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Neighborhood Planning for a Divided City: The Case of Beirut



This article discusses planning within Municipal Beirut, Lebanon, while focusing on the specific context of divided cities and societies, proposing a series of recommendations based on socio-economic and political science and planning theory to understand such contexts. It explores the case of Municipal Beirut that has undergone a devastating blast on August 4th, 2020, and left thousands of households in critical condition by leaving an already shattered sectarian city/society with an unforeseen planning future. By examining successful examples or frameworks in other cities and similar-context cities in history with urban/social shocks, evaluating current planning initiatives, and analyzing the case study of the recent Beirut Urban Declaration report, this article investigates neighborhood planning as a flexible framework that one must undertake to provide the divided city of Beirut a healthy and sustainable development. It argues that difference and diversity are a noteworthy feature of the city of Beirut and its society and should hence be incorporated in any planning approach even if the consequences on the ground may differ. Considering that planning could change the spatial, socio-economic, and political dimensions of a defined urban space, this article explores which of these dimensions can be used to intensify or lessen contestations over space in Beirut under the current sectarian culture reflected in both social and spatial realms. In the wake of the blast and amid all these divisions, this article will show that neighborhood planning stands out as a flexible and sustainable solution. By establishing a spatially targeted program, introducing innovative tools for neighborhood planning and management, and initiating a small-scale governance structure, neighborhood planning will create an intermediate level between the municipality, citizens, and other local actors, enhancing its social capital and leading eventually to an undivided planning strategy at a national and city scale.
Urban Planning (ISSN: 2183–7635)
2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141
Neighborhood Planning for a Divided City: The Case of Beirut
David Aouad
Department of Architecture and Interior Design, Lebanese American University, Lebanon;
Submitted: 14 July 2021 | Accepted: 26 October 2021 | Published: 23 February 2022
This article discusses planning within Municipal Beirut, Lebanon, while focusing on the specific context of divided cities
and societies, proposing a series of recommendations based on socio‐economic and political science and planning theory
to understand such contexts. It explores the case of Municipal Beirut that has undergone a devastating blast on August 4th,
2020, and left thousands of households in critical condition by leaving an already shattered sectarian city/society with an
unforeseen planning future. By examining successful examples or frameworks in other cities and similar‐context cities in
history with urban/social shocks, evaluating current planning initiatives, and analyzing the case study of the recent Beirut
Urban Declaration report, this article investigates neighborhood planning as a flexible framework that one must undertake
to provide the divided city of Beirut a healthy and sustainable development. It argues that difference and diversity are a
noteworthy feature of the city of Beirut and its society and should hence be incorporatedin any planning approach even if
the consequences on the ground may differ. Considering that planning could change the spatial, socio‐economic, and polit‐
ical dimensions of a defined urban space, this article explores which of these dimensions can be used to intensify or lessen
contestations over space in Beirut under the current sectarian culture reflected in both social and spatial realms. In the
wake of the blast and amid all these divisions, this article will show that neighborhood planning stands out as a flexible and
sustainable solution. By establishing a spatially targeted program, introducing innovative tools for neighborhood planning
and management, and initiating a small‐scale governance structure, neighborhood planning will create an intermediate
level between the municipality, citizens, and other local actors, enhancing its social capital and leading eventually to an
undivided planning strategy at a national and city scale.
Beirut; Beirut Urban Declaration; divided city; divided society; intra‐urban inequalities; neighborhood planning;
sustainable post‐war recovery
This article is part of the issue “Urbanisation, Crisis, and Resilience: The Multiple Dimensions of Urban Transformation
in Beirut, Lebanon” edited by Liliane Buccianti‐Barakat (Saint Joseph University) and Markus Hesse (University of
© 2022 by the author(s); licensee Cogitatio (Lisbon, Portugal). This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribu‐
tion 4.0 International License (CC BY).
