Planning, Urban Design, Infrastructure,
Public-Private Partnerships & Project Implementation* 

 Urban Redevelopment, Expansion & Environmental Management


Dr. J. Michael Cobb*
IDC International Development Consultants, LLC
Aqaba city & main port

The descriptions below, and the accompanying material, illustrate my main activities, projects and responsibilities in Jordan related to planning and development of the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ), beginning in 2004 until the first quarter 2007. 

In addition to examples from various physical plans and data tables, three other items are included. 

1. Aqaba's Strategy for Investing in redevelopment and growth.

A brief abridged summary of the Aqaba 2005-2009 Business Plan (taken from public information previously released by ADC),  is presented here. Developed and authored under my direction, the business plan highlights the prime planning and investment strategies adopted by ADC for  redevelopment as well as future growth of Aqaba city and the special economic region. This business plan is also a required legal component of the MDA, discussed below. The link above indicates illustrative components included in the ADC initial Business Plan.

2. Aqaba's Unique Institutional Framework

An innovative and unique public-private arrangement was developed for guiding the growth and development of Aqaba. Termed the MDA, The Management Development Agreement between ASEZA (the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority) and ADC (the Aqaba Development Corporation) specifies the urban planning, urban design and related "regulatory" responsibilities of ASEZA and the related urban design and project development responsibilities of ADC for zone-wide as well as specific spatial areas and sector based planning and investment. These areas include: 

  • infrastructure and transport

  • social and educational programs

  • area master planning, project design and implementation

  • economic development and program-project financing

  • provision of and support to low-income and worker housing

  • environmental assessment, planning and management

  • and other factors essential to coordinated public-private decision-making and sustainable development. 

The MDA took over a year for ADC and ASEZA to negotiate and received final approval by Jordan's National Council of Ministers in 2006. I was co-author and shared prime responsibility to ADC and ASEZA for this work. Click here for further information on the MDA, including related information previously released by ADC outlining the duties and responsibilities of ASEZA and ADC.

3. Aqaba's Public-Private-Partnership Program

Extracts from a a PPP analysis, evaluation and financing recommendations presentation for a new ferry terminal. In addition to the ferry terminal relocation, ADC and its consultants conducted numerous PPP analyses for the development and redevelopment of Aqaba, including: the main port relocation- new mixed use waterfront tourism projects; all seven terminals; the airport expansion; the rail line relocation and extension; utilities expansions and other projects. 

A prime ADC mandate is to maximize private sector participation. Other than social enablers, therefore, all internal or investor initiated infrastructure or commercial development   candidates undergo PPP evaluation potential.  I was ADC's senior advisor and tasks manager for internal and external consultants PPP work.

Click here to review selected elements of a preliminary presentation of the new ferry terminal PPP analysis .

Regional context
Small scale "invasion" vendors on city's main public beach
Many "surface" artesian wells in this large palm grove adjacent to main public beach
Summary - Duties & Responsibilities 
J. Michael Cobb
Jordan: 2004-present

Since its establishment in 2004 and until early 2007, I served as as a Senior Advisor to the Chairman (including serving as interim Chief Operating Officer) for the Aqaba Development Corporation (ADC),  the development arm of the newly established Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA). To guide and implement the development of Aqaba, Jordan’s only port, the newly formed public-private development entity ADC has been given ownership of essentially all major land, transport and infrastructure assets within the zone. As such, ADC is charged with interpreting and implementing the governmental approved Master Plan for the zone and leveraging the value of the zone's physical and economic assets maximizing the use of public-private partnership (PPPs). The ADC responsibilities are executed for the benefits and sustainable development of Aqaba as well as for the overall Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan .

With ADC, and in coordination with ASEZA, I've had senior responsibilities for strategic and spatial planning, managing urban design and architectural concepts for strategic facilities and infrastructure,  formulation of PPP project initiatives and project implementation for over two billion USD in new development and redevelopment projects and programs. My duties also included public meeting, extensive coordination with various local, national and international agencies, AE contract management, securing project specific stakeholder agreements, financing and funding strategies, investment programming and ADC program implementation planning and management.

Major projects work has include planning for relocation of  Aqaba's main in-town industrial cargo terminal operations and redevelopment of this prime location into a major world-class mixed-use urban waterfront zone, while also integrating this urban waterfront redevelopment into revitalization of the adjacent Aqaba old-town. (See the Concept Plan below. Also, click here to see ADC's December 2006 international press announcement regarding this major project.)

