Home | Interviews | Page 2

Category: Interviews

Museums and place identity

Istanbul museum Islam science
photo credit: Islamic Science and Technology via photopin (license)

Much of place identity is communicated through heritage, of which museums form a significant part. A museum conveys a great deal about a place: about its values, its priorities and how it sees itself, both in an historical and a contemporary sense.

Today’s post is based around a recent interview with French museum-branding expert Corinne Estrada, head of Paris-based agency Agenda. Corinne came to Istanbul to lead the organisation of the Communicating the Museum Conference 2015.

This event brings together museum professionals from around the world. Together they discuss emerging trends and social influences that affect various museums and how they interact with and influence the societies in which they are situated.

In our conversation, Corinne reflected on the museum situation in Turkey, noting that there is a distinct ‘gap’ between how the public and private museums present themselves and how they interact with the outside world. She pointed out that the private museums she had worked with in Istanbul had generally been open-minded and had a deep understanding of their assets.

On the other hand, government-run museums were more likely to rely on protocol, which gives the feeling of the museum being more ‘staged’.

“The private ones were keen to learn and improve, but the public ones stuck more closely to protocol.”

The museums of Istanbul tend to stay close to their Turkish roots. They maintain a distinct sense of national character even in the more experimental, Western-style museums, such as SALT Galata.

Corinne said: “The clash of Eastern and Western here [in Istanbul] is very, very rich. It can be seen clearly in the food and the architecture. The museums should focus on this as an asset and take the best of it.”

However, despite the numerous strengths of both Istanbul and wider Turkey in terms of cultural heritage, recent political and social problems have caused a decline in visitors and a rise in perceptions of Turkey as an undesirable place to visit.

Corinne told me that some delegates cancelled their conference places because they were afraid to come to Turkey in the current climate. “In the museum business, people are looking negatively on Turkey because of the government. Many are turning to Qatar and UAE instead. But both those countries are very Western. Istanbul on the other hand is all about the Turkish people.”

In terms of using museums as tools in wider place branding efforts, Corinne cited Sydney as a good example of a city that is using its cultural heritage to powerful effect by drawing its museums into an overall branding strategy.

“Everyone is involved – it’s a joint exercise.”

Philadelphia is another good example of engaging closely with the target audiences, sharing the brand identity with them by encouraging them to produce user-generated content.

Certain cities are defined by their iconic museums, for example Paris, which boasts the world-famous Louvre. Amsterdam and its Rijksmuseum is another, along with Madrid, New York and London. Corinne says that many museums don’t know how to connect with wider audiences, managing only to reach the elites in society.

For example, even when the Louvre holds ‘Public Day’ and opens its doors free of charge, it has trouble attracting people. So the museum has come up with a plan to bring selected exhibits to the Paris suburbs in an attempt to encourage people to become more interested in what the museum has to offer.

“A good museum should be sustainable. It shouldn’t rely on public money. For success, it should speak to the emotions as well as to the intellect,” Corinne said.

“Many people feel scared to go to museums because the museums don’t talk to them. They don’t feel they belong to that world. For example, many museum information labels use language that is too high-level for the average person.”

All these issues and more were dissected in detail during the recent conference in Istanbul. Attendees came from a wide range of backgrounds, including those of design, sociology, and the digital world, along with museum experts from 25 countries.

The conference featured a range of digital master classes, brainstorming sessions and focus groups where delegates discussed new ideas to help museums integrate better and give back to their societies. The goal was to figure out ways for museums to make history more relevant in a contemporary context.

Discussion topics included the need to treat museum visitors as citizens instead of consumers, making visitors into brand ambassadors, valuing artists and storytellers, and the importance and necessity of taking risks.

Many of these themes relate to the concepts surrounding effective place branding, and a well-run museum can act as yet another piece in the puzzle that makes up a place identity. Undoubtedly, museums will continue to play a major role in constructing place identity.