1. Introduction
The Beirut Port explosion on August 4th, 2020, was a
watershed event in the history of Lebanon and the cap‐
ital city of Beirut. Large sections of the Beirut Port and
its infrastructure were destroyed, including the silos that
contained most of Beirut’s grain reserves. The blast also
caused damage to several nearby residential neighbor‐
hoods and affected five major hospitals. Several govern‐
mental buildings were also damaged. It is a catastrophe
that affected the neighborhoods of Medawar, Karantina,
Al‐Badawi, Mar Mikhael, Rmeil, Gemayzeh, St. Nicolas,
and extended to Burj Hammoud, Ashrafieh, Bashoura,
and Zuqaq El Blat (Figure 1). It reached the other neigh‐
borhoods of the city leaving behind more than 200 peo‐
ple dead and thousands wounded; in addition, it has
damaged more than 6,000 buildings causing complete
or partial destruction (Table 1), and the displacement of
tens of thousands of residents of the area. This catas‐
trophic event has mobilized the efforts of many pro‐
fessionals, scholars, private and public institutions, as
well as NGOs. Amid a wave of local and international
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 129
organizations providing help and assistance for many,
within the current turbulent and unstable socio‐political
landscape brought about by the 4th of August events,
Beirut is impoverished by a series of overlapping poor
management where sectarianism has emerged as a cru‐
cial mobilizing agent in the struggle for urban reform
or preservation.
Since August 4th, and for many local and interna‐
tional professionals, scholars, and opportunistic develop‐
ers, the impact of the Beirut Port blast offered an oppor‐
tunity to appraise the relationship between many critical
aspects of the city planning such as the relationship of
the city to its suburbs, waterfront, and city center (Aouad
& Kaloustian, 2021). The lack of local planning and cross
sectorial master plans have generated clusters within the
city; the city center has become one of those clusters,
disconnected from its waterfront. Moreover, the con‐
trasting situation between the strive to preserve the her‐
itage and the complexity of its urban development have
led to the increased urbanization and city growth; the
infrastructure and service systems have, over the years,
become increasingly deficient. The lack of public spaces
impacts on urban climate, the urban divide, and inequal‐
ity have only grown deeper since the blast, causing a
combined and adverse impact on the quality of city life
(Aouad & Kaloustian, 2021).
While this article proposes community‐driven neigh‐
borhood planning as a method to guide post‐war recov‐
ery in divided neighborhoods, the key question asked is
not whether these methods will mitigate divisions among
neighborhoods as a result of these interventions, as this
is a different topic, but rather how the devastated neigh
borhoods should get organized to improve their quality
of life within a clustered and divided city. This article first
provides a short assessment of the divided city model—
its undertaking, enactment, and drawbacks. It then pro‐
vides examples of Beirut’s past and current city policies,
schemes, and approaches, and explores the evolution,
objectives, and goals of its current and future urban
trends. Through case studies and literature‐based evi‐
dence, this article argues that the urban planning meth‐
ods used prior to the blast, and possibly after, have led to
the emergence of intra‐urban inequalities in the affected
areas and generated divisions as well as civic disinterest.
One initiative will be singled out in the next sec‐
tion, not because it provides a sustainable solution, but
because it epitomizes a customary way of reshaping
urban environments towards an undivided city through its
attempt at bottom‐up neighborhood planning: the Beirut
Urban Declaration (BUD). Section 3 will describe and ana‐
lyze the different recommendations provided by the BUD
team and will critically highlight the different faux‐pas
Ras Beirut
Port of Beirut
Ain El-Mreisseh
Minet el Hosn
Zuqaq al Blat
Esri, HERE, Garmin, (c) OpenStreetMap contrib utors, and the GIS user community
Location Explosio n
Radius Explosion
Beirut River
Railway Line
Post Blast Damages
Beirut Topography
Beirut Parcels
Beirut Building Damages (Post August 4th Blast)
Figure 1. Post‐blast building damages in Beirut. Source: Author’s work based on the Order of Engineers and Architects
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 130
Table 1. Damaged buildings in Beirut from August 4th blast.
