacy and symbolic violence, Bourdieu’s theorises the state as the institution that successfully asserts a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical and symbolic violence over a specific territory and the entirety of the corresponding population (Bourdieu 1994, 3). Symbolic violence is related to symbolic capital and the application of social power in any sociohistorical context. Symbolic capital is described as a type of dominance that does not involve direct physical contact or violence but instead involves symbolic manipulation (Swartz 1997, 82). In this case, Bourdieu believes that every power that can impose meaning and pass itself off as legitimate by hiding the power relations that underlie its forces adds its own, mainly symbolic, force to those power relations, i.e., symbolic violence (Bourdieu and Passeron 1977, 4).

Regarding recognition, engagement in the neoliberal-driven gentrification governance habitus allows the accumulation of social, economic, and cultural capitals sought for symbolic purposes, i.e., to garner recognition, distinction, and legitimation. It is not easy to distinguish between differences and distinctions within a habitus. The debate of conditions and habitus, the cornerstone of alchemy, transforms the distribution of capital and the balance sheet of power relations into a system of perceived differences and distinctive properties. This factor allocates symbolic and legitimate capital (Bourdieu 1984, 172). The class structure of a social formation remains an objective network of positions in which people are related to each other through their cultural and economic capital.

People are only sometimes inclined to certain practices within social spaces. Instead, they tend to regularly engage with specific rules and adopt them as ‘dispositions’ to generate their system of ‘habitus’. However, the range of practices and dispositions within this habitus usually resides within a limited perceptual framework, or what Bourdieu terms doxa. Bourdieu suggests that habitus allows different players to feel that they have the potential for success in the ‘game’. He uses the term ‘generative formula’ to show that new ‘practical’ schemes of practices can be deployed while maintaining the ‘theoretical’ generative principles. Thus, recognition within a habitat is sought in different ways by the different ‘players’ while conforming to the generative regulations of the habitus. A variety of structural positions and ‘symbolic powers’ are thus involved in the structure of the habitus. Nevertheless, dominant systems exhibit successful attempts to exert symbolic violence, even when challenged by resistance.

3.2 Habitus of territorial gentrification: a stance of ‘resistance’

Through his theory of practice, Bourdieu calls for social resistance against the multiple political and economic elements of the habitus that defines neoliberalism. Resistance to neoliberal-driven gentrification occurs because neoliberalism is against cultural preservation and ‘historicism’. When the state adopts ‘neoliberalism’, it seeks to deny and erase its own history. Therefore, the idea that social existence is not historically determined and that it is pointless to use the past as a guide to understand the present is a fundamental tenet of neoliberalism. Additionally, neoliberalism views any remaining aspects of historically constituted social reality as useless and as failing to fit into the mathematical equations of the free market (Chopra 2003, 432).

Two factors challenge the possibility of resisting, modifying, or changing a habitus. First, habitus is portrayed as all-encompassing. It is ruled by undisputed compliance with the fundamental presuppositions of the field, i.e., by a doxa embodied in human thoughts and behaviours. It allows limited (if any) freedom of thought and practices and is controlled by the existing patterns orchestrated by the dominated doxa, institutions, and practices. Second, habitus is institutionalised as a supreme distinction. According to Bourdieu, incorporating distinction into the solid, long-lasting reality of things or institutions goes hand in hand with institutionalising this distinction, which is the surest way to achieve naturalisation (Bourdieu 1990, 139). Changing the dominant habitus is thus possible through Bourdieu’s notion of ‘practices of resistance’. Nevertheless, although individual thoughts, actions, and practices might differ from objectively existing habitus structures, habitus acts as an anchored social structure that informs, influences, and orients an individual’s behaviours.

This study uses Bourdieu’s social theories because they help us rethink how gentrification is governed in Amman as a city in the Global South—which is what has been lacking in the application of gentrification theory in this region. In such locations, gentrification is developing as a challenging, complex, and evolving political phenomenon of urban development. The discussion of gentrification in Abdali Amman as proposals, practices, and forms of resistance/acceptance is covered in the following section.

4 Habitus of territorial gentrification: a perspective from Abdali in Amman

Abdali, Amman’s most robust mixed-use district, has witnessed several waves of gentrification. Analysis of this gentrification demonstrates the complementary roles of governmental actors in territorial gentrification. Both state and municipal forms of gentrification have been suggested or undertaken since the mid-1960s. Two areas are of particular importance for this study: the old military site, which has been subject to state-led gentrification initiatives (termed the ‘State Zone’ in this study), and the old transit terminal, which has been subject to municipal-led gentrification initiatives (hereafter referred to as the ‘Civic Zone’) (Fig. 1). Two phases of Abdali’s gentrification are illustrated: the historical creation of the Abdali site as a military base for an independent Jordan (i.e., with a symbolic national identity) and the regeneration of Abdali’s historic military site as part of territorial gentrificationFootnote 2.

Fig. 1
figure 1

Map of Abdali as of 1974 with the military camp (State Zone) and Abdali Transit terminal (Civic Zone) (Source: modified from MOD 1974)

4.1 Abdali’s creation: a military site with a national identity

The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’s founding monarch, King Abdullah the First, is remembered in the name of the Abdali district of AmmanFootnote 3. The Jordanian Armed Forces (Arab Army) initially paid 20 Dunm for the location in 1942 to establish a military exercise campsite in the Abdali district that could host various officer training courses (Fig. 2). Throughout the mandate period, the district remained vacant. After the country gained independence, Abdali rose to become the country’s most representative landscape located within a few kilometres of several centres of power. The general headquarters of the Jordanian Army was on display in the military camp in 1956, following the Arabisation of the Jordanian army (Ta’reeb Kiyadat Al-Jaish Al-Araby). Additionally, the Military Police College, the General Intelligence Building, an old housing complex for senior officers and officers’ clubs, and new governmental structures, such as the Interior Ministry, Department of Lands and Survey, and Chief Justice Department, were all added as defence-related facilities (Department of the National Library (1967a)Footnote 4.

