Works will boost infractructure in Morocco's commercial capital of Casablanca

Already by far Morocco’s largest city and its economic capital, Casablanca is currently going through a major period of redevelopment. The planned large-scale works include substantial improvements to infrastructure, the construction and renovation of new and existing leisure and cultural facilities, and the expansion of the public transport network to make the city a more attractive place for both residents and tourists alike.

Launched in late 2014, the major new growth strategy, the 2015-20 Casablanca Strategic Development Plan, outlines a vision for the city as a well-connected and inclusive financial centre that is also an attractive place to live and visit.

New industries are also emerging in the city. Morocco is currently working to develop a range of export-oriented technology-driven industries (see Economy chapter) and the Casablanca region is becoming a centre for one of these in particular, namely the aeronautics and aerospace industry. Airbus subsidiary Stelia, for example, already operates a production facility near Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport and in December 2015 began construction of another factory in the Midparc industrial park, where Bombardier also has a presence. In June 2016 French aeronautics parts manufacturer Tecalemit Aerospace also announced plans to build a new €2m, 2000-sq-metre production facility in the park.

Population

Casablanca is located in the Casablanca-Settat region, which has a population of approximately 6.8m, according to the 2014 Moroccan census, equivalent to just over one-fifth of the national population and making it the largest of the kingdom’s 12 regions.

In the decade up to 2014, the region’s population grew at an annual rate of around 1.5% from 5.9m in 2004. The city of Casablanca proper had a 2014 population of 3.36m according to the High Planning Commission (Haut Commissariat du Plan, HCP), rising to 4.27m for the Greater Casablanca area, ranking it as the largest urban area in the kingdom by a significant margin (the next-most-populous city was Marrakech on 1.33m). The total number of households in the city proper stood at 819,954, giving an average household size of just over four people.

Economic & Industrial Hub

Greater Casablanca accounted for almost a quarter, or 23.4%, of Moroccan GDP in 2013, while the Casablanca-Settat region contributed 32.4%, according to latest available data from the HCP, making it by far Morocco’s most economically important city.

The city is host to the kingdom’s largest port, with 2014 exports reaching 9.4m tonnes, accounting for 30.5% of total Moroccan exports, and imports of 15.8m, or 29.5% of the total. It is also the kingdom’s industrial centre, accounting for 76% of its industrial workforce and 48% of the turnover of national industry in 2012, according to latest available HCP figures. The chemical industry was the largest industrial segment in the city in 2012, accounting for 48% of regional industrial output, though the textiles and leather segment was the largest industrial employer, accounting for 35.5% of the industrial workforce.

With a labour force participation rate of 42% (one of the lowest in the country, brought down by a female participation rate of just 19.1%), the Greater Casablanca area had an unemployment rate of 11.3% in 2014, slightly above the national average of 9.9%, but down sharply over the last decade from a rate of 21.3% in 2004.

Development Strategy

Casablanca is going through a period of redevelopment, with a focus on the establishment of cultural and leisure-oriented amenities to improve the city’s quality of life as well as its attractiveness to investors and tourists. The dynamic is in part the result of a speech given by King Mohammed VI in late 2013 in which he identified some of the challenges – such as lack of infrastructure and public services, as well as the need for improved governance – being faced by the city, and called for greater efforts to address them. This coincided with the appointment of a new wali (provincial governor) of the city, Khaled Safir, and was followed in late 2014 by the launch of the 2015-20 Casablanca Strategic Development Plan for the subsequent five years. A total of Dh33.6bn (€3.1bn) is being invested in Casablanca under the strategy, which is based around four pillars: quality of life; connectivity and mobility; economic, educational and administrative excellence; and leisure and entertainment.

Funding

Around half of the strategy’s budget is going towards work to expand the city’s public transport infrastructure, with significant sums also going towards improving roads.

Other elements of the plan include work to redevelop 22 neighbourhoods of the city that are lacking in infrastructure and public services, and relocate households living in informal buildings and shantytowns, with Dh200m (€18.3m) of works to this effect currently under way.

Another Dh360m (€33m) is being spent on general efforts to tackle poverty under the plan, as well as some Dh500m (€45.8m) on improving the city’s health infrastructure.

Built Environment

Efforts to physically overhaul areas of the city aim to improve the built environment for both residents and visitors. This entails a range of public works, from major property developments to infrastructure upgrades.

