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Calendar

Join us for a debate around the movie “Ramlet Beirut”, with Carol Mansour, Habib Battah, Yara Hamadeh, Nizar Saghieh, and Ali Darwish, moderated by Isabela Serhan. Wednesday, 11th of November, at 6pm (Beirut time, GMT +2).

This webinar is the third of a series titled Housing and Financialization in Times of Crisis, that presents public interventions by scholars and activists researching the impacts of the compounded effects of financialization and overlapping crises on the right to housing at the local, national, and global levels.

This webinar is the first of a series titled Housing and Financialization in Times of Crisis, that presents public interventions by scholars and activists researching the impacts of the compounded effects of financialization and overlapping crises on the right to housing at the local, national, and global levels.

This webinar is the second of a series titled Housing and Financialization in Times of Crisis, that presents public interventions by scholars and activists researching the impacts of the compounded effects of financialization and overlapping crises on the right to housing at the local, national, and global levels.

City Debates 2019 will challenge dominant discourse by framing displacement as agency, the displaced as social capital, post-conflict urban environments as archives, and reconstructions as socio-spatial practices.

Events

In the Fall of 2020, the Beirut Urban Lab is holding the second part of its webinar series under the theme of "Housing and Financialization in Times of Crisis." Watch videos of the webinars here.

In July 2020, the Beirut Urban Lab held the first part of its webinar series under the theme of "Housing and Financialization in Times of Crisis." Watch videos of the webinars here.

As part of the Urban Recovery Platform, the Capacity Building Program (CBP) will initiate conversations around the Arab region, which is marked by conflict and in need of cutting-edge methodologies to urban recovery. With participants from diverse backgrounds and interdisciplinary approaches to urban recovery, this workshop will share, transfer knowledge, and initiate ongoing conversations across boundaries and different terrains. This workshop is a pilot to be followed by many others through the CBP. The CBP aims, in the long run, to produce a network of partners and facilitate the exchange of experiences and knowledge transfer. It is poised to make a profound commitment towards a shift in research to embraces innovation, pedagogy, and knowledge dissemination in the service of urban recovery in the Arab region.

This project is a component of a research study led by the The AUB Asfari Institute (AI) on “Transnational Social Movements in the Arab Region.” Mona Harb has led the “Urban Rights Activism” track of this research study, and convened a workshop on the theme on July 4, 2019. The workshop gathered about thirty academics and activists from Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, and Lebanon who discussed: i) the histories and legacies of urban activism, the actors engaged in urban rights activism, their organizational and institutional setups, ii) their frames and strategies of action, as their communication and networks, iii) the urban as an opportunity for providing “real utopias” for activism and political change.

City Debates 2019 took place from April 1 to April 4, 2020 and challenged dominant discourse by framing displacement as agency, the displaced as social capital, post-conflict urban environments as archives, and reconstructions as socio-spatial practices.

News

Howayda Al-Harithy spoke to Wired about the upcoming reconstruction efforts in Beirut. Harithy, who co-founded the AUB Reconstruction unit at MSFEA in the aftermath of the 2006 war, highlighted the importance of adopting a reconstruction plan that does not only focus on the physical.

Mona Fawaz contributed to the film Pandemic, Property, and Planning, directed by Sony Pellissery, Ben Davy, and Harvey Jacob, and produced by the Institute of Public Policy, National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, India. The film interviewed property and planning academics and experts from across the world on COVID-19’s impact on land, property rights, and the effects the pandemic will have on land and property-related policy from a social responsibility perspective.

Mona Harb spoke yesterday about "The Territories of COVID-19 Response in Lebanon," one of the Lab's ongoing research project in the brown bag series “Tackling the Long-Term Impact of COVID-19: Multidisciplinary Research Studies and Opportunities.”

Mona Harb contributed to a webinar titled The Right to Housing in COVID-19 Lockdown Times, organized by ISA RC47 Research Committee on Social Classes and Social Movements, and organized by Simone Tulumello and Guya Accornero from the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon. Academics and experts from Italy, Portugal, Spain, Brazil, Lebanon, and the United States provided an overview of the lockdown measures adopted by each of their governments, relating them to homelessness and social movements. Speakers also discussed lockdown measure’s impacts on people in the context of housing inequalities across the globe’s urban centers and peripheries.

