Moroccan merge

The Moroccan cities of Rabat and Salé are inching ever close to becoming one, a project 800 years in the making if you’re feeling poetic, two years if you’re feeling realistic.

Either way, it’s a fairly huge undertaking and an indication of how urban sprawl and economic necessity can bring about major changes in the demographic and political spheres. It isn’t one absorbing the other through growth and authority — I’m sure we all know at least suburb that has become part of a city proper in our lifetimes — but an indication of how highly the government considers having a capital that’s big enough to compete on both economic and prestige fronts.

And what interests me as well is that Morocco either had an inkling of a global recession, or were simply prudent enough to cover the possibility: it has a $3.25bn emergency fund in case investors pull out of the project.

Morocco broke ground on the US$4 billion Bouregreg project in 2006 and plans to complete major work in 2010. New breakwaters have appeared, the estuary sports a new marina and corniche, and the grinding of heavy machinery echoes through Rabat as workers lay rails for a tram system spanning the river.

The river flats will be covered in swish new houses and business parks, and resort hotels will stud the coastline. UAE firms Sama Dubai and Sorouh Real Estate are supplying investment and building expertise, but the government promises Moroccans that their capital will not become a Gulf-style megalopolis.

I’m not sure if it will be called Rabat or Bouregreg, after the river that flows between the two cities. I’m just fascinated by urban transformation.

It’s not the first example of cities merging — there’s Budapest — but it’s one of the bigger ones in recent history, perhaps even the biggest if my memory is accurate. I also like motivation behind it; whereas Budapest was formed from three cities to be the capital of Hungary, in Morocco it is a natural progression, as the two cities are quite intertwined as it is.

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