The city’s urban development agency, Agence Urbaine, is currently working on a project to renovate the Casablanca medina (pre-colonial old town). The Dh300m (€27.5m) first stage of the project ran between 2010 and 2014 and included measures to rehouse residents living in shanty town-type accommodation as well as improvements to utilities and public infrastructure, among other steps. A second Dh300m (€27.5m), four-year stage was launched in 2014, and includes elements such as a plan to boost commercial and tourism-related activities in the medina.

Casa Aménagement, a local development company (société de développement local, SDL) – a type of local government-backed public development company – is responsible for a number of infrastructure projects in the city.

One of these entails the development of a series of corniches along the coastline of the Greater Casablanca area, from the town of Mohammedia in the north-east to Dar Bouazza in the southwest. Some of this will be carried out through the renovation of existing facilities and some through the construction of entirely new infrastructure.

The Dh700m (€64.2m) project, which will include the construction of cycle lanes and various leisure facilities along the length of the corniche, is to be delivered in sections. In May 2016 Casa Aménagement told OBG that work on a section in the Mohammedia area, to the north-east of Casablanca, was to begin within three or four months, with the entirety of the project due to be completed by August 2019.

The city is also considering building a 10-km pedestrianised walking and cycling route that will link up the city’s major heritage and tourism sites.

Urban Transport

The improvement of access and mobility in a city where congestion can frequently be a problem is a key priority of the government. Only 25.2% of households in the Casablanca-Settat region own a car and 14.3% have a motorbike or scooter, according to the 2014 census, making a large majority of the population dependent on taxis or public transport, and the city has been making major efforts to develop the latter in recent years. The local authorities published an urban mobility plan in 2004, which is to be updated by SDL Casa Transport. As of the summer of 2016 the organisation was working on a tender for a company to undertake the update, which will take at least a year to complete. A key element of the plan will be conducting surveys about households’ transport usage and needs.

Tram Network

Buses were the only available form of public transport for much of the city’s history, often suffering from the same congestion that private cars faced. However, recent years have seen the city develop a major new tram network. December 2012 saw the inauguration of the city’s first line, which had been built at a cost of Dh6.4bn (€586.8m). It runs from the Sidi Moumen district in the east of the city through the centre, before splitting into two lines towards Ain Diab on the coast and the Ain Chock campus of Casablanca university, respectively, covering a total distance of 31 km. Some 125,000 passengers a day now use the line during the business week.

In addition, the project has also had an impact on the city beyond the development of the tram service itself. Construction work for the line was accompanied by the renovation of the areas along the route through, for example, the planting of trees and installation of new street lighting, as well as the pedestrianisation of some central areas through which it runs. “While Casablanca streets have traditionally been somewhat dirty and littered, the tramway line is extremely clean, highlighting how a noticeable improvement in infrastructure can help make people more responsible,” Abdellah Chater, director of Centre Régional d’Investissement Casablanca, told OBG.

There are plans to make some of the stops along the route into intermodal nodes that connect with the city’s bus network, known as M’dina Bus. This would include integrating the ticketing systems of the two networks, though contractual issues between the city and the bus operator have been holding this up. The operator, whose current contract runs until 2019, says it is losing money and cannot afford to invest in new facilities or infrastructure, and at the time of publication there was no timetable in place to achieve the changes.

Crucially for a city where residential areas, including higher-income suburbs, are often spread across the city, Casa Transport also opened a park-and-ride facility at the Oasis tram stop in early 2016 and plans to expand this to more stops in the future, though a lack of availability of real estate for parking facilities is proving something of a constraint in this arena. In June 2016 the tram network additionally launched its own official app, offering information such as timetables, live updates and route planning options.

Tram Expansion

A second 17-km line is now being added to the network at a cost of Dh4.3bn (€394.3m). Work to prepare for the construction of the line, such as moving electricity and telephone lines along its route, began in May 2015 ahead of the launch of work to build the rails and stations the following May, with the project due to be completed in 2018. The line will run from the Bernoussi area in the north-east of the city towards the city centre, intersecting with the first line at the Ibn Tachfine station, and then running to the south of the first line before intersecting with it again at the Abdelmoumen stop (where the first line splits in two). The project also includes a small extension to the southern spur of first line, and as with its predecessor will also involve the redevelopment of the streets along its route.

Studies are also under way for the construction of three more tram lines in the city – two running inland from the coast and a third running along an east-west axis to the south of the first and second lines – as well as two bus rapid transit lines.

Just under half, or Dh16bn (€1.5bn), of Dh33bn (€3bn) allocated to the city’s 2015-20 development strategy (see analysis) is being devoted to these types of transport projects.

Road Transport

Efforts are also being made to upgrade the city’s road network, including plans for the construction of a 2.2-km underpass running along the coast from close to the Hassan II Mosque into the centre of town, terminating near the Place des Nations Unies.