Damage Level No. %
Minor 2,236 33.81
Moderate 1,364 20.62
Major 2,981 45.08
Severe 31 0.47
Note: Surveyed from a total of 6,612 damaged buildings. Source: Order of Engineers and Architects (2020).
and missed opportunities. In response to the particular
and failing urbanism of Beirut (political, social, spatial,
anthropological, etc.). Section 4 will present a literature
review on different neighborhood planning approaches
within the same context of divided cities and introduce
small‐scale governance structure and innovative planning
tools, and community‐based neighborhood planning as
a method to create an intermediate level between the
different stakeholders (municipality, citizens, and other
local actors) through enhancing its social capital and even‐
tually leading to an undivided planning strategy at a
city/national scale. Section 4 will go through the different
recommendations for neighborhood planning in divided
cities and overlay them with the BUD recommendations
in order to draw conclusions in the final section.
2. Divided and Polarized Cities: Towards an
Understanding of Intra‐Urban Inequalities
In recent years, scholars, planners, developers, and pol‐
icy makers alike have given particular attention to the
concept of divided cities as a prolific model for under
standing divisions related to social, cultural, economic,
and political divisions. The divided city is a physical crisis
nested within a political crisis (Calame & Charlesworth,
2009); the physical nature of the city stems from its
local spatial, psychological, and economic dynamics that
operate semi‐autonomously and differentiates it from
larger political milieus. In most cases, a divided society
will eventually generate a divided urban space, hence a
clear interrelation is established between a divided soci‐
ety and a divided city (van Kempen, 2007). It is a mat
ter of the connection between social ramification and
social inequality on the one hand and spatial segrega‐
tion on the other. Inequalities can aggravate inconsis‐
tencies and abandon society’s most vulnerable members.
Bollens (2007) outlines the prospective role of cities in
their ability to reunite divided societies, where he argues
that urban planning could play a constructive role in
reuniting divided cities:
Division—whether it is physical or psychological—
is an extremely difficult emotion that spawns
hatred, grief, denial, depression, and forgiveness
[…]. Characterized by potent political, spatial, and
social‐psychological contestation [cities] are usefully
described as “polarized.” Where almost all cities are
divided socioeconomically and culturally, polarized
cities contain a depth of antagonism and opposition
beyond what the word divided connotes. (Bollens,
2012, pp. 16‐17)
2.1. Dividing Lines and Mental Frontiers
In extremely divided cities, the most notable processes
behind division are political and ideological oppressions
such as wars, as well as divide‐and‐rule and exit strate‐
gies of the colonizers (Caner & Bölen, 2016). This chal‐
lenging situation is well reflected in questions of iden‐
tity, national sovereignty, territory, culture, and religion.
Coupled with multiple socio‐economic differences cities
can often be divided, and rather than providing eco‐
nomic chance to citizens with different milieus and skills,
specific groups find themselves often isolated in specific
neighborhoods facing limitations to access opportuni‐
ties, amenities, and services. While the OECD report on
divided cities and understanding intra‐urban inequalities
considers the multiple dimensions of inequality, includ‐
ing income levels, migration, and accessibility, it argues
that there is a strong correlation between spatial inequal‐
ities and segregation in cities (OECD, 2018).
Spatial inequality in dwelling conditions or accessi‐
bility to social and physical infrastructure often materi‐
alize in urban areas of developing cities, affecting the
quality‐of‐life of those living in these areas (Martínez,
2009). To narrow the increasing gap between better‐off
and worse‐off neighborhoods, policy makers are trying
to compensate for discrepancies and target these under‐
privileged areas. Moreover, the specific morphology of
cities, their history, their geographical characteristics,
and the extent of inequality in a society are just a few
of the contingencies that determine the present and
future of divided cities (van Kempen, 2007). From such
contingencies emerge divisions; if not recognized, it is
impossible to draw a clear roadmap for the elaboration
of a sustainable planning strategy. Although the results
on the ground can work out very differently for each
place, it will be crucial to look at divided cities keep‐
ing in mind individual preferences, individual constraints,
and opportunities.