Fig. 2
figure 2

During training in Abdali (upper left), a group of candidate officers trained in the Abdali Camp on 4/9/1953 (upper right) (Sources: compiled from; Department of the National Library 1953). On the 24th anniversary of the Great Arab Revolt of 1916, a military parade was held in Amman's urban streets to proclaim military heritage as a social force and a crucial component of the nation's unifying identity (lower) (Source: historyofjordan, 2000s)

Additional mixed-use developments were created around the military zone within the Abdali district to offer public services, including a public transportation terminal (the Abdali Transit Terminal). After the military camp had been established in Abdali for 20 years, the then-mayor of the Amman Municipality, Daifallah Al-Hmood, decided to set aside 28 Dunm for an Abdali terminal station that would house buses and service vehicles to link the East Bank (Jordan) with the West Bank (Palestine). Later, offices for processing external travel to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Baghdad, Beirut, Aleppo, Turkey, and the West Bank were added. Local transit lines were also made available to help those in nearby cities or within the inner city. Because of its proximity to the State Zone within the Abdali district and its function in enacting municipal-led gentrification practices in Amman, the Abdali terminal is a subject of intense debate and criticism in the discussion of gentrification in Abdali.

Abdali is primarily regarded as the birthplace of Amman's national and patriotic identity because of its historical and geographical mixed-use designation. A regeneration master plan was created in 1965 for Abdali to function as a government complex housing all ministries and departments with a governmental focus (Department of the National Library 1965). The military camp was installed at the suggested location in Abdali because it is conveniently accessible but far from the crowded city centre and because its development would encourage the city to expand in that direction once the city centre was fully developed with buildings. The construction of the government complex was also meant to aid locals in completing their administrative tasks more quickly and effectively. In the complex’s designs, the central government departments were situated in a prominent area close to the Prime Ministry and the Parliament House. As a result, the departments were situated around two significant thoroughfares that overlooked the Mall, a prominent intersection of pedestrian streets (Department of the National Library 1965) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3
figure 3

1965 plan for regenerating the State Zone in Abdali as a governmental complex comprising ministries distributed along a central mall (boulevard). The proposal was not implemented (b) (Source: Department of the National Library 1965)

In 1991, a new plan was established to develop the Abdali State Zone with an official (militarised) identity. The then-mayor of Amman, Ali Suheimat, and the former military engineer officer Dr. Abdel-Fattah Touqan proposed a military-led development project on the site of the army camps while maintaining the General Headquarters of the Jordanian Armed Forces due to its historical significance. Toukan said, ‘I wanted to keep the General Command building as a historically significant structure. It is connected to significant occasions and pivotal choices in Jordan and Jordanians’ lives. The rest of the area can be redesigned to make room for traffic congestion solutions. Additionally, I proposed building residential towers for the officers and an entertainment area’ (Touqan, 2010); nonetheless, the project needed to be finished quickly due to the important nature of the site.

The above discussion exemplifies how the histories of the continuous production and reproduction of Abdali are intertwined, as well as how the area has contributed to the construction of the country and the (re)affirmation of Amman’s cultural (or national) identity. Additionally, it demonstrates how Abdali’s strategic location and the economic, cultural, demographic, and spatial structuring processes that have been occurring since the 1940s played crucial roles in establishing the case for launching neoliberal-oriented gentrification in Amman.

4.2 Abdali’s regeneration: territorial gentrification in a historic military district

The Abdali district experienced two distinct phases of gentrification: one phase established an ideology and the other put this ideology into practice.

4.2.1 Phase one: establishing an ideology for the governance of territorial gentrification

Two main political factors influenced Amman’s urbanism. First, Amman was recognised as a global economic powerhouse in 2000, just a few years after King Abdullah II acceded to the throne in 1999. The Jordanian government pursued planning to support the country’s worldwide recognition and economic growth. As a result, neoliberal development policies replaced the inwards-facing development strategies of the earlier period, which resulted in a significant opening of Amman’s economy to international capital flows. Second, in 2000, King Abdullah II spoke with Rafik Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister, about establishing The American University of Amman as part a brand-new urban development. For this purpose, the former military camp (the State Zone) and the Civic Zone were selected (Royal Hashemite Court, 2002, 1, as cited in Al Huniti 2016).

Jordan has always desired neoliberalism, even if it emerges from urban gentrification. Like many other nations, Jordan has seen changes in its economic policies over time, with successive administrations pursuing various strategies, including neoliberalism. Neoliberalism typically supports free-market capitalism, minimal government involvement in the economy, and a focus on individual entrepreneurship. This frequently entails deregulation, privatisation, and a reduction in the role of the government in economic matters. Abdali Boulevard, a major revitalisation project in Abdali Amman, was constructed to accomplish these neoliberal ends. The goal of the project was to reuse an old military zone to establish a contemporary business and recreational district. By encouraging private investment, urban renewal, and infrastructure development, such projects frequently conform to neoliberal economic principles.

The National Resources Investment and Development Corporation (Mawared) was established as a financially and administratively independent state-owned corporation that follows the Civil Service Bureau. Mawared embodies Jordan’s pioneering move towards transforming military sites (mainly treasury land earmarked by the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF)) into investment projects. According to its vision, investing in projects that will benefit the nation’s economy and culture will help the treasury generate steady returns for the JAF while also boosting the national economy (Mawared, 2023).

Hence, Mawared evolved as the most prominent real estate developer in the Kingdom, leading Jordan’s drive towards urban regeneration and inner-city development. The corporation focuses on renewing the urban environment of inner cities and creating vibrant urban spaces through private/public partnerships. One of these sites is the State Zone in the Abdali district. Mawared created an image of Abdali District in Amman as a ‘smart urban centre’ that would include The American University of Jordan in a ‘state-of-the-art office complex’ and ‘place for emerging businesses’, which would serve as an incubator for start-up companies based on networking and interaction (Fig. 4). The plan was created with regional master planning experts such as Wahib A. Shair and Associates, Jafar Tukan and Partners, and the HOK Planning Group (HJW Consultants (HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers): Al-Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, Unpublished).