Casa Aménagement, which is managing the Dh600m (€55m) project, said in May 2016 that the construction work on the project should start the following August and would take around three years to complete. The firm is also working on a broader Dh2.7bn (€247.6m) project to renovate much of the city’s wider road network, with a view to improving traffic. The project began in January 2016 and is due to run until the end of 2020.

Another SDL, Casa Development, is currently working on a study of the parking situation in Casablanca with a view to rolling out new parking projects. The authorities are also building a new transport security and traffic-monitoring centre that will observe the city’s transport infrastructure though a network of smart cameras. Work on the centre, which is being built at a cost of Dh460m (€42.2m), started in October 2015.

Utilities Infrastructure

Casa Amé nagement is building a new 5.5-km, 5-metre-diameter drainage “super collector” to protect against flooding from the Oued Bouskoura river, which caused damage in the city in 2010 and 2011. The Dh855m (€78.4m) project was launched in April 2014 and is due to be completed by March 2017. Yassine Mellouk, CEO of local water infrastructure firm KSB Pompes et Robinetteries, said that water and flood-management infrastructure in the city had already improved substantially in recent years.

“In general, the state of the network in Casablanca is good. Sometimes there are problems with flooding but this is less of a problem than it used to be,” he told OBG, adding that a new sewage treatment station inaugurated in 2015 had also had a major positive effect on the cleanliness of sea water off the coast of the Greater Casablanca area, which had previously been very poor.

However, he said that there was a need for a more strategic focus on water conservation and efficient usage. “Currently most rainwater is sent straight into the sea, despite the fact that collecting and using it would be cheaper than desalination,” he told OBG, in reference to the country’s efforts to build up desalination capacity.

This is especially important given the fact that the city is reliant for its drinking water on the neighbouring regions of Rabat and El Jadida, which suffer from occasional drought, and from growing pressures on regional water availability thanks to factors such as population growth and rising household consumption. “It is clear that in 10 or 20 years, the city’s current sources won’t be able to supply it with enough water, so new sources such as rainwater and the use of recycled water will need to be found,” said Mellouk. “Current water distribution systems in Morocco do not use the latest technology for things like pumps, which could save resources and energy.”

Tourism

Alongside the push to re-do Casablanca’s built environment, one of the main priorities for the city’s development is the expansion of its tourism sector, through a range of initiatives ranging from new events to new buildings.

According to the latest available full-year data from the Moroccan Tourism Observatory, visitors spent a combined 1.89m tourist nights in Casablanca in 2014, equivalent to 9.6% of tourist nights spent in the kingdom as a whole.

Despite its status as Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca is not widely regarded as a major tourism destination, with visitors generally consisting of business travellers or tourists passing through on their way to other destinations.

However, the city has substantial tourism potential, as it is a national melting pot thanks to the large number of migrants to the city from different parts of the kingdom. It also has a wide range of attractions such as well-developed restaurant, shopping, music and cultural scenes, and a mix of modern and traditional areas, including the medina. The Hassan II mosque and the city’s proximity to good beaches in nearby areas such as Mohammedia are also major attractions.

High-end hotel infrastructure is also growing, with the Four Seasons opening a branch in the city in February 2016, for example. Work is also under way to expand the cruise port terminal, redevelop parts of the city centre, and renovate and build cultural and leisure infrastructure (see analysis).

Investment Fund

The city’s attractiveness to tourists is set to get a major boost from large tourism and transport-related projects being developed by a Moroccan and Gulf-backed investment fund, Wessal Capital, which was created in 2011.

The fund is jointly backed by Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, as well as the Moroccan Fund for Tourism Development, and is investing €530m across several initiatives in Casablanca. These include a project to redevelop the city’s port area, including the construction of a new cruise ship terminal capable of receiving larger ships, work on which began in 2014, a new marina, a new fishing port and a shipping repair facility. The company is also working on plans to renovate part of the city’s medina. Most of the projects are due to be completed in late 2016 or 2017.

Global Brand

Casa Events et Animations (CEA), an SDL created in April 2015, is working to build a global brand for Casablanca that it can use to market the city both domestically and internationally. The brand will be built in part around a website that is due to launch in late 2016.

The body is also charged with organising a range of different types of cultural, sporting and business-related events, in addition to having responsibility for managing several sporting and cultural venues in the city. The body is keen to avoid pigeonholing Casablanca as any one kind of destination but is rather seeking to appeal to as wide a range of visitors as possible, with an initial focus on targeting the development of local tourism. There is strong demand and a lot of work has already been done to develop the international market. Furthermore, what is good for local tourism will also be good for international tourism, for example by building up the restaurant scene.