Cross-border advantage

photo credit: Europe via photopin (license)
photo credit: Europe via photopin (license)

Limburg’s long-term goal is to become well known as a cross-border province. Connect Limburg, the organisation responsible for implementing brand strategy for the Dutch province, has the important task of making sure that all stakeholders are engaged with the strategy and willing to support it as it unfolds.

Having widespread buy-in is vital for success, because a good place branding strategy depends largely on having all stakeholders of the place working together towards the defined goals. Local business people play an important part in this. But it’s not always easy to get them on board.

Robert Govers, who worked on the Limburg strategy, said: “Most of the time private sector players find it very hard to understand how this [place brand] helps them to improve their business.

“In their day-to-day jobs they are mainly focused on selling products or services to consumers. They say things like ‘borders are irrelevant for us, how can they help us to sell our products?’”

This could present a significant challenge for Limburg. Nevertheless, some of the province’s most important firms are already convinced. When I visited Limburg in April, I spoke with two prominent local businessmen who support the cross-border mentality and actively leverage it in their business approach.

The first person I met was Jo Cox, director of Smurfit Kappa Roermond Papier, part of the Smurfit Kappa Group. The Limburg-based mill is one of the largest in Europe and boasts strong output growth and performance. The Smurfit Kappa group prides itself on its sustainable approach to manufacturing and the Roermond Papier mill, managed by Cox, recently won an award for Bio Strategy of the Year.

Cox said: “For a big business like this, it’s important that we have no variations in currency. Also, Germany is a very strong economy, as we all know, and so we can take the opportunities it offers. All markets are accessible from here. We deliver to France, the UK, Poland, and so on. We also have good water connections, not just motorways. Our transportation costs are low. We’re the best in class regarding transport costs, because of our superb location.”

“There are 26 million people within a small radius of here [Roermond] so that’s very important. But it’s also extremely important that we have the right work ethos. We have really good people in this area. At the end of the day, it’s all about the motivation of the people,” he continued.

Paper manufacturing is not the only industry that can benefit from a cross-border location. It makes sense that Limburg’s unique geography would be highly beneficial to a company specialising in international transportation and logistics.

Seacon Logistics is headquartered in the Limburgian town and logistical hotspot of Venlo, where it has been operating since 1985. It is now the biggest company in North Limburg.

The company has a presence in over 75 countries and uses a multi-modal approach including land, rail and sea transportation methods. Seacon Logistics understands the power of leveraging the cross-border mentality, and in doing so has become closely aligned with the wider goals of Connect Limburg.

Corné Geerts, Seacon Logistics managing director, said: “From a logistics perspective, it’s very important to have close cooperation with Germany. Germany has the perfect rail infrastructure, going deep into the hinterland of Europe.”

“Obviously it’s hard for Limburg to compete with Amsterdam, where a lot of companies settle, because it has very good international connections. I don’t think it’s feasible yet for anywhere in Limburg to compete with an international city like Amsterdam,” he continued.

“But looking one step ahead, because real estate prices are so much lower here, Limburg could become an attractive alternative for internationals, not just the Dutch. Amsterdam is so congested and expensive. Often people just want to live somewhere calm and quiet,” said Geerts.

The hot tempered city

How do the characters of individual neighbourhoods affect the image of a city?

This week, we head to the US to explore the city of Chicago and some of its lesser-known neighbourhoods.

We’re in the company of Borough & Block, a Chicago-based brand agency who are engaged in the Whistlestops project, which aims to highlight the concept of ‘neighbourhood’ and explore how its nuances tie into the overall brand of a city. Placesbrands spoke to Chris Huizenga of Borough & Block.

Placesbrands: Chris, what are some of the best local tourism attractions that you’ve discovered in ‘lesser-known’ Chicago during the course of this project?

Chris Huizenga: Some interesting attractions show up as you explore each neighbourhood. For example: Superdawg by Norwood Park, Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar and Pleasant House Bakery in Bridgeport, City Newstand in Six Corners and the retro-era antique stores of Edgewater.