A key challenge to eventual realization of the urban waterfront redevelopment is firstly to plan, finance and construct a new  basin and extensive new berthing and port terminal facilities in the southern industrial zone, thus enabling uninterrupted port operations in the new southern port thus freeing the main in-town port for redevelopment. 

ASEZA's 2030 Aqaba Zone Land Use Plan
Click here for larger view
Old town area
Into old town 
Plan for Old town rehabilitation
... being implemented
Click here for larger view
Coastal corridor plan for mixed-use urban tourism and waterfront development
Aqaba International Airport Master Plan
South Industrial Zone & Terminal
Adjacent to Saudi Arabian border
Click here for larger view
New South Port Development & Industrial Master Plan
Click here for larger view.
Concept Plan 
Main Port Urban-Tourism Waterfront Redevelopment

Initial Alternative for Rail Line Relocation & Extension

Another critical enabling component of this in-town industrial port operations transfer south and resulting waterfront renewal involves relocation of the industrial rail line (photo above)  out of downtown and extending it 19 km through the mountainous coastline to the new port facilities near the Saudi border. (See map at right). A variety of other infrastructure initiatives are also being planned including desalinization plants, water re-use programs and the planning of a major eco-tourism and preservation zone adjacent to Aqaba's world renowned coastal coral zones in the Gulf of Aqaba.

Critical rail line extension
Click here for larger view
ADC Priority Development Projects
Click here for larger view
ADC Infrastructure Development  
Options & Strategies
Click here for larger view

Social, Gender & Educational Projects 

In addition to major infrastructure and spatial planning projects, another vital element of my work with ADC involved developing social and educational initiatives essential to enabling the sustainable development of Aqaba and its local communities. Initial completed and on-going projects include: 

  • design and construction of a new international school, including an ADC endowed funding and support program for schools in the poorest outlying villages near Aqaba 

  • constructing a new vegetable market in the old-town

  • initiating and funding a program targeting special education and training for young Jordanian girls and women 

  • building a new public library

  • start-up funding for a new tourism college and new university, and

  • several marine and coastal based environmental initiatives to protect the Aqaba Gulf's unique marine environment, the ecologically fragile coastal zone, and to strictly project and regulate access to the kingdom's only ocean access which is along Aqaba's limited 27 km sea frontage.e

As Aqaba is the Jordan's only port and its prime trading gateway to the world, developing and extending the railway system from Aqaba to the rest of Jordan and its Middle East neighbors is essential to the competitive economic development of the nation. I've been pleased to assist this import undertaking as a member of Jordan’s Inter-Ministerial Steering Committee overseeing development of the National Railway Plan.


Tala Bay New Village

Tala Bay - New Marina Town

Being development along Aqaba's Coral Coast Ecotourism Zone (plan shown at right). About 12 km south of Aqaba Town, Tala Bay Marina Town is one of the new marina villages in this Ecotourism Zone which encompasses a marine coral preserve, a terrestrial native habitat preserve, home of the new university site, and other special or restrictive developments.) Also, this Eco zone is only about 4 km just north of the Southern Industrial Area and Port Zone (plan shown to the above right).

South "Coral Coast" Ecotourism Plan
Click here for larger view


  * Note: Except for the author's explanatory writings and observations, all Aqaba data & exhibits presented on this website are based on information previously and publicly released by ADC, ASEZA or other entities within Jordan.  Please see the Jordanian government's ASEZA and ADC websites for the latest information for regarding the Aqaba Sepcial Economic Zone and its many private and public sector investment projects and potentials.


Observations and Challenges Ahead**

As Jordan’s only port city and sitting at the crossroads of four countries, Aqaba has long played a historic role as an international trading center linking countries in Asia and the southern hemisphere to those in the Levant region and beyond. And it has been a traditional major trading gateway into Iraq before and during the recent conflicts. As an international tourism destination, Aqaba is a major part of the "Golden Triangle" which includes Petra and Wadi Rum and continues to be the prime import/export center for Jordan.

