Most people know about Casablanca because they know about a movie with that name. The movie was not even filmed there, but it stands somewhere in the top 10 of most watched films ever. Every city needs that identity. A fantastic movie with an intriguing name certainly helps.
I learned to know that city better when I was working on the abattoir project. It is now five years ago that we did a big event there. During easter 2009 the former abattoir was turned into a creative playground. We advised the mayor to explore the possibilities of the existing building immediately in stead of working on a big master plan involving lots of money that would probably never be available there.
Casablanca is the largest city in Morocco with almost 5 million inhabitants. It is the type of city that people go to hoping for a better future. It is a city with almost 50% of it’s inhabitants younger than 18 years. And it is also a city that – in terms of talent development – doesn’t have much to offer. Most tourist don’t go there as well. They prefer places like Marrakech, Fez, even Rabat or Tangier. Casablanca is the harbour, the industry, it’s French modernism, it’s a city with many empty buildings.
Casablanca has this former abattoir. I was involved in finding a strategy to regenerate it. It is really an amazing and beautiful place. It’s somewhere near the main railway station, that is where you will always find these kind of places, part of the industrial heritage of a city. The abattoir was built somewhere in the twenties of the last century. Reasons of sanity demanded to have a large slaughterhouse complex for all cattle. All cattle yes: even pigs. Although Morocco is an Islamic state, a lot of French people were living there and they demanded their pig meat. And also special: chicken were killed in two ways: some days of the week in the Islamic way, with an imam present, and the other days of the week in the Jewish way, with a rabbi standing there. The Casablanca medina once had a large Jewish quarter. Today all the former Casablanca Jews are gone, they probably live in Israel or in New York. The French are also mostly gone although their language is still very much present here. The number of non-moroccans living in Casablanca is diminishing year by year. The non-moroccans leave but for Moroccans this city still is a place of opportunities. To live in Casablanca is better for a Moroccan family than living in a remote rural village.
This is the reason why cities grow. It is also the reason that cities perform better. Because the cities are magnets for talent. The cities are places of hope. But are these opportunities real?
Casablanca is the kind of city that urgently needs an impulse. Here you can find thousands of people that are looking for new initiatives. The former abattoir is the right place to do that. And although it occupies six hectares of land and has more than 20.000 square meters of floor space it is way too small to accommodate everything that is needed in this city in terms of new creative initiatives. So let’s stop making big plans for the future and start making strategies for today and tomorrow.
Here is a small movie on Youtube that I got this week. In it’s own way it shows the urgency. The ruins that were there five years ago are still there today.
Why is the future of the abattoir in Casablanca so important for us? Why is the future of Morocco also our business? Because all the talented young man and women between 15 and 30 years old will cross the sea if there are no opportunities for them there. Politicians here in the Netherlands can discuss the idea of less Moroccans in our country but the reality will be that there will be more and more. Which is a good thing when they are talented and open minded, but becomes a nuisance when their main drive is frustration and anger. Spain, Portugal, Greece, all these countries know from their recent history how difficult the transformation from dictatorship into democracy can be. There are lots of lessons to be learned. Lets start to transform these places of opportunity into places of creativity and hope today.