Unsupported browser

For a better experience please update your browser to its latest version.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Seeing through new eyes is the first step towards vision

  • Comment

Russia is very empty and Europe is rather full.

While flying over Mongolia, the plains of the River Ob, and later the River Volga, I was struck by the lack of signs, at least from the air, of habitation.

In reading the landscape from 11,000m, the opportunity arises for the mind to wander, and imagine occupying these seductive sites.

It is like choosing picnic spots - the ideal is never quite found. There is always the sense that travelling a further mile would reveal something even better. After Moscow, the signs of habitation increase until the interruption of the North Sea, that unloved but important stretch of water announcing the wall-to-wall conurbation of south-east England.

The view from on high changes our perception of places we know, which is one of the wonderful qualities of air travel - there are precious few others apart from speed. The ability to change people's perception of what they know is an essential ingredient of change. Patrick Geddes understood this well in his proposals to improve the city of Edinburgh. His list of relatively simple things to do, which could be achieved by the majority of people, was, he recognised, missing a necessary component. This was solved by the construction of a camera obscura over the castle. This magical device allowed the good burghers to see their city through a new pair of eyes, including the rubbish, untidy washing and general detritus that detracted from its quality. Forcing people to recognise that they had become blind to such problems was a brilliant move.

Becoming immune to shit is normal, and a shock to the system, to create new eyes, is important.

In Amman, the people are charming. They are very well-mannered, happy and optimistic, though they are surrounded by problems, with Iraq to the east, the West Bank to the west and the possibly difficult Saudi Arabia to the south. Jordan, with its royal family,5.5 million people and short history, is a place that reviews itself regularly because of its strong international links, which allows its inhabitants to leave and come back to 're-see'.

Stagnation is not a problem here, because nothing has been around long enough to stagnate, but there are problems that they would like to address. The city is growing.

People are moving into it from the more rural areas and putting pressure on areas for housing. The barracks, all 37ha of it, used to be on the edge of the town, but is now in the middle, giving the wrong impression that the Jordanians deliberately place their military targets in the centre of civilian areas, thereby creating a dilemma in the enemy, whose moral values will be challenged before attack.

The city is largely unplanned and consists of beautiful gardens and courtyards, attached to houses, which passers-by cannot see. To pedestrians (who are few in number), the perception is of a hot, relentless stretching of shades of whiteness. It is this perception that has become the accepted norm, almost acting as a class barrier. Those that walk are seen as second-class citizens - presumably because if you were rich enough to avoid it, you would.

The challenge exists to change this and to find devices that allow the people to see their city in a different way - to break down the edges, open the interiors and, above all, provide cool, beautiful places to sit.

The $93 billion (£56 billion) cost of the Iraqi war would permit these things to be achieved, as well as replace every school in England.

I see what I see, but others choose to remain blind.

WA, from the Palace Garden of Prince Hassan in Amman

  • Comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions.

Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.