Although having only a 19 mile coastline on the Red Sea, Aqaba possesses one of the world's most beautiful and valued marine coral ecosystems and today is home to a vibrant city of 100,000 residents. As of mid 2009, investments in the Aqaba Special Economic Zone (ASEZ) had reached $18 billion, representing 300 per cent more than the $6 billion targeted in 2001 to be reached by 2020. And within the next few years the current main port industrial activities will be moved south to new port facilities near the Saudi border. This new southern port area will include a general cargo terminal, various industrial ports and a new ferry terminal. thus allowing ADC and investors to inject over $10 billion in the redeveloping the current main port into a new waterfront harbor area of luxury hotels, office towers, an expanded cruise terminal and seaside residential communities.

By any economic measure, therefore, the development of Aqaba during the past ten years has been an outstanding success. ASEZA and ADC, along with the national government of Jordan, have made substantial progress in developing an institutional framework offering great promise for helping achieve sustainable urban, environmental and economic development within the Aqaba region and the kingdom. However, there are substantial challenges ahead which must be effectively met if Aqaba and the country are to capitalize on the progress made so far and to achieve the great aspirations and potential of its people. While I’m unable at this time to discuss these challenges at length, I feel it important to provide a few insights into my professional concerns and observation related specifically to Aqaba's growth and development, as briefly summarized below.

  • Rapid population growth  

From 2000 to 2005 Aqaba’s population increased 50 percent, growing from about 60,000 to 90,000. Within the next five years the forecast shows population reaching 130,000, which is more than doubling in a ten year period. At the national level the rate of population increase is not so dramatic. In-migration from the neighboring war zones is a major concern. With a nation population of only about 5.5 million, about half are Palestinian refugees, and within the past few years perhaps another 1 million immigrants have arrived. This includes many Iraqi and more recently Lebanese fleeing the conflicts there since mid 2006.

  • Changing urban spatial form and character  

Aqaba is unique in that although a functioning commercial port city, and an expanding tourism and resort center, it continues to retain some the spatial, architectural and social character of traditional arid coastal Arab towns. In the "old city" commercial center, there are still a few covered walkways, small shade tree cafes and a low rise slower paced sense of a small town. With the growth of tourism and resort facilities, especially five star hotels and mega residential resorts, however, Aqaba is becoming a more socially, culturally and economically divided city. 

The poorer old town population is being relocated to new city expansion areas with better housing and communities facilities. And this is a very positive development both environmentally and socially for the city's lower income groups . However, the poorer more original Aqaba population groups are none-the-less being further segregated from the "high-end" housing, waterfront resorts and new luxury communities areas of northern Aqaba. While this is the normal economic segregation that occurs worldwide, ASEZA and ADC will need to pay special attention to creating a cohesive city of Aqaba, one offering opportunities and a high quality of life to all its residents as well as its visitors. With the regional tensions likely to remain high for many years to come, maintaining social and cultural tolerance and cohesiveness will continue a major challenge to ASEZA and the Kingdom generally.

  • Rapid cost of living increases and real estate inflation  

With all the influx of people from the region, many bring substantial wealth, average real estate price within the past three years have risen from USD 140 per sqm to between USD 700-900 in early 2006. Adequate low income and worker housing is available and the private sector as well as government support appears sufficient to meet demand. With an average Jordanian worker making less than USD 7,000 per year, however, these real estate increases are having a ripple effect on daily life affordability for average Jordanians. Also, in Aqaba alone, over USD 6 billion in new real estate mega projects have been initiated within the past three years. With its great stock of land ownership in Aqaba, ADC is seeking to provide some stability in the land market. However, many of the prime growth zones are already under private ownership.

  • Dangers of the "Dubai Syndrome"

Like all coastal cities in the Middle East and elsewhere, Aqaba must compete for private sector investment in tourism, housing, commercial and industrial development. Especially in its efforts to  redevelopment the main commercial port into a world-class urban mixed use water-front zone, primarily relying on private investment, ASEZA and ADC face major challenges in resisting calls for unbridled higher density high rise commercial development. While higher densities can provide more efficient infrastructure, Aqaba's small town Arab character represents what I believe to be it's primary niche and "competitive advantage" - for tourism as well as residential growth. High quality is required most certainly, but not high glitz.  Aqaba should provide a different smaller scale more true to it historical and cultural traditions model of urban design, growth and development. The city should never seek to emulate Dubai and other Arab Gulf cities, whose longer term sustainability is yet to be tested.

