A welcome facelift: Revamped centres and development of cultural spaces in the capital


The region’s capital city is under renovation with new roads and low-income housing being built. Located just 15 km from the country’s border with Algeria, and home to about 500,000 inhabitants, the city of Oujda has historically been a trading conduit between Morocco and its eastern neighbour, and serves as the capital of the Oriental region. The city suffered from a lack of public investment throughout the 1980s and 1990s, which has resulted in deteriorating housing and transport infrastructure. A component of the regional development strategy is thus the revamping of the city and the surrounding 82 sq km of greater urbanised area.

PLANS SET: Although work remains to be done, much is being achieved under the Oujda Urban Development Plan 2010-16. Led by the Oujda Urban Commune, the plan’s stated objective is to give the city a new look and improve conditions in some of its degraded areas.

Many challenges outlined in the city’s development plan are the result of organic, unplanned growth that has shaped the capital. Oujda grew mainly through internal migration from other more rural areas of the region, which has had a negative impact on some of the surrounding districts, in terms of economic activity and pressure on infrastructure. The disorganised urban growth led to insufficient water and electricity infrastructure, as well as a spate of informal construction. The plan also pinpointed road degradation and the prevalence of the informal sector as two major challenges to the city’s economic development.

The plan designated 56 projects budgeted at a total cost of Dh2.1bn (€186.7m) to improve the city. These range from urban reconstruction to improving the city’s governance structures. It also established measures for employment promotion through the renovation of city spaces and enhancement of its cultural offering. OUJDA URBA PÔLE: A big push for the city’s urban repositioning will be done through a revamping of one of its main areas, next to the city’s iconic train station. The Oujda Urba Pôle project aims to transform 30 ha of the city centre. The first phase, budgeted at Dh300m (€26.67m) will include the building of residential and commercial units, as well as office space. A new train station is also in the works and is expected to be completed by 2015. The old station is due to be restored for its historic value, with a museum created. The revamped square will also include new shopping areas.

AIMING AT ALL SEGMENTS: Developing low-income housing is part of the plan to improve living conditions, and authorities expect that up to 14,749 units will be built in the Oujda-Angad prefecture alone between 2010 and 2020 with a total investment of Dh3.6bn (€320m). To avoid speculation and encourage private participation in the construction of low-income housing, the government sells land to private developers under the condition that a specific number of homes in this segment are included in development projects.

For years, the region has been working to eliminate shantytowns as part of the government’s broader “Cities Without Slums” programme, and 95% of them have been cleared away, according to Mohamed Derdouri, the director-general of Al Omrane in Oujda, a government real estate developer that focuses on building low-income housing across the country. Since 2008, Al Omrane has been putting up social housing in Oujda units that cost around Dh140,000 (€12,446) each. A total of 5000 of these 50-60-sq-metre units are due to be built in 2013. Another affordable housing initiative is the Ennasr project, which was built by a consortium consisting of a joint venture between Morocco’s Douja Promotion Groupe Addoha and ALEM, and which has started to sell 10,500 low-income units in Oujda.

Changing cultural habits is adding pressure on housing needs, even as supply is rising. “One problem with social housing is that people do not like to live together. So, whereas entire families lived together before, now couples want to have their own home, so a lot more units need to be built nowadays,” said Derdouri.

Middle and high-end accommodation is also under construction, both in terms of new building and renovated older units. “During the period between 2001 and 2004, conditions were more difficult for selling new houses and apartments; even if prices back then were lower than today. So the economic upswing of the region has made a tangible difference on the availability of homebuyers,” said Derdouri. Besides apartments, the state-owned developer is also building villas in the region, with 1910 of a total of 4500 projected units already completed.

NEW LOOK: With such a wide array of public works and private developments under way, the end result is that whole neighbourhoods are being improved. An investment of Dh28m (€2.49m) is being used to upgrade sanitary conditions in the north-west neighbourhoods of the city, through the expansion of the existent wastewater network of 22 suburban neighbourhoods around Oujda. Roads are also being fixed under a Dh350m (€31.1m) programme of road renovation and expansion, which will likewise include the city’s public lighting grid and sidewalks.

Despite the relatively small size of the city, a study will be done to consider the construction of a tramline. An added Dh80m (€7.1m) will be spent on new public squares, sports fields and parks around the town. On the cultural front, the city has put Dh40m (€3.56m) towards building a new 1000-seat theatre complex. The Sidi Yahia Oasis, located just 6 km from the city, will be revived as a tourism site through the promotion of an annual festival including Bedouin poetry and shows. Furthermore, over Dh20m (€1.78m) will be spent on building sports facilities and on the complete renovation of the city’s municipal stadium.

EMPLOYMENT MEASURES: Although the city’s urban development authorities have a limited ability to affect employment creation as a whole, the city’s 2010-16 strategy is also putting in place several measures to promote family-owned business. There is certainly a need for this, given that the city’s overall unemployment rate is around 22% – and 35% for women – well exceeding the national average.

According to the Oujda Urban Commune, 55% of the city’s formal economic fabric is based on small commerce, which has placed a heavy emphasis on improving the business environment for small and medium-sized enterprises and increasing formal economic activities. Between 2011 and 2016, a total of Dh8m (€711,200) will be spent on registering informal business activities and encouraging their organisation into commercial cooperatives. An extra Dh9m (€800,100) will be used to create new markets around the city to promote the organisation of commerce. The formalisation of trade will have a double impact by increasing the opportunities for formal employment and by raising Oujda’s communal tax revenues.

Urban development taking place will have a huge impact not only on Oujda’s economic development, but also on the city’s overall ability to convince new populations to settle down. This should help the Oriental become a regional focus point for economic growth.

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The Report: Morocco 2013

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