I am a social anthropologist trained at Harvard and SOAS, London with a broad interest in urban spaces, economic inequality, and the politics of planning and development regimes. Based on several years of ethnographic research in Casablanca, Morocco, my forthcoming monograph (Zed Books) documents the political continuities, security logics, and competing forces that shape the possibilities open to precarious communities on the margins of a mythicized metropolis. Building on my earlier research, I am developing a new project on the growing push for 'megaprojects' and ‘aspirational urbanism’ in contemporary North Africa. I currently teach, research, and write about these themes at Leiden University. Prior to my PhD studies, I worked with the UNDP and the German Technical Cooperation Agency (GIZ) on sustainable building and community adaptation to climate change.
In the summer of 2020 Morocco discreetly announced the Phase 1 completion of Zenata, a so-called ‘New Green City’ occupying 5 km of coast north of Casablanca. Created in 2006 at the initiative of the Moroccan State, Zenata has been celebrated as “the first African city to be awarded an Eco-City Label (ECL)”, a certification granted in 2016 during the proceedings of the COP 22 conference, before any ground had been broken on the project site. One of several dozen ‘green’ megaprojects currently being built across the Kingdom, Zenata is a 1,9-billion-euro investment partly financed through EU loans, and responsible for the forced-displacement of local informal communities on the expanding periphery of Casablanca.
Based on research carried out since 2014 that combines participant observation, online ethnography, and engagements with locally-produced speculative fiction, this paper takes a three-fold approach: I will first place such recent developments like Zenata in the context of historical engagements with environmental discourses and agendas as part of Morocco’s colonial and post-colonial efforts to fight environmental degradation – efforts that have only recently been refocused on coastal cities. Secondly, I highlight several local responses from ordinary Moroccans to both envisioned and already-existing ‘green’ projects. By showcasing several examples of ‘speculative urban planning fictions for Casablanca’ presented during a workshop in 2019 with students of the Casablanca School for Applied Arts, I aim to foreground the profound and profoundly alternative ways in which ordinary inhabitants try to reclaim narratives about possible futures and critique the orthodoxies of current planning regimes.