Rainbow Street colors fading away amid persistent health crisis

Ministry official says now is time to ‘survive, not make profits’

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A deserted Rainbow Street, in Amman's Jabal Amman neighborhood, is seen in this photo, taken during the implementation of restrictions on movement and businesses to curb the spread of COVID-19 (Photo: Amjad Taweel/JNews)
AMMAN — “Once you kill something like that you will never get it back,” Qais Malhas, chef and manager of Shams El Balad, said about the recent closures of cultural and social spaces near Rainbow Street.اضافة اعلان

Amid the current economic situation induced by the ongoing health crisis, many cities and neighborhoods are facing cultural, social, and urban decline. In Amman, just like in most large cities, many urban spaces have been abandoned during the various imposed confinements. If some were able to instantly return to their usual dynamism, others are still deserted or undergoing a slow but certain change.

Rainbow Street and its surrounding area in downtown Amman have long been a favorite destination for people seeking cultural and social exchange. From its theater, shops, cultural cafes, libraries, and restaurants, to its vibrant street atmosphere and festivals like the annual Jara Market and the open-air Amman International Film Festival, many of these places have been popular with Jordanians and their guests for decades, creating a special identity for Rainbow Street.

With Jordan becoming a hub for international organizations and foreign businesses, the area of Jabal Amman has seen an influx of visitors, tourists, and expatriates, which has contributed to the neighborhood’s economic growth.

Matt McCredie, a local resident, explains: “Rainbow Street represents to me a fun place to live in — a little piece of Jordan! It’s more of a friendly neighborhood because everything is convenient, everything is nearby; you get to meet a lot of people in the street, and you get to make a lot of friends in the community and not just in your building.”

When McCredie moved to Jordan in January 2019, he quickly made the decision to settle in Jabal Amman. This choice, he says, came easily when he noticed that the area had the perfect balance of locals and foreigners, while still being comfortable and very convenient in terms of attractions.

Then the pandemic hit and most businesses were forced to cease operations during the complete and partial lockdowns that started in March 2020. Some businesses were able to survive the closures and carried on through other restrictions such as curfews, customer limitations, and other health-related constraints; however, others succumbed to the restrictions and have not opened shop again.

Back in October 2020, Shams El Balad, a popular restaurant in Jabal Amman, announced it would be shutting down, to the surprise of its customers and community. Qais Malhas, a co-owner, explains that the decision became unavoidable after many months of struggling to survive and ensure that their 70 employees were getting their salaries despite everything.

Before and after the closing of Shams El Balad, other cultural and social spaces that offer a calm space to read, work, eat, drink, and interact closed, leaving behind empty glass windows and iron curtains all along the street.

“I grew up going to some of these places, preparing for my high school exams, studying in those cafes. I think it’s the result of the failure of the system,” Malhas said.

If some were optimistic that businesses would flourish again and that the street would remain bustling and attractive to both locals and foreigners, others were more pessimistic, telling Jordan News that creating something unique like Rainbow Street is a long process, one that relies on constant innovation and perseverance by entrepreneurs that have felt abandoned — or rather betrayed — by the authorities during the hustle of the pandemic in Jordan.

Business owners pointed to the absence of support from the Ministry of Tourism, which is in charge of the hospitality sector and many of the restaurants dotting Rainbow Street. In April 2020, a JD30 million [JR3] budget was announced to  help support the sector through the pandemic, but according to the Jordan Restaurants Association, this promised help lacked a clear plan and mechanisms of implementation and was not able to truly deliver before the governmental change in October 2020.

On the other hand, in the absence of “serious policies” targeting local cultural enterprises, promoting public-private partnerships, or creating strong entrepreneurial strategies, the original appeal and identity of places such as Rainbow Street risk disappearing. 

“This is our livelihood, our life, and family business. …” Malhas said. “We felt lied to as business owners and tax payers. It was a disappointment. For nine months our future was dependent on people who didn’t care about our struggles.”

Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism Emad Hijazeen told Jordan News that the "level of aid and help provided by any state depends on its economic capacity … (Closures) within the restaurant sector are tied to the epidemiological situation and thus the ministry provided (support) in line with its capabilities, based on COVID-19 stats, to support the restaurant sector. Restaurants are indeed closed but we are providing other forms of support such as extended delivery times and fee exemptions,” Hijazeen added.

“We are facing exceptional harsh economic conditions. This is not a time to make a profit; this is a time to survive. No one is looking to make a profit these days.” Added Hijazeen.