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09.30  Identity and Heritage Revival in Morocco’s New Master-Planned Cities

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9:00, Sunday 5 Jun 2016 (30 minutes)

Since the 1990s, hundreds of new master planned cities have been springing up across the global South, namely in Asia and the Middle East, but also in Latin America and Africa. With its fifteen on-going new master planned city projects, Morocco is one of the African nations most actively taking part in this city-centric development trend. Focused on attracting global attention and investment, whilst fostering economic growth and addressing some of the social challenges related to rapid urbanization, Morocco’s new city projects are using elements of heritage to promote the development projects both at the international and local levels. Mohammed VI Green City and Zenata Eco-City, two of Morocco’s mega urban projects currently underway, are intentionally claiming a Moroccan identity which they exhibit in their built form and design concepts. Through the choice of city logo, the city layout, the architectural typologies, building materials, the street patterns, and general spatial organization, the new city projects include selected elements from the nation’s past contributing to a form of cultural revival. 

Chosen as case studies, Mohammed VI Green City and Zenata Eco-City promote their relation to Morocco’s vernacular architecture from an ancient past, justified by various architectural manipulations, and also invoke and celebrate, rather than deny, the country’s colonial past. The new city building trend, especially active in Morocco, could in itself arguably be considered as a colonial legacy from the French protectorate. In adapting Morocco’s heritage and promoting selected elements of the past through its modern urban development projects, the protagonists of the new cities fulfill a dual objective. On one hand, they target Moroccans by generating a sense of pride and ownership of the projects, which rely on a strong nationalist impulse, so as to gain local support for the developments. On the other hand, they act on a more international level, using such heritage elements as a way to differentiate the new cities on the basis of their cultural authenticity and uniqueness, to be used as a competitive advantage within the global network of world cities to attract investment and tourism. 

In this paper, I will reflect on Morocco’s new-built heritage and the use of selected elements of history in a cultural revival, which produces a constructed and partial vision of the past showcased in new Moroccan city developments. I will question the extent to which these new city developments are a reflection of Moroccan identity, values and history, and how such cities constitute a form of selective reinterpretation of national heritage. In analyzing which parties are involved in the development of the projects and who stands to benefit most from them, I will draw on work in cultural geography to delve into the cultural politics surrounding the two aforementioned cities. I will critically analyze how this new-built heritage is being produced, by whom, and most importantly for whom, through the way it is being marketed and woven into the brand of the new cities. This paper’s main objective is to contribute knowledge on how the notion of heritage is being carried through and transformed in new city developments participating in a cultural revival, and to show how reference to national heritage is strategically mobilized in a broader neoliberal agenda in such city developments.

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