But the most interesting discoveries have been each place’s ‘functional identity’ and how that translates into brand. It is interesting to think of how these understated neighbourhoods have impacted local, national and global culture and shaped the history of politics, art, and even workforce relations here and abroad.

Take Bridgeport for instance. This neighbourhood in Chicago has always been a working class neighbourhood, but its name was originally Hardscrabble, a word that is defined as ‘involving work and struggle.’ When you’re there you can feel that tension, though you may not readily understand why you feel it, but there it is – it’s ethereal and present in the relationship between the streets and the people.

Dig a little deeper and you learn about the neighbourhood’s proximity to the former Union Stock Yard and the meat processing plants of the late 19th century.

Suddenly it dawns on you that this place, at one time, supplied an arguably overwhelming percentage of the exploited workforce Upton Sinclair describes in The Jungle. This not only changed public health thanks to the muckraking nature of the novel, but it also contributed to the chain of events that sought improvements in safer working conditions and the formation of organised labour the world over. And yet, this community also produced five of Chicago’s mayors.

Take all of this into consideration and you start to get a glimpse of the cultural DNA of this place, a sense that this surreal connection between (what amounts to be) royalty and surmounting work ethic is the brand that is passed on from one generation of community stewards to the next.

Has the Whistlestops campaign altered your personal view of Chicago in any way?

I love this project because it is absolutely changing how and what we think about this community, even having lived here for over fifteen years. When you move from one neighbourhood into another, you essentially enter into an entirely new world that has a symbiotic relationship with this larger hub of Chicago. These communities are unique, but they need one another. We are becoming profoundly aware of a (somewhat) tense and uneasy cooperation between the neighbourhoods.

For the most part these communities are warmly competitive, but there exists an opportunity for these neighbourhoods to translate their commonality and to pursue true equity with and for one another. Our methodology of immersive research has enabled us to stop seeing just block-after-block of buildings and shops. Instead we now see the city as a type of stage, complete with interesting and dynamic characters playing their part in a story that has been going on for generations. People make places fascinating.

One of our goals is to help community leaders and economic development groups see these fascinating characters as well and to understand what’s true about these places and the people that make them up. Recently we had a conversation with an economic development committee that represented one of these communities.

We were stunned to hear that they had never considered the residents living nearby as stakeholders in their ecosystem; they had only done so much research as to try and make improvements in the place that would attract certain types of visitors to certain types of retail and entertainment enterprises.

We see this as a terrific oversight on the committee’s part, where their approach was really all about place-marketing, which is fine, in theory. But historically we’ve seen time and time again how that approach can push out the very people it is trying to help.

Place-marketing aims, in part, to create/promote a place that may not exist based on what a certain customer base would want. Very little of the brand is grounded in more than economic data of what might be.

This approach is highly suggestive and largely (though not entirely) responsible for great swaths of single-use sprawl that make places indistinguishable from one another. These are the same places that become popular overnight but lack staying power and are outdated the further the sprawl reaches over time.

Borough & Block prefers to look at what is and what has been before creating strategies that draw out those positive assets of each place to set the community on a course with long-term stability and wellbeing.

Our job is to find and leverage those assets that are authentic, consistent, desirable, and ultimately inheritable – we must find those things that work and supply them with more fuel to sustain their momentum. We must always operate from a mindset that considers people first if we are to create communities and brands that are truly authentic and sustainable.

How can local residents contribute meaningfully to developing the identity of a place?

There is tremendous need for residents to participate in political and community endeavours. Unfortunately, Chicago’s political history is rife with mistrust, abuse of power, special interest and shady
deals. As a result, many residents have become passively aggressive with the government (and process thereof) and arguably the absence of their voice exacerbates the trouble.

Similarly, there are too few voices, too few ‘cultural characters’ (as Jane Jacobs describes them) to steward the unified identity of the neighbourhood, and as such, special interest developers fill that vacuum.