2.2. Damaged Identities and Broken Histories: Beirut,
a Divided City/Society
Beirut is a divided city: Although there was a clear
boundary during the civil war (Green Line), dividing the
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 131
Christian East and the Muslim West, today, hundreds
of such lines dissect the city (Bou Akar, 2018); urban
fault‐lines, physical markers, or invisible lines shape
behaviours and merge identities with territories (Bollens,
2012). However, while these dividing lines have been offi‐
cially removed, the climate of divide created by these
boundaries is still heavily anchored in the mental maps
of inhabitants. These mental maps, whether through psy‐
chological fractures, sectarian turbulence, racial turmoil,
or political obstacles, tend to emerge more often than
in the original times of civil conflict, providing profound
insights into the fear, separation, violence, and alien‐
ation that run through most large metropolises (Calame
& Charlesworth, 2009).
As a result of these invisible markers, Caner and
Bölen (2016) outline the production of functional, struc‐
tural, socio‐economic, and physical consequences, all
unique and non‐negligible (Table 2).
Divided cities are shaped by social, political, and spa‐
tial dynamics, speeding the production of conflict and
violence. In the case of Beirut, these dynamics are por‐
trayed in four aspects: (a) the urban differentials in the
settlement pattern of sectarian groups or communities
and their outcome in terms of the relationship between
the old and new urbanities; (b) the inter‐communal
social relations and the role of the urban condition
in shaping social interactions between communities;
(c) the influence of the urban condition on shaping the
political process and politicization of communities; and
(d) the outcomes of conflict and violence on re‐shaping
the city and its milieus (Yassin, 2008). While neighbor
hoods reproduce poverty, displacement, and urban vio‐
lence (Bou Akar, 2018), Beirut has always seen separate
enclaves co‐existing within its neighborhoods (Figure 2),
harnessing sectarian consciousness among its residents
(Silver, 2010). The term “urbicide” (Fregonese, 2009) has
been used critically to describe the role that built environ‐
ment played in defining the tactical maneuvers of rival
militias during the 1975–1976 civil war. Militias used sev‐
eral means to re‐organize the urban space and territory
according to the unfolding political, sectarian, and mili‐
tary realities. Acting as urban designers, militia leaders
redesigned the city and its context, transforming com‐
mercial and civic buildings to produce a new spatial order
aimed largely at reaffirming the new social and political
orders under their control (Yassin, 2012). Neighborhoods
were isolated by checkpoints; the city was changing its
materiality due to its conflicts (Fregonese, 2009). In 1990,
when the second civil war finally ended, division still
lingered in the city; clashes between different religious
groups resurfaced, and planning remained indifferent to
this reality (Davie, 1994). However, the infamous Green
Line, that once clearly divided the city in two (Yassin,
2012), has given way, throughout the years, to a more
complex and intertwined division scheme. As Figure 2
shows, and based on Table 2, several clusters have been
identified within the city: (a) the city center; (b) the edu‐
cational hubs of the American University of Beirut and
the Lebanese American University; (c) the camps (includ‐
ing but not limited to Mar Elias, Karm El‐Zeytoun, Nour
Hajin, and Basta); (d) the isolated port area; (e) Karantina
and Horsh Beirut (Pine Forest); and (f) the duplicated
commercial hubs of ABC Verdun and Achrafieh and the
stretches of Mar Mikhael and Hamra streets. The emer‐
gence of these clusters shows how stakeholders have
been approaching planning throughout the years, using
strategies that selectively “whiten” certain areas at the
expense of others (Avni & Yiftachel, 2014), pushing for
anesthetization, privatization, and gentrification.
Table 2. Urban consequences of the divisions in Beirut.