Fig. 4
figure 4

2002 regeneration discourse to develop the State Zone as a national, technological, and global district with mixed uses (HJW Consultants (HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers): Al-Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, Unpublished)

The Civic Zone was the focus of a different discourse (about a civic park) that was an attempt to revitalise Abdali by giving it a national civic identity without necessarily considering it in connection to the State Zone. The site was renovated for educational and recreational purposes in 2000 by the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM) in collaboration with regional consultants. The consultants suggested a network of national libraries. A design contest was entered by seven regional architectural firms. One of the entries described a national orientation that included a park, an aqueduct, a library, and parking (Hammad 2016a) (Fig. 5a). However, it was evident that the focus of the proposal was on building an iconic structure rather than nationalising the location and giving it a unique, indigenous identityFootnote 5. Hence, a plan to develop the Civic Zone was presented in 2002 as a result of the collaboration between Mawared and the master planning consultants (HJW Consultants (HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers): Al-Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, Unpublished). In addition, a pedestrian path leading to the transportation terminal (Civic Zone) was suggested in the proposal. Along this route, facilities such as shopping malls, urban open spaces, squares, parks, terminal gateways, and public buildings could be added to complement those built in the State Zone (HJW Consultants (HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers): Al-Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, Unpublished) (Fig. 5b). In this way, the proposal concentrated on developing public urban spaces that might essentially introduce a workable central park—Abdali Park. Eventually, the GAM, in collaboration with a local architectural firm, Bitar Consultants, and architect Paolo Caputo from Milan, Italy, developed a comprehensive master plan for regenerating the site in 2007–2008, with a national library and underground parking as its main components. This was the third attempt to restore the site through a ‘park’ proposal (Bitar 2016)—figure (5c)Footnote 6.

Fig. 5
figure 5

Regeneration discourse for the Civic Zone with a national library. a designed by the local Architect Bilal Hammad in 2000 (Sources: Hammad 2016a); b designed by local architects HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers in 2002 (HJW Consultants (HOK Planning Group – Jafar Tukan & Partners – Wahib A. Shair & Associates – Consolidated Consultants Engineers): Al-Abdali Urban Regeneration Project, Unpublished); c designed by Italian architect (Caputo) in collaboration with local architect Bitar in 2007–2008 (Sources: Bitar 2016)

None of the three plans were put into practice. Nevertheless, these proposals helped articulate the gentrification discourse in Abdali in three different ways.

  • In Amman, gentrification refers to revitalising historical sites, particularly those with military pasts. New gentrification models are not characterised by the conventional ‘population displacement’ model overseeing urban processesFootnote 7. As an alternative, the new models adopt the guise of ‘urban replacement’ for reconstructing historic areas’ physical and cultural military landmarks and presenting a fresh urban perspective on the city. Interestingly, in the case of Amman, the state and municipal agencies started to work together to stifle the traces of ancient cultural landscapes, even if historically recognised as part of the national landscape, to draw investment from transnational actors across the globe.

  • Urban governance is a factor in territorial gentrification. To facilitate Amman’s transformation into an ‘entrepreneurial local state’ (Harvey 1989) and comprehensive economic, social, cultural, and spatial restructuring, the state was wise to maintain the gentrification habitus institutionalised within its domain. Furthermore, to support social hierarchies within the system of government, the state acquired symbolic power. As a result, Amman experience mega-gentrification, which inspired state-led gentrification (Shaw 2005, 183) and involved the extreme and direct urban redevelopment of Abdali.

  • A new logic of territorial gentrification is proposed as a driving force behind upcoming urban renewal initiatives in Amman. First, this logic orchestrates a state-based formula that directs municipal actors to appropriate their social practices and gentrification plans while being confused by the state’s referencing principles in the Civic Zone. Later, various gentrification practices highlighting the interaction between cultural heritage, national economic development, urban reconstruction, and the involvement of different governance systems will be applied to the Abdali district (the State and Civic Zones).

The Abdali district (with its State and Civic Zones) has recently experienced various gentrification practices. The projects implemented in these zones are examined in the following section to determine how gentrification has gone from an ‘ideology’ to a ‘practice’. In addition, this section focuses on how various governance systems, national economic development, urban reconstruction, and cultural heritage interact.

4.2.2 Phase two: practising the governance of urban gentrification

Politics were kept out of the ‘ideology’ stage, which occurred on a microgovernance scale (i.e., gentrification was not politicised). However, the state shifted to entrepreneurialism in the early 2000s, which caused the capital city of Amman to move towards policy-driven gentrification. As a result, the state started to alter its approach and implement a proactive gentrification policy designed to improve Jordan’s investment climate. This time, a new charter of gentrification was proposed in which urban elites (at the national and state levels) called for Abdali to be the subject of image-based policies and the development of economic regulations intended to draw sizable investments.

Abdali was a suitable location for these plans because, while being developed as a relatively central business district within Amman's administrative boundaries (as suggested by the new metropolitan plan), it played a vital role in financial operations, primarily because it was a hub of the amalgamation of numerous investment buildings and businesses with a high density of banking and commercial uses (including the main headquarters of central banks, hotels, retail areas that include malls, etc., in the nearby Shmaisani district). In the State and Civic Zones (Fig. 6), active projects and plans were implemented through cooperation among transnational, state, and municipal actors. The desire to participate in gentrification plans and resistance tactics emerged as two approaches to gentrification governance.

Fig. 6
figure 6

The State Zone (the Boulevard or Abdali Project) and the Civic Zone (the car park area) are implanted in Al Abdali (Source: modified from Google Earth in May 2023)

5 Governance of Abdali’s territorial gentrification: the desire/resistance duality

The fundamental element of gentrification is a duality marked by ‘desire’ and ‘resistance’. This duality is closely linked to territorialism, deterritorialism, and reterritorialism, as discussed in the urban gentrification at both Abdali’s State and Civic Zones.