  • National institutional resistance to Aqaba zone unique autonomy  

Although the Aqaba Special Economic Zone answers only to the Prime Minister and the Royal Court, many of the national ministries and agencies (ie, Transport, Energy, Public Works & Housing, the military/intelligence, etc) have found it difficult to understand and recognize the special powers and self governance afforded the zone. Also within the zone, some of the national ministries retain funding obligations for some of the zone’s infrastructure (ie, national highways linking to the commercial and industrial ports and the adjacent borders with Israel and Saudi Arabia ). However, the national ministries are constantly strapped for funds while ADC, as owner of all port facilities as well as the Aqaba lands, has revenue of over USD 130,000 million but upcoming capital expenditures during the next five year of over USD 1 billion. Also, ADC is fully commercialized and chartered under the kingdom’s company’s law (although owned half by ASEZA and half by the kingdom’s Ministry of Finance).

Also, many of the major government owned national companies, and ministry components, are in various stages of privatization; including for example, major parts of the Ministry of Energy, Transport (eg, the Aqaba Railway Corporation) Industry (eg, Jordan Phosphate Mining Company). As ADC must coordinate with almost all of the national ministries, and their various privatization initiatives, obtaining a clear understanding of investment scopes and schedules of these entities has proven difficult, and in many cases not currently possible. This has resulted in ADC being forced to take direct project actions which are often misconstrued by some within the national ministries in Amman as politically negative. Thus ADC senior management and its advisors are forced to spend much time in Amman meeting with senior ministry officials seeking to correct such perceptions while explaining the “national mandate” ADC has been given to rapidly redevelopment the Kingdom’s critical port system.  

  • Environmental rehabilitation, protection and management

While Aqaba has international best practice environmental laws and regulations in-place, (and requires the full range of EIA-EIR-mitigation measures, etc) adequate enforcement of existing industrial and municipal operations pre-existing ASEZA and ADC hasn’t been possible for complex economic, social and political issues. Bottom line is that ASEZA could shut done many of the existing major companies in the southern industrial zone today, but this would put thousands of Jordanians out of work. And to require retro-upgrading to existing industrial facilities would price them out of the world market when compared to their competitors in the primarily unregulated third world.

  • ADC organizational challenges

ADC offers unique challenging opportunities for Jordanians to be involved with what many in the kingdom see as the nation's most innovative public or private organization. However, with  Jordanians easily able to obtain salaries three or four times what ADC can offer by moving to one of the booming Arab Gulf states, attracting and retaining top Jordanian professionals is difficult. This regional disparity not only effects ADC but is having a brain-drain effect on almost every public agency and private company within the kingdom. This continues to result in ADC relying on too many expatriate senior international advisors such as myself. As long as the much of the world continues to be energy in-efficient, and trillions in peto-dollars continue pouring into the Arab oil kingdoms, small relatively poor countries such as Jordan will continue to pay the heavy penalties.

Final note

The above observations are intended to provide an overall perspective regarding the accomplishments as well as the continued difficulties and challenges associated with my work for ADC and ASEZA in Jordan. 

For several years I was fortunate to have had an opportunity to have hands-on involvement with much of the physical planning, urban design and national urban and transport policy work associated with the growth and development of Aqaba and the Kingdom of Jordan. And while I was charged with providing much of the technical direction and management of the work cited, please note that that numerous others were involved in providing major input to each of these activities. These groups included international and Jordanian consulting firms, local and national industry leaders, civic and environmental groups and numerous governmental officials. And I especially note that ADC and ASEZA staff, and together with my advisor collegures, deserve much of the credit for whatever positive outcomes may be associate with my work.

And lastly, it's essential that I specially note the contributions made by ADC's senior management, and by the ASEZA Commissioners, to the very challenging and innovative work being done in Aqaba today.  Their integrity, complete dedication and continuing tireless efforts are inspiring to all of us as they work for the betterment and future growth of Aqaba and the people of Jordan.


Aqaba & Princeton

* ** Please Note: Other than the author's personal views presented in the "observations and challenges ahead" paragraphs above, please note that all the Aqaba Special Economic Zone data, documents and map-related graphic material presented on this site have been based on, or directly derived from, previously published public information released by ASEZA and/or ADC. Most of the photographs displayed on these web pages, however, were taken by and are owned by the author.

© Copyright. 
J Michael Cobb &  IDC Int'l Development Consultants, LLC. All rights reserved.