To engage the community groups and apply the participatory method, the Beirut Urban Lab implemented a spatial intervention in Al-Khodor sub-neighborhood in parallel with developing the strategic framework. This intervention is a community public space that is inclusive, safe, and well-serviced.
The Spatial Intervention in Al-Khodor Sub-neighborhood is part of a larger study entitled “An Urban Recovery Strategy for Post-Blast Karantina” and led by Howayda Al-Harithy.
Being the most deprived sub-neighborhood in Karantina, Al-Khodor was a priority for the research team to intervene on. This sub-neighborhood received the least amount of aid after the port blast, although it hosts a diversity of low-income groups, most of whom are Lebanese and Syrian families.
To select a site inside the sub-neighborhood, the research team conducted a mapping of the socio-spatial practices. These practices involved a diversity of user groups and activities from “sobheye” to card playing”. The research team further conducted consultation sessions and co-designing workshops with the community groups in Al-Khodor to identify the best site location and most adequate design scheme.
Picture showing some of the socio-spatial practices on the streets (Source: Batoul Yassine, 2022)
The community selected the space along Mashghara street, describing it as the heart of Al-Khodor and the ‘Square of Affinity’ or ساحة الإلفة ‘Sahat el Elfeh’. They also shared with the research team their aspirations, sketched on paper their social practices, and crafted their vision for the space.
The early consultation sessions paved the way for initiating the design process, aided by District-D, which included multiple co-design workshops with the community groups. Three main co-design workshops took place in Al-Khodor, on 2, 7, and 25 June 2021, and were organized jointly with the citizen scientists previously trained for the larger study. The research team used diverse design and representational tools with the community. These tools helped communicate a better reading of the design proposals for the community groups, facilitated their interaction with the research team, and encouraged them to share their concerns and needs.
Pictures from the three co-design workshops. (Source: Beirut Urban Lab, 2021)
After many iterations with the community and consultations with the Municipality of Beirut, the final design was ready for implementation. On the first anniversary of the port blast on 4 August 2021, the Beirut Urban Lab launched the implementation of the project through a public event titled الإلفة تجمعنا “Affinity Brings Us Together”. The event was organized jointly with ACTED, and in the presence of representatives of University College London and Norwegian Refugee Council who contributed to funding the design and implementation.
Building further on the position of the Beirut Urban Lab to promote participation, the team engaged the community groups in the multiple stages of the implementation. Firstly, two citizen scientists supervised the implementation. They were further trained to read engineering and construction details and played a major role in resolving disputes between the residents during the implementation process. They also acted as a bridge between the contractor and the BUL research team and reported on the progress of the work. Secondly, the community was also involved in the implementation process by the hire of both skilled and non-skilled labor force. The BUL team imposed a quota of local workers on the contractor. Members of the community groups were therefore assisted in cleaning the site before and after the implementation of the intervention, secured the equipment at night, and helped in tiling the sidewalks, planting the trees, and painting the building facades.
Sahat Al-Khodor before the implementation of the design (Source: Beirut Urban Lab, 2022)
Sahat Al-Khodor after the implementation of the design (Source: Beirut Urban Lab, 2022)
The street in Al-Khodor sub-neighborhood before the implementation of the sidewalk (Source, Beirut Urban Lab, 2022)
The street in Al-Khodor sub-neighborhood after the implementation of the sidewalk (Source: Beirut Urban Lab, 2022)
The implementation of the design was completed in May 2022. The intervention resulted in a fully serviced streetscape with sidewalks, bollards, solar streetlights, trash bins, benches, and tree grates, trees, and asphalted streets. The building facades around the space were also renovated, plastered, and painted.
Pictures showing the space after the completion of the design intervention. The pictures depict how they are used by different community groups. (Source: to the left, Postray, 2022; to the right, Hasan Al-Aswad, 2022)
The research team at the Beirut Urban Lab hopes that the participatory efforts that brought together academic institutions, funding agencies, the Municipality of Beirut, and local community groups will be used as a model in other areas in Beirut. They also hope that the implementation of the action plans produced by the greater study will result in the translation of the vision and the strategic plan for the sustainable recovery of Karantina.
Watch the Spatial Intervention in Al-Khodor Sub-neighborhood video here