5.1 Gentrification in the State Zone

A proposal to establish Abdali as a central business district (CBD) was active between 2000 and 2002 and was aimed at regenerating the city and creating mixed-use integrated development. The Abdali Project’s new master plan comprised eight sectors (Fig. 7)Footnote 8

Fig. 7
figure 7

Sectors of Abdali Project-as prepared by LACECO Int. (Source: Al Huniti 2016)

The state required more successful and seasoned partners to develop investment attractions in Amman than were available, so this plan was never carried out. International partners were sought, but Only Saudi-Oger presented an acceptable investment proposal from the four potential partners. With the approval of the cabinet members, a partnership agreement was signed in 2004 between Mawared and Saudi-Oger with equal shares. A new business, Saudi-Abdali Oger’s Investment and Development Private Shareholding Company, was created as a partnership (PSC). Mawared was inactive in this partnership, owning the land but having no say in construction initiatives (Al Huniti 2016, 171). Rafik Hariri’s son, Bahaa Hariri, managed the Saudi-Oger share of the Abdali PSC after his father’s death until it was formally transferred to his company, Horizon, in 2006. The Abdali Project now includes The Kuwait Projects Company (KIPCO), which has a current stake of 2.7%. Horizon and Mawared each have 48.65%.

The ensuing economic restructuring processes in Abdali required spatial changes at the urban level. As a result, while the new master plan proposed new sociocultural icons, other original historic buildings, such as the General Headquarters Building, were to be eliminated (Fig. 8). The King Hussein Memorial Library and Convention Centre was another significant project intended to activate Abdali’s sociocultural identity; these aspects were dropped from the plan in late 2005 or early 2006 due to the growing influence of investors who wanted high-return revenue from the project. This led to significant deviance from the project’s original theme and prevented the site from honouring its historical and symbolic significance as a component of Jordan’s national military identity.

Fig. 8
figure 8

The Abdali ‘State Zone’, as it appears in contemporary times, with global high-rise structures to represent neo-liberal urbanism and open lots in the place of the old military sector (Source: maps were modified from Google Earth Pro; photograph captured by the author on May 20th, 2023)

The plan’s initial vision (as stated by Mawared) read as follows: ‘developing the American University of Jordan and a ‘smart’ urban center for Amman—a mission to foster unique, cultural, intellectual, and professional life in the region”; however, transnational investors were crucial players in the social governance structure in Abdali (Mawared 2002). The stakes for international investors were high, increasing their desire for control. These factors have had a significant impact on Amman’s gentrification governance habitus.

The state could not engage in acts of defiance or reassert its need for Abdali to be reshaped in a way that combined historical, national, technological, and global identitiesFootnote 9. The state could not validate these traditions by framing national military heritage as a fundamental category that orchestrates common frameworks of perception and appreciation to shape the gentrification habitus in Abdali. The investors’ neoliberalist paradigm was also applied to the state to justify exercising power in various contexts. Thus, these investors applied this paradigm to the gentrification field. The neoliberal gentrification paradigm was dynamically used as a conceptual framework to enable interaction between the different active fields once it had been authenticated (primarily through actual practice) by the state (in our case, the other component of the governance system—the municipality). Now, each neighbourhood reforms its norms to validate the state’s neoliberal gentrification paradigm. The state wants things to be this way because it sees the neoliberal paradigm as the ‘mental capital’ and a model for how it should interact with other governmental entities, especially local municipalities.

5.2 Gentrification in the Civic Zone

The symbolic value of neoliberal-based gentrification acts must be acknowledged, even though the state’s CBD suggestion may have some economic value because this project is viewed as an increased financial resource. Furthermore, these acts help maintain the political and cultural hierarchy of difference and distinction because they become socially acceptable within the community. In this instance, the state level upholds and sustains the dominance hierarchy within a governance system that includes municipalities as governmental bodies representing local societies, following in the footsteps of transnational investors. Even though the GAM has not been directly involved in the Abdali project in recent times, its influence on gentrification policies can be seen in plans to renovate the old terminal (Civic Zone). Two competing approaches exist for regenerating this area: one scenario accepts neoliberal-driven gentrification to iconise Abdali as a transit hub, and the other resists gentrification to celebrate ‘historicism’ and portray Abdali’s national and military image.

5.2.1 Resisting the ‘historicism’ scenario: Metaphoric regeneration of military heritage to reconsolidate Amman as a ‘nationhood state’ with an inclusive identity

The history of the Arab military and the founding of the independent state and the country are intertwined in the minds of many Jordanians. They consider the concept of national heritage and citizenship heavily intertwined with military heritage. The Abdali site played a significant role in helping Jordanians form their unique military heritage. This type of heritage has remained visible and pertinent to the public since the state has worked to make its components into real semaphores and carriers of meaning through the continued presence and role of the armed forces in Jordanian society. Mahmoud Krishan described his memories of the Abdali military site in conjunction with the nearby bus terminal in a local newspaper, saying:

Let the memory shine with a beautiful sovereign time in which Abdali symbolized pride, dignity, and pride…. We go back to the memory of the years of patience and contentment so that the memory shines with the scene of the officers leaving proudly from the various military directorates in that street. That scene stays in the memory of the fans of the Arab army who were listening to the roar of performing the military salute on its outskirts…[also] Taxi No. 7 [of the Bus Terminal] is entrenched in the memory of Jordanians, coming from villages and provinces with the aim of recruitment [to the army] when the recruitment division was in Abdali,…[Abdali] also includes…the old General Intelligence building…[that stands] in the memory of preserving the sovereignty of the homeland under challenging stages. Al-Abdali’s men [i.e., the army] raised the banner of defiance … they vowed blood to protect the country (Krishan, 2019).