Type Consequences
Functional Consequences Decline in central functions of the urban core
Segregation of residential areas, ethnic enclaves
Bipolarization of commercial areas
Fading primacy of capital city administrative functions
Duplication of urban functions (transportation, services, etc.)
Change of functions in urban space
Structural Consequences Change in urban development patterns
Road‐dominated environment and proliferation of cul‐de‐sacs
Presence of frontier landscape
Proliferation of vacant land
Deterioration of buildings
Division of everyday artefacts
Socio‐Economic Consequences Economic depression and chronic fear
Population exchange, homogeneous zones
Socio‐economic divisions parallel with ethnic divisions
Note: The patterns highlighted are the result of the study of four cities: Berlin, Belfast, Jerusalem, and Beirut. Source: Caner and
Bölen (2016).
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 132
AUB (Americ an University of Beir ut)
LAU (Lebane se American University)
Esri, HERE, Garmin, (c) OpenStreetMap contrib utors, and the GIS user community
Railway Line
Non-Constructible Parcels
Location Explosio n
Local Economy Su rvey Data
Beirut_Hamra_Po lygon
Beirut Zoning
10_I; 10_II; 10_IV ; 10_IX
8_110; 8_11A; 8_14A; 8_1A ; 8_1_4A3; 8_IIA
Heritage Lots
Vacant Lots
Empty Lots
Parking Lots
UN Habitat Zone Data
Socio-economic Status
Half poor/half not poor
Majority poor
Beirut Topography
Beirut Parcels
Camps, Settlements,
Educational hubs
City center
Urban Consequences of the Divisions in Beirut
Figure 2. Urban consequences of the divisions in Beirut.
2.3. Uninformed Planning Decisions
Before, during, and after the Lebanese Civil War
(1975–1990), the spatial organization of Beirut has
strengthened the unfolding of diverging ideologies
(Yassin, 2008). Since the civil war, many schemes and
reconstruction plans have been proposed; however,
the problems that faced the implementation of those
schemes remain the same. They are most evident in the
rehabilitation of the center (Beirut Central District [BCD])
that symbolizes and mitigates Lebanon’s postwar short‐
comings: inequality, corruption, and segregation (Larkin,
2010a). With unclear state constitution and outsourced
public undertaking, urban planning has become a dis‐
pute between religious‐political organizations and profit‐
seeking developers (Bou Akar, 2018).
According to Verdeil (2012), there are four periods
of reconstruction of Beirut and its suburbs: (1) the
first downtown reconstruction project in 1977 follow‐
ing the two‐year war; (2) the second downtown Beirut
reconstruction attempt in 1982–1983, which was never
adopted; (3) the reconstruction of the BCD which was
entrusted to Solidere since 1991; and (4) the case of the
post‐war reconstruction of Haret Hreik (Waad Project),
in 2006. Moreover, the post‐war reconstruction phase
has been marked by two national plans: the National
Emergency Reconstruction Plan, orchestrated for the
first five years of reconstruction, and Plan Horizon 2000,
complemented later by Plan Horizon in 2005. The two
plans were managed by the Council for Development
and Reconstruction, established in 1977 as a public cen‐
tral management organism for all reconstruction works.
More than 100 projects were planned over 15 sectors,
essentially financed by foreign and internal loans (United
Nations Human Settlements Programme, 2003).