One recommendation is for residents to make an intentional effort at becoming neighbours. A recent survey indicates that 75% of Americans do not know their next door neighbour!

If residents organise, even informally, they will (by default) build a critical mass around ideas which can establish shared goals and help provide a vision for what the neighbourhood will (and won’t) stand for.

Residents and business owners will begin to outline the kinds of experiences they want for residents, workers and visitors alike. The neighbourhood will explore what it wants to be known for, what types of destinations and experiences it will want to make available. We must see more initiative from residents
and business owners to organise and determine the true identity of the place.

How would you sum up Chicago’s present identity in a nutshell?

Chicago is a beautiful and global city. It is a city that loves its dining, its sports teams, its cultural institutions and museums, its lake and its institutions of higher learning. It is a city that is in love with its architecture, which is constantly in (re)development.

Something is always being made, torn down and remade. It seems to happen overnight, to the point that wayfaring one’s route by landmarks is almost comical at this point. It is a city that loves to work. It has to. It can’t not work. After all, the poet Carl Sandburg called it the ‘city of the big shoulders,’ and it certainly is.

Unfortunately, Chicago is also wrought with inequities and hardship. As a couple who not only practice and teach branding, design and PR/marketing, but who live here as well, Chicago is, to us, a butcher writing love sonnets.

The butcher is surgically precise and intentional at both his crafts. He feels everything and he is impulsive, his impatience gives him little time to make those deeply needed improvements he knows he needs but struggles to grasp.

He is prone to wild mood swings, his hot temper finds solace in painting, sailing and fishing. He has a PhD in both cultural studies and street-smarts. He is as likely to show you his fine paintings as he is the scars from his fights, and he can show you how to be a blacksmith or a jazz pianist – he’s quite good at both.

Despite his faculties, he struggles to like himself. He knows he has it in him to be better, and he strives to be. His work ethic never tires, even if his soul does.

And that right here may be the grace that saves Chicago: it will never stop remaking itself into something better, try and fail though it might. Our hope with this project is to help Chicago learn a thing or two about its functional identity: who it is and why that matters. The city must have an identity to steer towards.

What gave you the idea to create Borough and Block?

Erin (my wife and business partner) and I both created and worked on EPIC. This is a nonprofit organisation that taps high-level creative talent from the design, advertising and marketing industries to volunteer their talents on behalf of other social organisations who provide incredible value but who ultimately lack the resources to pay for branding and marketing.

Both Erin and I love to teach, and part of that love is in guiding people towards making change happen. We also realised that we have highly complementary skills in design consulting, teaching, branding, advertising, public relations and marketing, and we decided to combine our strengths and see what kind of trouble we could get into.

We were compelled to look at place branding as a means to help large and small communities that are suffering from economic depression, but also from a lack of identity. We began wondering if helping a
community understand its identity could be the impetus for stability, if it could help stem the exodus of young people from leaving small towns for large metro areas, especially given that the world economy is available at one’s fingertips.

Can identity help communities become who they want to become? Can place branding unite and restore communities? Can it help centralise the population and make for a more sustainable, and even playful, society?

Finally, what do you hope to achieve by the end of the 100 days?

We hope to reignite a sense of wonderment in people about the story happening right outside their doors, and for which they have a role to play.

We hope to see residents, workers and visitors with an increased curiosity about their surroundings, and to be more aware of the assets of their community and their role in adding lines to the cultural narrative.

We want them to take the road less travelled, or in this case, the rail.

Finally, we’d love to inspire more desire to develop an entire poster series for #Whistlestops for the sake of Chicago tourism for not only out-of-towners, but also to inspire localised tourism.

Cities on the rise

Cities are becoming increasingly influential players in shaping our world. But will the growth of the city help solve global problems? Or will smaller cities get left behind in the wake of mega-cities? And how can city branding play a role?

The New Cities Foundation aims to address these questions and many more, in its global summit next month in Jakarta. Placesbrands speaks to Marina Bradbury, director of communications, ahead of the event.