Abdali’s military heritage is assigned a role of continuity and sustainment of cultural interconnection because it has remained closely connected with society. As a result, this military heritage was transformed into cultural heritage. Nevertheless, this relationship and the ways it changes the formation of identities are also relevant to military heritage. Hence, Abdali military heritage can be authentically recognised and revitalised. When various regeneration plans for the Civic Zone were being considered, the former mayor, Aqel Biltagi, proposed a revitalisation strategy that symbolically reaffirmed the military heritage of this location. To create open space and honour the unique army history of that area, he presented a regeneration program in the form of Abdali Park (study participant, 23 October 2017). The park would include open spaces, amphitheatres, visitor parking, buildings, and vegetation. As a result, the GAM held a local design contest for the Arab Army Plaza in Abdali in 2014. The main objectives of the park project included creating a fully functional contemporary urban area that could serve as a plaza for official gatherings, parking, and a public garden while fostering a sense of national identity by highlighting the contributions made by the Arab Army to the nation and its people. Unfortunately, financial limitations prevented the implementation of the Arab Army Plaza proposal.

Some GAM decision makers do not see themselves as guardians of this ‘unknown’ heritage, so revitalising old heritage in the Abdali region is not necessarily their top priority. According to one study participant:

When King Abdullah, the First of Jordan, was the country’s first monarch, Al Abdali was known as Al Abdalieh. This kind of connection needs to be improved in our cultural imagery. When the mayor [Aqel Biltagi] informed me that it was Al Abdalieh, I conducted a thorough search but came up empty. Barely two references could be found. We required data for the competition [to regenerate the Abdali Plaza]. Quite a few people are aware of this topic. The mayor knows it because he is an experienced older man (Study participant, Jan. 2017).

In these situations, the GAM worked with the Ministry of Transportation to develop a new approach for regenerating the Civic Zone. For example, the above study participant elaborated on this as follows:

If we approach this location strategically, the transportation problem is more significant [than the military heritage] of Abdali. You will notice that we do not use any military terminology. This allusion did not occur to us at all. Al Abdali contains no references to the military, not even the architectural picture (Study participant, Jan. 2017).

Another critical decision maker at the GAM concurred with this viewpoint and argued that revitalising the Civic Zone is essential for resolving the city’s traffic issues while preserving Abdali’s military heritage. He said the following:

Every city has its laws that fit the needs of the area. However, Amman’s transportation issues must be resolved, particularly if we intend to build a light train, subway, or underground train. We need terminals and stations, though this may only be a temporary fix. We made parking lots, and public transportation riders will use them in the future. However, we also need a public plaza. Amman needs public squares. We require a public plaza that honours the Arab Army and represents Jordan’s history and civilisation from its inception (Study participant, Feb. 2017).

Municipal and community resistance manifested through efforts to preserve cultural practices, traditions, and historical narratives threatened by gentrification’s homogenising effects. Nevertheless, the state adopted a neoliberal-oriented gentrification ethos despite this critical discourse for reviving national military heritage in the Abdali district, making it difficult to provide structures of resistance to challenge the established habitus. Since the state currently determines and validates the gentrification habitus in Abdali, it might take great efforts from the municipal side to alter to this discourse.

5.2.2 Desiring the ‘neoliberalism’ scenario: functional regeneration to stage Amman as a ‘metropolitan city’

The State Zone—now popularly known as the Boulevard or the Abdali Project—has been fully developed and regenerated under a scheme of creative restructuring. As a result, it ‘became the icon and the new reference for future development in Abdali region’ (Study Participant, Jan. 2017). Nevertheless, Abdali Boulevard is criticised because it lacks public spaces, which gave rise to regeneration of the Civic Zone. A GAM participant suggested the following:

When the Boulevard project was completed, it was a central financial and commercial hub. Simultaneously, in 2008, we considered revitalising Abdali Plaza [Civic Zone] with a national library and open spaces to represent the nation’s identity rather than a historical reference. With its open areas, this location could provide the outdoor spaces the boulevard project needs to include. The boulevard is a private area. It is an expense. The GAM and Mawared agreed that some public areas on the Boulevard would remain, but they would take the form of streets and sidewalks that people could use. The old terminal, in our opinion, as GAM, was that this was the only space that could be used to create an open area (i.e., the plaza). As a result, we proposed that this strategically beautiful space be used to build a national library with plazas (Study participant, Jan. 2017).

Unfortunately, this possibility was not fully considered as plans to regenerate the Civic Zone were being prepared. Plans for such development have involved bringing back the theme of transportation there but in the form of a famous public transit hub where people can transfer between various modes of transportation (study participant, 1st October 2016). Commuters and tourists can access the site via shuttles from Amman’s old city centre and other transit bus stations connecting the area to the Sweileh region as well as use parking lots. The transit-oriented development (TOD) approach, which the GAM is currently attempting to implement in Abdali Plaza through a transport hub, is a typical strategy resulting in a new networked city type. One of the GAM study participants said:

If we make transit-oriented development, there will be the most beautiful open space. We visited Rome, Singapore, and other places…and realised that the transit hubs are always very liveable because they include open spaces, greenery, plazas, and the hub (Study participant, Jan. 2017).