The above‐mentioned schemes were never about
a complete and sustainable planning solution for the
totality of the Lebanese territory; instead, they favored
selective urbanism and divisions, building on quick solu‐
tions from a developer’s perspective. I would extend
this argument to say that the reconstruction schemes
were almost treating the territory as an informal space,
secluded and isolated from all contingencies. Avni and
Yiftachel (2014), in their chapter on “gray spaces” in
divided cities, suggest that there are several typical
stages of urban policy responses to the emergence of
informality within the process of “gray spacing” in the
sense of informal development where ignoring, neglect
ing, limiting, and whitening selectively can be described
as the toolkit of managing the unwanted/irremovable
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 133
in today’s urban regions and economies. By ignoring
the needs of citizens, neglecting the real urban issues,
limiting interventions, and whitening selectively certain
areas such as Solidere, the state has prolonged turning
a blind eye to what is really needed, proposed under
developed schemes and policies, violently limited the
areas of intervention, and pushed for anesthetization,
privatization, and gentrification. When the numerous
systems that are essential for the city functioning fail and
stop being efficient, they result in the emergence of nega‐
tive economic, social, and environmental impact. In addi‐
tion to the deficit in government provision of services
because of weak management practices urban informal
systems emerge, complementing or competing with for‐
mal services in order to meet the everyday needs of
urban residents (Farajalla et al., 2017). As an example,
the development of the BCD promised a social recovery
through economic renewal (Fricke, 2005); instead, it was
conceived in a complete isolation, enclosing the city cen‐
ter by a limited ring road and a connector to the highway
leading to the airport. By creating a vacuum within the
city, a space devoid of social matter, it managed to dis‐
connect the city from its center and displaced families,
owners, and tenants (Larkin, 2010a; Yahya, 2004). More
critically, the sectarianized and enclaved city continued
to be spatially divided across the war‐induced sectarian
lines, indicating a failure to return to normalcy (Yassin,
2012). War‐damaged cities also force citizens to explore
urban antagonism and tolerance and to see how design‐
ers, planners, and policymakers can contribute practi‐
cally to the alleviation of racial and social segregation
(Calame & Charlesworth, 2009).
On the other hand, many of the proposed projects by
professionals invited to participate in the post‐war recon‐
struction process seemed unrealistic (Charlesworth,
2007). They tend to propose quick interventions that
are of interest to international donors, investors, and
developers, which in some cases hastened the funda‐
mental reasons of conflict due to either their lack of
expertise working in split political and physical land‐
scapes or the lack of interest in finding real solutions
for serious urban issues. Functionalist planning and zon‐
ing as a way to deal with sectarianism (Bollens, 2012)
and the obsession for building iconic landmarks is put
upfront by local and foreign architects who assumed
that the systematic rebuilding of the historic core of the
devasted city will restore the city, almost immediately,
to its prewar identity and community spirit. Such posi‐
tions frequently overlooked the fact that the surround‐
ing urban fabric, infrastructure, and social fabric are all
in shambles. Most of the time, leftover areas, transition
zones, and boundaries of conflict, or the often aban‐
doned and neglected peripheries of the central zones of
cities were ignored (Charlesworth, 2007). Despite some
attempts to redirect Beirut towards a wider Lebanese
state building project and ever‐changing geopolitics of
the region (Larkin, 2010b), it was clear that some pil‐
lar planning terminologies such as connectivity, mobility,
middle class, sustainability, heritage preservation, social
inclusion, public space, environment, and demography
were fated to become obsolete.
In post‐conflict cities, political opportunities may
arise fueled by the attractiveness of the concept of city
reconstruction. Stemming from the various dynamics
behind the reconsolidation of a national identity and eco‐
nomic recovery, ambitious political endeavors, and long‐
term agenda could be deceiving (Charlesworth, 2007).
Since the port blast in August 2020, some real awareness
started to emerge regarding the state of the city, its failed
urban heritage, and its vague future.
3. Beirut Urban Declaration: A Case Study
The BUD initiative was launched on August 10th,
2020, with the participation of the Order of Engineers
and Architects in Beirut, the schools of architecture
in Lebanon, the Chadirji Foundation for Architecture
and Society, the Architects Association, and the Urban
Planning Association. This initiative was a response
to the devastating explosion of the Beirut Port on
August 4th, 2020 (Order of Engineers and Architects,
2021). It reviews a set of ideas that would constitute a
starting point for work to formulate an integrated vision
for the reconstruction of the affected areas. It proposes
a national vision for reconstruction, heritage rehabilita‐
tion, protection of the social fabric, distinguished urban
identity in affected areas, and the reformulation of the
port relationship within its urban context. The declara‐
tion is an intellectual and cultural endeavor that con‐
tributes to the formulation of a comprehensive vision in
form of ideas and proposals of the reformation of the
city. The compiled report aims at addressing the chal‐
lenges of depopulating the city from its residents and
demography change by offering officials and institutions
proposals and quick practical and operational options.