How exactly was the New Cities Foundation concept created?

Marina Bradbury: The New Cities Foundation was set up in 2010 in order to provide a much-needed, neutral, cross-sector platform to shape the cities of today and tomorrow. Our belief is that cities are centres for economic, social and environmental progress.

In order to tap into this potential we need to adopt a more collaborative approach to city planning and governance. At the Foundation we foster collaboration through international events, research and innovation projects.

What are your thoughts on the rise of the city-state?

MB: Urban statistics prove to us that cities are becoming increasingly important on the world stage. Today, 54 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities and this trend is only increasing. The UN predicts that by 2050 the urban populace will rise to 66 per cent. As a result, cities are fast becoming major political and economic players, attracting business and investment and developing their own strong brand identities.

People often feel more engaged in their local environment. This can be advantageous in building more collaborative modes of governance and finding new ways to address social problems. Some urbanists and forecasters argue that encouraging the growth and dominance of megacities such as Tokyo or London can help solve national challenges.

However, it could prove detrimental to lay too much focus on the importance of megacities, without also fostering the creativity and potential of smaller cities. Smaller urban metropolises like Manchester and Osaka also play a significant role in the society of today and tomorrow, providing jobs and nurturing innovation alongside their bigger counterparts.

Do you think that cities will eventually overcome nation-states and reshape the world?

MB: In a world where technology is transforming the way we live and offering many possibilities to solve social issues, cities can act as important hubs for social progress and innovation. They are increasingly the key places where problems are solved and where new ideas are tested out. In this way, cities will definitely take a leading role in reshaping the way we live, work and plan for the future.

What’s the difference between running a city and governing a country?

MB: Since a city is a smaller geographical entity than a nation, the issues it deals with are more specific and local. The governor or mayor of a city therefore has the advantage of being able to listen more closely to citizens and respond accordingly with tailored solutions. Take the City of Paris, which has recently launched two fantastic citizen participation initiatives: the world’s largest-ever city-wide participatory budget and a global call for projects that will transform 23 derelict municipal-owned sites.

These are fantastic, highly ambitious projects that engage huge numbers of people, but still have an acute “local” significance. If these projects were to be run on a national level they would be completely different. They would take a lot longer to plan and manage, and it may be more difficult to engage people in projects that don’t directly impact them.

How do you think the world could benefit from a problem-solving approach that transcends national borders?

MB: In this digital age, individuals and communities across the world are able to communicate and exchange ideas in ways not possible before. The benefits of pooling expertise and sharing great ideas cannot be underestimated when it comes to urban development.

Take the Parisian Participatory budget: unprecedented in its sheer scale, with 65 million euros allocated between 2014 and 2020. Yet it isn’t a completely new idea. Recife in Brazil had already experimented with this innovative model beforehand, providing inspiration for other cities in Brazil, and indeed the world. This is a good example of how, if an idea works in one city, others can reap the benefits.

How do local communities help revitalise struggling cities?

MB: Community participation is absolutely vital. Take the fantastic initiative called Renew Newcastle in Australia, which allowed artists, artisans and designers the possibility to set up shop in disused buildings and go on to rebuild the city’s struggling economy.

Or take the many citizen participation apps out there, that connect citizens with responsive city authorities to help report and fix city problems: Colab in Brazil, PublicStuff in the US and QLUE in Indonesia are just a few inspiring examples.

The High Line in New York is also an interesting example of a decaying municipal site that, thanks to community residents, became a dynamic public space that has revitalised the neighbourhood and gained international recognition.

Is the future all about cities?

MB: Yes! Cities may encapsulate many of today’s challenges but they are also major drivers of positive change. It’s up to all of us to tap into this potential by fostering collaboration, innovation and openness.

And finally, how can developing a city’s image help make life better for its residents?

MB: Developing a city’s image or brand identity is crucial in order to instil a sense of engagement and belonging among citizens, and also to attract new residents, investors and tourists. A dose of healthy competition between cities is therefore a good thing.