To link the Boulevard (a symbol of neoliberalism) with the Abdali transport hub (a symbol of speed) and thereby illuminate the most overtly neoliberal characteristics of Jordan and the newly created entity of the transport hub as a grandiose urbanism, i.e., the metropolitan capital, this proposal adopted a utilitarian view along with a ‘staging’ perspective. However, the GAM has not explicitly stated or defined this territory-based perspective. On the contrary, the GAM lacks a planning strategy to regenerate and fully develop the Abdali region. Instead, it operates according to a tactical plan to temporarily resolve urban-related and emerging issues. For instance, the GAM decided to create a temporary solution by creating a car park because, according to one study participant, this would help solve the parking problem in Abdali until the proposal could be implemented. Approximately 3000 cars can fit into Amman's parking lots, which are divided among Shabsoug Parking, Sweisat Parking on Salt Street, and Municipality Parking in Jabal Amman. However, the GAM asserts that this number of lots is insufficient due to increased car ownership in Amman. Considering this, the entire location was renovated and built as a parking lot surrounded by sidewalks (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9
figure 9

The Civic Zone was regenerated as a parking lot (Source: the author, captured on May 20th, 2023)

The GAM has been inspired to concentrate on the public realm in the Civic Zone by a new urbanism strategy in the state CBD zone. The GAM wants to participate in the current neoliberal initiatives launched in Amman. However, the gentrification habitus considers a different practical approach that provides a ‘sense of distinction’; it has led to the proposal of a TOD in the Civic Zone that mimics the CBD in the State Zone, satisfying its desire for ‘modernism’, ‘dynamism’, and most importantly, ‘cosmopolitanism’ while embracing new technology and being open to globalisation.

6 Discussion: gentrification in the Global South as a ‘territorial moment’

This study offers a practical perspective on the relationships among urban development, heritage sites, and gentrification in the Global South. The following characteristics of planetary gentrification in the Abdali district can be emphasised:

6.1 Introducing ‘heritage’ gentrification

From an ideological standpoint, this study highlights how Amman has become an object of ‘heritage gentrification’, with neoliberalist agents and decision-makers fabricating the city’s history through acts of military heritage erasure and replacement. Heritage gentrification has been established as a dominant discourse and an unchallengeable convention. The lessons on urban renewal and regeneration governance at the mezzo level (transnational), macro level (the state), and micro level (the municipality) and in both state and urban civic zones are colonised by the story of heritage gentrification, which is elevated to the level of a—to use Bourdieu’s term—national ‘habitus’ that operates through neoliberalism. The ‘historicism’ of the sites and national military heritage in Amman are hardly acknowledged within this neoliberal-oriented gentrification habitus. The state views urbanism through a purely neoliberal lens despite having once expressed an intention to combine historical and neoliberal visions in its urban gentrification policies. This factor encourages the state’s involvement in urban governance by incorporating iconic global architecture that gentrifies and packages urban spaces into globally recognisable realms.

6.2 Introducing a ‘generative’ heritage gentrification

The case of Abdali presents gentrification as a ‘territorial moment’ affecting urban, historic, militarised, and national heritage. Governments in the Global South seek to amass wealth while transforming their cities through massive construction projects. Thus, gentrification is transterritorial. The geographic scope of gentrification in Amman is widening to include other nonresidential areas and nearby residential neighbourhoods (see, for example, Vidal (2020) on the gentrification of the nearby neighbourhood of Jabal al-Weibdeh). This gentrification can reach urban, historic, militarised, official, and public spaces by connecting urban gentrification with neoliberalism. Hence, as Abdali in Amman shows, gentrification has advanced ongoing relational geographies and increased differentiated societal, spatial, economic, and cultural polarisation within cities (Deffner and Hoerning 2011, 1). In other words, gentrification within a neo-liberalised Global South is evolving within a ‘generative formula’ that fosters multipolar territorialism and satellite gentrification.

Satellite gentrification starts by putting a specific territory close to the context of capitalism’s global restructuring process to achieve deterritorialisation worldwide. Other less-favoured local environments are disconnected from the global cultural economy, causing a profound transformation in their status, which is increasingly conditioned by global dynamics. In essence, this leads to ‘deterritorialisation’ and the reshaping of cultural landscapes and the relationships among communities, their heritage (both tangible and intangible), and the forces of gentrification. According to scholars such as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, deterritorialisation breaks traditional territorial norms (Deleuze and Guattari 1987). Typically, deterritorialisation in urban development breaks a community’s historical and cultural connections to its physical surroundings. In the case of Abdali, urban gentrification provides a prime example of how the neoliberal approach can accelerate deterritorialisation and disrupt enduring ties between communities and their military and cultural heritage, polemically leading to the creation of new territorial ethos, norms, and structures (also known as reterritorialisation). Abdali demonstrates how reterritorialisation—blending new elements with historic heritage sites—can occur in state and civic territories, resulting in a comprehensive and irreversible loss of cultural authenticity. This dynamic emphasises that the discourse of neoliberalism has the unintended consequence of eroding cultural legacy to achieve economic development objectives. June Wang expressed concern about turning cities into miniature worlds devoid of distinctiveness and cut off from their natural environments (Wang 2009) (see also Wang and Li 2017). While this happens, the spread of such gentrification to various urban domains shows disrespect for these areas’ historical and cultural significance, which can weaken the city’s distinct identity.

6.3 Introducing a ‘decentralised’ heritage gentrification

Amman’s gentrification practices have normalised a ‘decentralised gentrification governance’ trend. Deterritorialisation—especially in the context of gentrification—has catalysed political change in Abdali. Likewise, deterritorialisation in politics has advanced the dissolution of established power structures (state-centred governance). This has given rise to a new political structure, i.e., decentralised governance, that transfers power among the transnational, state, and municipal actors because of an inability to ‘resist’ neoliberalism in favour of a ‘desire’ for historicism and cultural identity. Neil Smith reminds us that the government is crucial in gentrification policies, generating state-led gentrification (Smith 1979, 2002). States are increasingly using gentrification to repurpose space in urban areas. Nevertheless, these same states are ignoring the challenge of balancing national identity and urban forms (Lees, Shin, and López-Morales 2016). Issues such as replacing cultures, histories, identities, populations, and urban uses are considered unimportant. In turn, local governments may resist gentrification because they fear adverse effects on the sociocultural aspects of their communities. However, states are increasingly ‘desiring’ larger development projects that rewrite urban landscapes and expand urban imaginations. In addition to the state, municipalities are increasingly drawn to the glow of neoliberalism. Although communities can resist neoliberalism through ‘cultural preservation’, they eventually present their heritage and culture as dynamic processes subject to neoliberal-driven modifications and (re)creation practices.

