In a country where travel and tourism is forecast to reach over a fifth of total GDP in the next 10 years, Jordan faces a dilemma of how to compete on a regional and global stage, cater to a global class of travelers and tourists, whilst also safeguarding its heritage and serving its people.
“A rising tide lifts all boats” is a famous adage referring to a macroeconomic principle that a prosperous economy brings benefits to every level of society, but on a smaller, local level, there may be unforeseen risks to such unregulated market growth. The case of some cafe entrepreneurs in one of Amman’s oldest neighbourhoods, Jabal Al-Weibdeh, could point the way for startups in places facing a similar struggle between tradition, innovation, competition and growth.
Jabal Al-Weibdeh is one of Amman’s smallest and most dynamic neighborhoods, and has been home to several embassy sites and small expat communities since the 1990s. But the threat of gentrification was navigated well by those who had lived here for generations and remembered another face of the place.
There were thus twofold demands being served in the area in the early days: one, revolving around appeasing a relatively minimal foreign appetite with residential and convenience offers; and the other, maintaining the discreet charm, quiet and intimate community that many locals and families took great pride in belonging to. There was hardly any traffic and little footfall; Jabal Al-Weibdeh was not at the time an attractive or well known destination amongst outsiders.
It wasn’t until there was a spike in cafés opening up in the neighborhood that this historical dynamic started to shift. Over thirty new food and beverage outlets opened up in Jabal Al-Weibdeh in the past seven years, which was met by a tenfold increase in foot traffic and customers.
There is a dilemma facing many Jabal Al-Weibdeh residents and entrepreneurs who want to maintain the neighborhood’s charm and flavor without holding it back economically or reproducing a style that doesn’t bring Amman into a new age of creativity and innovation.
Ultimately, the growth and diversification of cafés and clientele in Jabal Al-Weibdeh has been good for all businesses in the short term. Fann Wa Chai, Café Graffiti and Rumi all had unique concepts and niche markets, yet stayed in touch with their histories, contexts and customers.
Will the urban development of Jabal Al-Weibdeh compromise its personality and community? Can local entrepreneurs maintain their appeal in the face of competition from businesses with no attachment to the neighborhood, and no care for the cultural heritage or the friendly dynamics that exist between the cafés?
Time will tell.
The original article in full can be found on WAMDA.
by Josiane Smith, enpact country coordinator in Jordan