Events

Casablanca has been effective in branding itself, and as a result is set for better visibility in Morocco as well as abroad. CEA’s cultural events include the Jazzablanca jazz festival and a new arts festival, provisionally known simply as the Casablanca Festival. The development of new facilities is central to this, with a major new theatre and cultural complex – something the city is currently lacking – being built by Casa Amé nagement on Place Mohammed V in the city centre at a cost of Dh1.4bn (€128.4m).

Work on the project, which the company says will be the largest theatre complex in Africa, began in October 2014 and is due to be completed in September 2017. The project also includes the redevelopment of Place Mohammed V itself, which is being opened up to allow it to function as a gathering point for up to 30,000 people during public events such as festivals, and the construction of a nearby skate park. According to Chater, cultural projects such as this are key to creating economic growth. “Investing in the arts – like the new Casablanca theatre – can provide a double-digit return, creating employment, attracting capital and bringing in tourists,” he told OBG.

Casa Aménagement is also renovating the Arab League Park located adjacent to Place Mohammed V at a cost of Dh100m (€9.2m), with the project due to be completed in May 2017. The works will include a new amusement park in the Place Yasemina section of the park, which has been closed for many years. A third related project that is being undertaken by Casa Aménagement in the same area is the construction of a new underground car park underneath Place Rachidi, which is adjacent to both the theatre and the park.

Casa Aménagement is also responsible for the rehabilitation of part of the Bouskoura Merchich forest on the outskirts of the city. The redevelopment of the forest will include the addition of signposting, cafés and restaurants, as well as educational facilities focusing on environmental issues. Work on the Dh110m (€10.1m) project is due to be completed in July 2018. The company is also renovating the Mohamed V Stadium in Casablanca, work on which is due to be completed by the end of 2016, and will later turn its attention to the development of a wider complex surrounding the stadium, including an Olympic-sized swimming pool that has been closed for some time.

A new conference centre capable of hosting 3500 people that is being built as part of the Casablanca Marina project will further boost the city’s appeal as a regional centre for meetings, incentives, conferences and events.

Heritage

Casablanca’s low profile on the country’s tourist trail is in part a result of the fact that the city was largely developed during the 20th century, leaving it with much less in the way of the pre-colonial historical heritage that attracts visitors to the kingdom’s four imperial cities of Rabat, Fez, Marrakech and Meknès.

The city does, however, have a large amount of colonial-era architectural heritage, including experimental Art Deco architecture. This was neglected for many decades and allowed to become dilapidated or in some cases demolished, and many of the areas that feature these buildings now suffer from socio-economic problems such as high levels of poverty and petty crime.

Site Rehabilitation 

To boost efforts to rehabilitate the city’s architectural and cultural heritage, the authorities in April 2015 created a new local government-backed firm called Casa Patrimoine, which has identified 1500 buildings of potential interest as heritage sites and is currently working on seven renovation projects. These include the rehabilitation of the Sacré Coeur cathedral in the city centre, which is to be transformed into a multi-use cultural centre. The project is provisionally due to be completed by 2018 at an estimated cost of Dh25m (€2.3m).

Other projects include the renovation of the Carl Ficke villa on Boulevard Zerktouni, the transformation of the city’s now defunct wholesale fruit and vegetable market into a sports centre, and the conversion of the city’s municipal library into another cultural centre. The body is also considering a project to rehabilitate the still-active central market in the city centre and transform it into an upscale gastronomic market, and is working on the creation of a virtual museum, as well as a project to illuminate the city’s key heritage sites.

“The creation of SDLs such as Casa Patrimoine shows that the city is putting heritage at the heart of its development strategy,” said Karim Rouissi, vice-president of local conservation non-governmental organisation Casa Mémoire, though he said that it was not yet clear if such organisations would have sufficient human or financial resources to have a major impact.

Outlook

The renovation of parts of the city centre under the 2015-20 Casablanca Strategic Development Plan and efforts to build new infrastructure and leisure facilities, as well as to further dramatically expand the public transport network, should help to transform Casablanca in coming years, making it a more pleasant and liveable city and boosting its tourism industry.

The development of Casablanca Finance City (see analysis) and efforts to reform the stock market, which is based in the city, are also set to bolster its status as a national and regional business and financial centre. They will also bring in more investment and generate employment, as will efforts to develop industrial clusters such as the local aerospace industry (see Industry chapter).

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The Report: Morocco 2016

Casablanca chapter from The Report: Morocco 2016

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