Our Reflections

Reactions to the explosion of the Port of Beirut have sounded the alarm of permanent displacement, and fingers are already pointing to predatory real-estate developments that could accelerate the process. On September 30, parliament passed measures that it claims will halt the land grabbing of properties owned by residents affected by the blast. But what is fundamentally missing from this seemingly caring narrative is the history of large waves of evictions over many decades in districts such as Geitawi, Mar Mikhael, or Gemmayzeh. Rather than an interruption or a new turn in the occupation of the neighborhoods forming these districts, we argue that the blast should be seen as a disruption that will intensify the effects of the already-in-place mechanisms, pushing away a larger number of those who have worked or lived in the neighborhoods surrounding the port.

In the aftermath of violent acts of rupture, cities endure erasures of place and memory and disruptions to socio-economic and cultural practices. Mending emotional, spiritual, and socio-cultural connections becomes critical for any process of recovery — with cultural heritage, that includes sites of social significance and shared memories — serving as a catalyst for a successful recovery process. In this sense, cultural recovery operates beyond the limited definition of heritage tied to the physical and historical and goes beyond the urgent recovery process that is people-centered, heritage-led, and place-specific to address post-disaster basic needs. Crucially, it attends to socio-spatial practices that are part of the intangible heritage, and rebuilds, over the long-term, undermined cultural practices, social ties, and economic networks. Such industrial neighborhoods and informal settlements as Karantina, characterized by a deep social, cultural, and economic history, are therefore as deserving as any other neighborhood of a recovery process that is people-centered, heritage-led, and place-specific.

Looking forward, the emergency is for restoring any element of normalcy in the districts and empowering neighborhood dwellers’ return. This will be imperative for the city to reignite life and avoid seeing more of its quarters hijacked by real estate interests, as feared by many of the residents I was able to talk to.

As we write this short reflection, the Beirut Port’s August 4, 2020 explosion still runs deep shockwaves through every one of us. We are just beginning to absorb the unmeasurable losses that have fallen on our city and its people. Some 2,700 tons of Ammonium Nitrate were callously stored in a port hangar, in close vicinities of residential neighborhoods, for six years. It happened with the full knowledge of successive port authorities, customs’ officials, and many other public officials (and unofficials). They detonated as if to announce the resounding end of an era: Lebanon’s post-civil war corrupt order could not have gone down peacefully. Almost a week later, the city is mourning its dead, young and old, while most rescue teams are discontinuing their efforts to locate the remaining missing people.

We launch the website of the Beirut Urban Lab at a time when everything around us is in peril. Thirty years after the presumed end of the civil war, Lebanon is drowning under the overlapping weights of a global health pandemic, a severe financial crisis, and the devastating failure to put in place a just and viable national recovery. Indeed, things are on the verge of total collapse. Even urban life, the stage of our actions and the substance of our research, appears unsettled. Images of apocalyptically empty streets and ghost towns are certain to inform the future collective memories of these times. Still, they are interrupted by outbursts of protests, as people in Beirut and elsewhere reaffirm their demands to live in dignity and justice, and to be free of discrimination.

Projects

Building on its experiences in urban policy advocacy, mapping, and post-war reconstruction studies, the Beirut Urban Lab initiated multiple interventions that challenge the dominant framework of post-blast reconstruction and redefine it along the lines of a holistic and inclusive recovery.

The Beirut Built Environment Database is a platform gathering geolocalised social, environmental, and economic information on building activity in the Greater Beirut Area.

Beirut is a dense city with high levels of urbanization, where open public spaces are scant, poorly designed, and ill-managed. The commodification of land has transformed neighborhoods in drastic ways at the expense of public life. Yet, neighborhoods incorporate many vacant properties—built, unbuilt, unbuildable, public, private—that hold valuable opportunities for rethinking public life in the city. How can an engaged urban practice reactivate spatial practices and public life in Beirut’s neighborhoods?