Practices of resistance through advocating for ‘cultural preservation’ (as noted in this study) might not be able to challenge the dominant discourse of neoliberalism. Local communities might experience other forms of resistance, such as ‘territorial assertion’, i.e., resistance becoming a form of territorial assertion as communities strive to maintain control over their spaces and resist external influences. Remarkably, such ‘territorial assertion’ is already emerging in the immediately adjacent historic district in Amman—the old Jabal al-Weibdeh neighbourhood. The neighbourhood, which is privately owned, has undergone socioeconomic gentrification due to attempts by multinational chain cooperatives to encroach upon the operations of local businesses. Local activists and business owners formed the ‘Ma7alli’ (meaning ‘local’ in Arabic) local resistance initiative to fight the dominant neoliberal urban planning (Vidal 2020). In this case, resistance is a grassroots movement wherein communities facing gentrification often mobilise to resist changes, employing various strategies such as protests, advocacy, and grassroots organising. However, the impact of this resistance has remained limited.

Essentially, the traditional power structures and governance models of Amman’s Abdali district have undergone a seismic shift due to the intertwining dynamics of neoliberalism and heritage gentrification. The effects of this shift go beyond simple urban development; they penetrate the political system, undermining and stifling the roles that communities and local governments play in the shifting balance of power. In the case of Abdali, it is evident that neoliberal-driven gentrification is portrayed as an all-encompassing habitus and institutionalised as a supreme distinction by any means of resistance. On the other hand, the state, both directly and indirectly, permits other significant actors to act within this sphere of power, even when conflict arises within and between these actors. Ironically, resistance and opposition have been employed to create and legitimise what Bourdieu refers to as ‘organic solidarity’ within a neoliberal habitus. Once this threshold is crossed, altering the dominant gentrification governance structures and systematic power is even more complicated.

7 Conclusion: tuning planetary gentrification

This study aims to expand our understanding of the dynamics of planetary gentrification occurring in the Global South. To achieve this, it examines the power relationships in the governance of gentrification and demonstrates how state, local, and international actors have cooperated and communicated to orchestrate and implement gentrification plans for heritage territories (state and civic) in the Abdali district in Amman, Jordan. Using a framework of the dualism of desire/resistance, this study explores the complex dynamics of gentrification governance within the intricate habitus of Abdali. It demonstrates how official discourses about historicism and neoliberalism can impact conversations about territorialism and gentrification. It also underlines the influence of transnational factors on deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation in the context of gentrification.

Furthermore, this study illustrates how Abdali’s urban development embodies planetary urban gentrification in non-Western environments. Specifically, it shows that quite apart from the relocation of residential areas (also known as social gentrification), gentrification also includes cultural (i.e., heritage, both tangible and intangible) and, more significantly, political (governance) gentrification. Embedded in these two forms of gentrification are acts of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. In the studied case, heritage deterritorialisation occurred after the militaristic cultural symbols were removed from their original context. Neoliberal-driven urban development led to the deterritorialisation of histories as they were uprooted from their traditional settings. Displacement disrupted the cultural continuity of the affected population and forewarned the loss of tangible and intangible heritage. The neoliberal forces influencing these areas may yet reterritorialise them in response to market demands, worsening the loss of cultural heritage and weakening the distinctive character of the place.

Deterritorialisation describes how established structures can be changed, causing political, social, and economic dynamics to shift. This movement alters traditional power structures in politics, especially, in our case, the state-centred governance model that formerly dominated the political landscape in Jordan. The old hierarchies that define state-centric governance are threatened when geographical boundaries lose their significance, leaving room for more decentralised and innovative gentrification governance. Amman’s Abdali district is a testament to the transformative power of deterritorialisation and neoliberalism governed by international forces of planetary gentrification. Global neoliberal ideologies, emphasising free-market principles, privatisation, and state intervention, have permeated the urban development strategies for the entire Abdali district enacted not only by the state but also with municipal power structures. Hence, gentrification, driven by neoliberal principles, has manifested as a catalyst for dissolving the conventional governance habitus in Abdali. Paradoxically, the state and municipal entities might find themselves increasingly marginalised and silenced as established power structures crumble. Political instability and disenfranchisement result from the diminished ability of local communities and municipalities to challenge the basic power structure. In other words, this might result in political upheaval and governance reformFootnote 10 that challenges and silences the local communities’ and municipalities’ position as the resisting entities within the power structure, as observed in neighbouring regions within the Abdali district.

This paradigm shift—the dissolution of traditional power structures and the emergence of decentralised governance models—could lead to related developments in adjacent historic areas; consequently, political instability and the reform of governance dispersed throughout the area may eventually become recurring themes. The rich tapestry of cultural diversity in a given society may also be jeopardised if neoliberal development is prioritised over this component. Therefore, this study highlights the unexpected difficulties and repercussions of bringing standardised Western models of planetary gentrification into non-Western contexts through narrow gates. The Abdali case necessitates managing the conflict between neoliberal gentrification and the preservation of the built heritage. Understanding the effects of heritage gentrification and the significance of giving heritage preservation top priority for maintaining cultural identity and historical continuity is crucial when managing this relationship.

Amman’s gentrification has brought up significant concerns concerning the future of urbanism in the MENA region. A careful balance between economic interests and heritage preservation is necessary because of the potential impact on cultural identity and historical continuity. Nevertheless, the findings of this study may not apply to other Global South urban development contexts. Future studies should look at other situations and urban developments to fully understand the nuances and variances in the relationships among neoliberalism, gentrification, and heritage preservation. Furthermore, by focusing solely on the unique dynamics, opportunities, and challenges in Jordan’s capital city, Amman, the study offers insights unique to the region. Further research should delve into matters specific to urban gentrification within the diverse settings in the Global South. The study also draws attention to concerns about global gentrification campaigns led by the West. Other urban planning frameworks that consider cultural factors and refute the notion that Western models are the only workable strategy should be investigated in more detail.