City branding can ensure that city leaders think strategically about what they want their city to be now, and in the future. It goes without saying that citizens play a crucial role in shaping their city’s brand identity.

Shoreditch in London is a great example. Artists, designers and tech innovators began flocking to the area in the early 2000s and helped make it into a hub for creativity. By 2009, the ugly Old Street roundabout had become known as “Silicon Roundabout”. The government went on to brand the area “Tech City”, helping to draw in even more talent and tech-expertise.

This transformation couldn’t have worked if both local government and inhabitants hadn’t invested in and implemented the brand when making key decisions. City governance can help foster change and shape identity, but the identity also needs to grow organically.

The New Cities Foundation has a mission ‘to shape a better urban future for all by generating and scaling ideas and solutions through events, research and urban innovation projects.’ The foundation works with leaders from business, government, academia, civil society, the media and the arts. Find out more here, or follow New Cities Foundation on Twitter.

Mayor on the radio

Community engagement is a hot topic on Placesbrands.

Last week, we travelled to Amman to meet the city mayor and talk about his unusual approach to governing Jordan’s capital city.

The mayor of Amman, Akel Biltaji, invited Placesbrands editor Samantha North to join the audience of his live radio show. In this twice-weekly event, Biltaji spends two hours fielding questions from members of the public. Questions range from constructive and praising to just plain angry. Biltaji answers them all.

The radio show has been a prominent feature of his mayorship. He was appointed in September 2013, with the goal to engage with the Amman public and encourage them to share their views on the city’s workings. At the end of the show, an old man stood up in the audience and declared, loudly and at great length, that he thought Biltaji a ‘hero’.

Biltaji’s commitment to the mayor’s role was impressive, especially as mayors in the region rarely interact this closely with their citizens. In fact, as Biltaji himself pointed out later during our conversation, many Arabs would still consider the collaborative approach to governing to be a form of weakness. But this is how Biltaji works best, and so far he’s done very well in Amman.

After the show, Placesbrands interviewed Biltaji about his approach to governing Amman in more detail. We were curious about his views on various aspects of city branding, especially the value of citizen engagement – a topic often covered on Placesbrands. We also hoped to learn more about Biltaji’s plans for the city during the remainder of his time as mayor. Here’s the Q&A.

Samantha North: I get the impression that Jordan, and the city of Amman itself, are both very tolerant places, especially towards differences in religion. Would you agree that this is the case?

Akel Biltaji: Look at the Supreme Court and next to it is the parliament – it is judicial, legislative etc. Next to that you find a mosque, and across the street a church. Next to both of them is the Ministry of Education. When you put these together in such close proximity, you can see how the tapestry of that area really represents Amman.

I don’t go for the word tolerance, as it’s too condescending. I’d rather use the words ‘acceptance’ or ‘embrace’. Amman is a city that embraces diversity. This is something I’d like to highlight. Tolerance is more a case of, ‘perhaps I don’t like you, but nevertheless I’ll put up with you if I have to.’

SN: When you took office in September 2013, you identified five key pillars for Amman’s development (environments, public works, zoning & planning, socio-economic integration, and cultural) How much progress have you made so far?

AB: These are challenges more or less, and we’re working on them I think, such as the environment, and appearance of the city. We’ve done very well with fixing the refuse problem, the garbage and the trash that we’ve converted to energy – ‘trash to cash’ – definitely there’s been progress made in achieving cleaner air. Pollution has gone down to a minimum, the openness of the city helps us with this. We have sensors in the city for pollution and we have done well so far with this challenge.

Also, the area of public works and transportation is a challenge, especially public transportation, which we still have problems with. Although we have sorted out the little issues in fluidity of traffic, there is still far to go. More tunnels to dig, more bridges to build.

Another challenge we have is encouraging local communities to get involved and help out. There’s been a bit of disenchantment, and we want to change this. So on this particular issue we are focusing on reducing unemployment, working with some SMEs to dedicate money to help with this. We need more people to move away from the street peddler type of orientation and into steady employment.