The times of Covid-19 are times of crisis and, like any a crisis, these times are most often used as an opportunity for political actors to reposition themselves. At the Beirut Urban Lab, we chose to look at how, in the context of Lebanon, and in the aftermath of the October uprisings, the response to the Covid-19 impacts and reconfigures the political geography landscape.

This study provides a holistic overview of the transformations in the production and exchange of Beirut’s housing stock in the Lebanese post-civil war period.

Militarized security is perhaps one of the most defining aspects of Beirut’s public and shared spaces. Not only does it substantially influence everyday life, but it also reorganizes the city’s multiple publics, enforcing numerous forms of restrictions on some of the city’s users, while facilitating the fluid circulation of others. A closer look at Beirut’s militarized security reveals that what reads as a homogenous layer is in reality composed of heavily fragmented units that are managed by overlapping and decentralized systems that often blur the boundaries between public and private realms. Through the years, we have conducted several projects exploring the deployment of security, its effects on the reorganization of the urban geography of the city, and its repercussions on the daily practices of various groups of city users.

Levant Carta | Beirut is an online mapping tool that is currently being developed as a collaborative project between the Beirut Urban Lab and the Humanities Research Center at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Levant Carta | Beirut tracks urban evolution, archives social and urban histories, and crosses them with maps and media. In the process, it creates a comprehensive urban archive of Beirut, the first and only one of its kind.

Juxtaposed against a dominant historiography that describes Beirut’s growth as a process originating from a central physical or administrative core, this project brings to light narratives taken from the city’s peripheries that together posit a revised vision of the city’s production: one where informal settlements, refugee camps, and old villages appear as laboratories of city making.

As they inhabit urban quarters, refugees transform neighborhoods, appropriating blocks that gradually come to reflect their modes of dwelling and socialization.

By mapping the trajectories and networks of landmarks on which Syrian food delivery drivers rely to navigate the city, this research translates the challenge of studying “refugee urbanization” into an actual demonstration of the competence and performance of these urban actors as they learn and navigate Beirut.

A prevailing perception is that Syrians are establishing businesses and competing with the Lebanese, leading to violent reactions on the part of host communities. This study seeks to debunk the reductionist framing of ‘the Syrian refugee’ as a burden, and showcase the economic contribution that some Syrian entrepreneurs have been making to urban neighbourhoods.

POWER2YOUTH was a project funded under the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme (2014-17) to (1) explore the root causes and complex dynamics of youth exclusion and inclusion in the labour market and civic/political life; (2) to investigate the potentially transformative effect of youth agency and (3) to develop progressive and youth-informed policy guidelines for national and supranational policy-makers. Organized around 9 work packages, the project engaged 13 partner institutions from Europe and the SEM region, including 6 case study countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Occupied Palestinian Territories and Turkey), where original qualitative and quantitative data was collected from a range of sources (e.g. public statistics, public documents and academic studies, focus groups and interviews with young people and youth-based CSOs, and large-scale nation-wide surveys including a total of 7,573 young people between the ages of 15 and 29).

Publications

The expansion of Beirut towards its South-Western suburbs during the 1950s was justified by the desire to plan future urban development within the modernist ideals of geometric order and scientific ideals. In practice, however, the expansion also coincides with the growing role of Beirut as a beach-tourism magnet and a hub for the circulation of regional capital, both serving specific interests.

The current economic and financial crises in Lebanon require reconsideration for how policymakers approach land and its management. As the Lebanese look for options to reignite a failing economy, Mona Fawaz and Abir Zaatari argue in this brief that property taxation needs to be used to influence social policy and economic decisions positively.

Aleppo Taht Al-Qalaa documents the work of students in the URDS 602 studio offered by the graduate program in urban design at the American University of Beirut in the Spring of 2017-18 under the direction of Howayda Al-Harithy and Jala Makhzoumi. The book features the students' innovative, feasible, concrete spatial strategies for recovery in Aleppo through the reconstruction and reconfiguration of public space in post war times, particularly those charged with cultural heritage and focused in the area of Taht al Qalaa.