Availability of data and materials

Data and materials are available via request at


  1. Examples of these studies are Daher (1999), Hayes and Zaban (2020), and Thomas and Vogel (2018).

  2. Jordan’s military tangible heritage comprises various historically and culturally significant buildings, artefacts, and locations. Monuments like the Martyrs’ Monument of the Battle of Karama, the Martyr’s Monument, the Northern Martyr’s Monument, and the Royal Tank Museum commemorate the courage of the Arab Army’s martyrs and narrate Jordan’s history, from the Great Arab Revolt to the formation of the Jordanian Army, its independence, and critical moments. Military sites like the old Mahatta military camp and the Abdali military camp are also crucial to the history of Jordan because the country’s history is inextricably linked to the evolution of the Jordanian Armed Forces, which represent the nation’s response to regional challenges. The armed forces are a cultural symbol of pride and identity because the nation’s cultural fabric is woven with tales of sacrifices and victories made in its defence.

  3. The Abdali region was previously given this name in honour of Prince and later King Abdullah I Ibn Al-Hussein – the founder of Jordan – when the General Command of the Arab Army purchased land to establish a military training centre for the Jordanian army. This camp then became the headquarters of the General Command of the Jordanian Armed Forces. Hence, King Abdullah I is regarded as critical in Jordan’s early nation-building efforts. Naming a military city district after him is a way of preserving and promoting the cultural heritage of Jordan by drawing a direct connection to his contributions to Jordan’s military infrastructure and readiness, thus symbolising the leadership and vision he provided during a crucial time in the nation’s history. This city name honours the country’s historical legacy and foundational period, honours its founding leaders, instils a sense of pride and identity in its citizens, and fosters a sense of belonging and continuity across generations.

  4. Suggestions for establishing other government-related structures on the military campus include a building for the Amman Municipality (Department of the National Library, 1967b), cooperative housing projects (Department of the National Library, 1968), and a public park (Department of the National Library, 1966).

  5. According to architect Bilal Hammad, ‘[The GAM] wanted some facilities…We realized the slope in the site, so we decided to make terraces and added specific functions below it. We also suggested a big and dominating element, the aqueduct, which crosses the length of the site and synchronizes with the slope of the topography.…If this huge proposal is implemented, the site will celebrate an iconic structure, especially since Amman lacks such a landmark’ (Hammad 2016b).

  6. The park has been conceived as an urban area for contemplation and relaxation and an educative and formative place through the subdivision of different themes (the rooms). The idea is to relate the project with the surrounding areas and the central axis of the urban settlement through four primary functions distributed as four significant nodes along the north‒south axis of the land, including a multimedia library, mosque, glasshouse for damp plants, and cafeteria pavilion at the top of the park, in the direction of downtown. The connection between the nodes forms open-air rooms. The park is served by two car parks, one upstream and one downstream, and both are placed on the roadway level. The lower one is covered by the park’s south end, so the minor part of the green area is well utilized and preserved, separated from the roadway. Different paths provide the park with a walking itinerary and structure, each featuring distinguished arboreal and floral specimens arranged according to botanical principles.

  7. See, for instance, Rami Daher talking about Umm-Qais, a historic village in north Jordan, and social gentrification due to population displacement (Daher 1999). See also related studies on cultural gentrification in postcolonial Amman, including (Al Rabady and Abu-Khafajah 2015, 2021).

  8. For more information on this strategy, see Alshawabkeh (2018) and Nahhas (2015).

  9. The Abdali investment-oriented project required the establishment of a peaceful, welcoming, and inviting place, so it was crucial to demolish all existing historical and military buildings. As a result, the General Intelligence Headquarters (demolished in May 2005), the Anti-Corruption Building, and the Officers’ Club were removed to areas outside the city. In addition, the Abdali project was initially intended to upgrade and maintain the General Headquarters of the Jordanian Army due to its favourable association with Jordanians’ memories. Unfortunately, however, the building was demolished, and none of these structures are present on the site as evidence of the site’s rich cultural history (Fig. 8).

  10. For example, a discussion of the relationships among decentralisation, urban governance, and political culture in Jordan, specifically in urban heritage governance, can be found in (Al- Rabady, Rababeh, and Abu-Khafajah 2014). This discussion highlights the opportunities and challenges for achieving democratic, decentralized governance in the nation.



The Middle East and North Africa


Central business district


Transit-oriented development


National Resources Investment and Development Corporation


Greater Amman Municipality


The Kuwait Projects Company


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All the study subjects deserve thanks; without them, the study would not have been as well-presented. I want to express my gratitude to Aqel Biltaji (died in 2021), who served as the former mayor of Amman and the former chairman of the board of directors of the Abdali Investment and Development Company (the leading developer of the new Abdali) and Abdali Boulevard on behalf of the Bahaa El-Din Rafik Hariri-owned Global Horizon Company for Development. Additionally, I would like to thank the anonymous reviewers for their insightful reviews, which greatly enhanced the paper's final presentation. My sincere gratitude goes out to the anonymous reviewers for their insightful criticism, which greatly enhanced the paper's final presentation. I would like to express my thanks to the Managing Editor for her help with the manuscript's editing and proofreading.


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Rama Al-Rabady conducted the entire research. She approves the final manuscript.

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Rama Al Rabady is a Professor in the Department of Architecture Engineering at Hashemite University in Zarqa, Jordan. She earned three degrees in Architecture: a BSc from Jordan University of Science and Technology, an MSc from the University of Jordan, and a Ph.D. from Texas A&M University. Her research interests include integrated heritage management, decoloniality of heritage governance in Jordan, spatial regeneration in urban contexts, ancient masonry construction and structural technologies, and interpretation of ancient architectural and urban styles.

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Correspondence to Rama Al Rabady.

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Al Rabady, R. Territorial heritage gentrification in Abdali in Amman, Jordan. Built Heritage 8, 9 (2024).

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