By proposing a comprehensive view of socioeconomic
and urban aspects dealing with the damaged area as an
urban fabric fully integrated with its surroundings, the
declaration highlights the course of action and the role
that the OEA could play in visualizing the rehabilitation
of the impacted region in collaboration with universities.
The BUD emphasizes preserving the heritage urban
fabric, which consists of their general fabric and the con‐
stituent units of this tissue, as a site in which individuals’
socio‐economic behavior is practiced. Considering the
heritage character of the affected area, it will be crucial
to determine the paths between urgent, medium‐, and
long‐term to eventually establish an observatory. Finally,
the need to initiate appropriate policies and a reconstruc‐
tion management must go through devising mechanisms
that can guarantee wide participation of the society and
specialists. Research focusing on the study of the urban
typo‐morphology of the area and connectivity of the
Medawar/Karantina–Rmeil (Aouad & Kaloustian, 2021)
presented during the BUD conference back in April 2021
(see Figure 3), recognizes the following:
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 134
Axis Ibrahim Bac ha / El-Khodr Street s
Charles Helou Hi ghway
Vacant Parcels
Built Khodr Stree t
Built Ibrahim Ba cha Street
Built Charles Helo u Highway
Beirut River
Railway Line
Beirut Parcels
Regeneration of Ibrahim Bacha and El-Khodr Streets
Figure 3. BUD: Axe 3. The regeneration of Ibrahim Bacha and El‐Khodr Streets is represented in red. Source: Author’s work
based on the Order of Engineers and Architects (2021).
Sustainable urban planning can be partly achieved
through small scale interventions such as the reac‐
tivation of vacant lots and non‐constructible parcels
through connected paths and the re‐use of heritage
buildings….Reactivating public life, through the elab‐
oration of neighborhood scale urban strategies and
engaging residents in improving their built environ‐
ment, should be a priority. (Aouad & Kaloustian,
2021, p. 9)
Although the roadmap of the declaration was paved with
good intentions, it could be argued that the methods
used still fundamentally stem from the traditional plan‐
ning school. Having played a major role in the develop‐
ment of Axe 3 (Figure 4) that led to the final formulation
of the BUD, one must admit that the BUD was far from
serious field‐work surveys and accurate social assessment
of the devastated areas and their inhabitants. This part
was at times compensated by work from NGOs but never
really compiled and overlayered to the academic work
the BUD was preparing. Collaboration at early stage with
field groups/NGOs was required and could have been cru‐
cial in the elaboration of a more in depth understanding
of the needs of neighborhoods. One of the downsides
of the report is that it does not effectively acknowledge
the new reality of divisions highlighted above (Figure 2).
Although it was clear from the beginning that no master‐
plan for the city of Beirut would be developed to avoid
falling in the trap of traditional planning, it was quickly
obvious that the lack of field data and close encounters
with inhabitants would lead to a generic solution far from
the imposed realities of the urban situation.
Local stakeholders are uncritically adopting such ini‐
tiatives, exploring their ambitions, measures, as well as
the impediment of their strategies. Any sustainable city
strategy that disregards those differences and diversities
have and will introduce an urban entrepreneurship that
reinforces exclusion and welcomes gentrification rather
than disintegrating social and ethnical boundaries.