This paper, commissioned by The Asfari Institute at AUB and edited by Mona Harb uncovers four domains of mobilization that have been unraveling over the past decade in Lebanon, and have been playing significant roles in the series of protests and uprisings that characterize the scene of oppositional politics in the country. These include civil and political rights, urban rights, women’s rights, and GSBM rights (Gender, Sexuality, Bodily and Marginalized Groups). Each domain is investigated according to a common set of questions. Authors were invited to map actors organized in political and/or social action (such as movements, civil society organizations, unions, and other forms of collective action). They conducted a descriptive analysis of approaches and methods of advocacy, as well as of key event(s) that impacted the policy domain studied, in addition to examining how power configurations were produced. Moreover, patterns of structure, tactics of collective action, as well as types of issue framing were investigated.

More than five years into the “refugee crisis,” popular discourses and media debates in Lebanon still lack the vocabulary to describe the impressive competence of individuals and groups fleeing a war-torn country and the resilience they have demonstrated in facing difficult residency in nearby host countries. In this collection of essays, scholars, writers, designers and artists have set out to contest the stereotypical representation of Syrian refugees as destitute, powerless and passive aid recipients.

Beirut Zone 10 ‘s vision is for Beirut’s coast and its seafront to act as the city’s main landmark, the symbolic image that makes the unique identity of Lebanon’s capital. This translates into a commitment for Beirut’s coast as a continuous, accessible, and shared open space that acts as an economic enabler for the entire city while protecting its cultural, social, and ecological values for current and future generations.

This collection of essays and maps digs beyond the apparent dichotomies between public and private spaces in an effort to understand what makes public space such a complex minefield in Lebanon. Despite their dominant condemnation, the publication starts with the premise that practices of the commons/publics are sustained in Lebanon.

Winner of the British-Kuwait Friendship Society 2014 book prize, and cited as one of Choice Reviews’ 2014 outstanding academic titles, Leisurely Islam is a book co-authored by Mona Harb and Lara Deeb that investigates how South Beirut has become a vibrant leisure destination with a plethora of cafés and restaurants that cater to the young, fashionable, and pious. It explores what effects have these establishments had on the moral norms, spatial practices, and urban experiences of this Lebanese community? From the diverse voices of young Shi’i Muslims searching for places to hang out, to the Hezbollah officials who want this media-savvy generation to be more politically involved, to the religious leaders worried that Lebanese youth are losing their moral compasses, Leisurely Islam provides a sophisticated and original look at leisure in the Lebanese capital.

After the ceasefire, a group of architects and planners from the American University of Beirut formed the Reconstruction Unit to help in the recovery process and in rebuilding the lives of those affected by the 2006 war in Lebanon. They were interested in processes that would be more grassroots based; that would involve participatory procedures; and that would bring to the table issues like identity, memory, and heritage; aspects that are often forgotten in the haste of urgently needed reconstruction. Here, a series of case studies documenting the work of the Unit discusses the lessons to be learned from the experiences of Lebanon after the July War, and suggests how those lessons might be applied elsewhere. The cases are diverse in terms of scale, type of intervention, methods, and approaches to the situation on the ground. Critical issues such as community participation, heritage protection, damage assessment and compensation policies, the role of the state, and capacity building are explored and the success and failures assessed.

In the aftermath of the Israeli war, a group of Lebanese architects, planners, and engineers came together to envision alternatives for the rebuilding of Haret Hreik. They formed the Haret Hreik Task Team, a sub-unit of the Reconstruction Unit in the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut (AUB). After several failed attempts to engage local stakeholders in a public debate about the reconstruction of Haret Hreik, they organized an intensive four day design charrette that they hosted at AUB from January 17-20, 2007. The results of this exercise are presented in this book and consist primarily of three sets of maps that show existing conditions, analyze neighborhood patterns, and suggest interventions in reconstruction.