Morocco to solve city crowding with new towns

RABAT — The first of more than a dozen new towns designed to relieve overcrowding in Moroccan cities and empty the country’s slums will be ready for inhabitants this year, Housing Minister Ahmed Taoufiq Hejira told Reuters.

Overcrowding, rising house prices, urban shantytowns and frustration that has boiled over into bombing campaigns by people trapped in the slums has led Morocco to conceive and now begin building planned cities intended to make a better future.

“The only way to unblock the big cities and improve living standards of the population is to build new towns,” Hejira told Reuters on Friday.

The plan will see Morocco create one new town from sratch each year until 2020. The government and private business are joining hands in the drive to build the towns, with the government offering expertise, cheap real estate and subsidies.

“The prices of homes and land in the new cities are two-thirds less than elsewhere,” Hejira said.

The first of the planned new towns is Tamansourt located about 15 kilometres northeast of Marrakesh. It could potentially house 300,000 people and will be ready to start receiving inhabitants this year, Hejira said.

A similar town named Tamesma outside Rabat will take root in 2007 and other new cities will be built in the following years outside big towns like Casablanca and Agadir, he added.

Morocco has decided to make a concerted break with a past town planning mentality that focused mostly on urban expansion.

“There is a saturation in the cities and urban areas and the land prices are very high… prohibitive even for the middle class to get decent homes,” Hejira said.

Tamansourt and the other planned cities offer various choices for inhabitants ranging from villas to buildings and neighbourhoods modelled on old Arab Casbah architecture.

More than half a million people living in what authorities refer to as “insalubrious homes” across the country will have access to the new cities, backed by the government subsidies.

About 5,000 families in Marrakesh will be relocated to Tamansourt, the government said.

About 10 billion dirhams ($1.10 billion), most of it private sector money, will be invested in Tamansourt. That will include investments in industrial and tourism zones to offer jobs and business opportunities for residents, officials said.

“For 58,000 housing units already built, demands from individuals and private sector business totalled 120,000. This demand proves that the strategy to build new towns is sound,” said Kathib Al Khebil, a top government town planning official.

The government has another plan to invest 1.5 billion euros ($1.81 billion) in eradicating the slums that scar the edges of the country’s 70 main cities rather than just attempt to hide them behind high walls.

Twelve Islamist suicide bombers emerged from Thomas shantytown on the margin of Morocco’s financial capital Casablanca to kill 33 people and themselves in four separate attacks on May 16, 2003.

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