The next pillar is the city identity. Amman is a city of emigrants and guests, We have 4.5 million people on any one day, consisting of both of residents and of people in transit. We also have 1.2 million cars. That’s a heck of a lot. The challenge now is how to bring this to more of an identity in the sense of rallying around – as you saw yesterday – people were shouting, “Jordan Jordan Jordan”, partly because of solidarity heightened after the cruel incidents with Da’esh (ISIS).

Amman people are also rallying round in terms of corporate citizenship. There are basic issues that we have with staffing and administration here in the municipality – these are doable and we’re already handling them, improving them. We’re cutting salaries and reducing staff numbers, aiming for more efficiency all around.

SN: So those five areas – how did you identify them?

AB: I always roam around and talk to people, finding out what they have to say on many issues in the city.

SN: Were you always so deeply engaged with the people, even from your first days in office?

AB: Reaching out is part of my character. People don’t scare me – on the contrary – I find security in the ‘other’ – I always find that the other complements me in what I lack. I love to embrace diversity I look at every person with positive vibes and energy, rather than the negative.

I’m 74 years old and I’ve gone through some tough times in life. I’ve learned from my mistakes. But this is the job where I feel most at ease inside. Even though I’m not satisfied totally with what has been done so far. I’d like to have things done faster and better. But still, the pressure, the criticism, the punching on the nose – I don’t react fiercely to it. Some people appreciate this approach, but others may see it as a sign of weakness.

This radio show is literally the first experience of its kind that we know of. The World Bank even mentioned it as part of their democratisation programme – they thought it was a great programme – to promote democratisation among the community. This is one part of the brand that we like to focus on.

Our vision statement is to be a liveable, friendly and attractive city – a safe and secure city. This is THE thing that we need to keep in mind. People here tend to mix up the product with the brand, they don’t always understand the distinction.

SN: What’s the single biggest challenge for Amman at present?

AB: Without a doubt – it’s public transport. Amman is not known for having good public transport. Our strategy is first to restructure and enhance our existing system, adding 400 new taxis and bringing in 100 electric cars by the end of the year.

We’re also looking at introducing the ‘she-cab’ for ladies only, with lady drivers, as they have in Dubai. There will also be a BRT (bus rapid transit) system constructed, with buses that will run in their own lanes cutting through the traffic.

SN: We’ve talked about the challenges – but what are Amman’s biggest assets?

AB: Its location, its assets in the sense of its historic antiquities, the people, the diversity of the people, the richness of this great mixture of all Arabs, Chechens, Armenians, etc – all religions. That’s what stands out about Amman. The Royal Family being so well known and respected around the world has also helped, with Jordan being the land of the Hashemites and Amman their capital.

SN: Jordan stands out in the Middle East as a beacon of tolerance and acceptance. How does it achieve this?

AB: The word in Arabic translates to English as ‘spiritual energy’ – that of the legends, the relics, the diversity and having His Majesty directly descended from the Prophet Mohammed. This gives great recognition all the way down and carries a link to all the religions of the region, not just Islam. Spirituality is embodied in the spirit of the sky here. And you see it in practice every day. Jordan is an ‘oasis of peace’ within the region, as His Majesty often says.

SN: What springs to mind when people hear the name “Amman”?

AB: They may be afraid because of Jordan’s proximity to its unstable neighbours. But they should look beyond, at the true stability of Jordan, which has been maintained decade after decade. There should be that level of confidence and trust that the situation in this country is secure.

SN: And finally, what do you hope to achieve by the time you leave office?

AB: Making great progress in the following: introducing green building codes, improving public transport, blue energy (solar and so on), turning trash to cash, hopefully seeing the opera house emerge (but that’s been pushed down the priority list and probably won’t arrive on my watch). I’ve got one and a half years left to go as mayor. It’s not very long but it’s enough for them to hate me! (laughs)