4. Scaling Down
While the BUD in most of its approach still clings to
the idea of the city as a unified physical model, a
top‐down approach in disguise undermining the differ
ences that subsist between individuals, it is time to
shift the focus from this broader understanding of the
city to an approach centered around navigating social,
infrastructural, economic, and environmental complex
ity (Myerson, 2016): This is called scaling down. It could
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 135
Port of Beirut
Port of Beirut
Port of Beirut
Axis Ibrahim Bac ha / El-Khodr Street s
Charles Helou Hi ghway
Heritage Building s
Connecting Platfo rm
Vacant Parcels
Beirut River
Railway Line
Non-Constructible Parcels
Medawar Parcels
Beirut Parcels
Karantina / Medawar District
Sustainable Urban Interv entions
Figure 4. BUD. Study of the urban typo‐morphology of the area and its connectivity to neighboring parts: Case study of
the areas of Medawar/Karantina–Rmeil in Municipal Beirut. Source: Author’s work based on and map from Aouad and
Kaloustian (2021, p. 10).
be argued that it is still too soon to completely ditch tra‐
ditional planning tools at the expense of more creative
and innovative ones; however, imposing fixed master
plans in post‐conflict situations could prove too rigid and
superficial of an approach and need to be re‐assessed.
While the BUD has set itself a goal from the beginning
that a master plan would not be the main objective, all
actions and recommendations still rely heavily on tra‐
ditional planning tools moving away from sustainability,
long‐term economic viability, and improved social cohe‐
sion. With the recent rise of people‐centered approaches
focusing on specific human needs and experiences, the
BUD privileged the urban level dismissing that there is
a fragmentation and breakdown of the urban system
where the center no longer holds. In seeking post‐conflict
reconciliation and building horizontal linkages that sup‐
port citizenship, micro‐scale, street level interventions
with an incremental approach may be a more appropri‐
ate frame of reference and could present better oppor
tunities for mixing rather than being districts of fear
and sectarian retrenchment (Bollens, 2012). For the res‐
idents of Beirut, this kind of urban planning could hold
promise where a new spatial order could bring a peace‐
ful future (Bou Akar, 2018).
4.1. The Neighborhood
A neighbourhood is a collection of individuals who
share services and some level of cohesion in a geo‐
graphically bounded place. Among three keywords defin‐
ing neighbourhoods—people, place, and cohesion—
place is the most noticeable term to distinguish neigh‐
bourhoods from other terms like community (Park &
Rogers, 2015). Waves of migration and displacement
from and towards Beirut have played a crucial role
in the city’s shifting demographics, sense of diversity,
and urban transformation (Faour, 1991). Pre‐civil war
migration from rural areas, the Lebanese civil war,
the Armenian refugees’ camps, the recent Syrian cri‐
sis, the current post‐war/blast era, and a continuous
change in land‐use, character, and identity have shuf‐
fled the demographic and reshaped the city by build‐
ing clusters within and around it and favoring sectar‐
ian peripheral centralities and isolating neighborhoods.
A planning workshop organized in 2007 by the American
University of Beirut, focusing on the Mar Mikhael neigh‐
borhood (Ghaddar, 2020), has shown that many of
these events carry direct effects on the current status
of neighborhoods in Beirut: Evictions, displacements,
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 136
abandonments, re‐appropriation of public space, demo‐
graphic changes and degradation of residual spaces,
changes in economic activity, and deterioration of old
businesses have impacted decisions regarding the built
environment, provision of economic opportunities, and
delivery of public services.
In divided cities such as Beirut, it is essential that
the social and economic dynamics behind segregation
of neighborhoods be understood (Grigsby et al., 1987),
since they have a direct effect on processing conversions
in quarters and neighborhood characteristics and spatial
patterns (Megbolugbe et al., 1996). Grigsby’s realism in
understanding what policies can really do as opposed
to what individuals wish they could do is reflected in
his affirmation to characterize neighborhood change in
terms of occupants rather than the physical condition of
the stock (Megbolugbe et al., 1996). In one of the axes
developed by the BUD, the neighborhoods along the two
streets of El‐Khodr and Ibrahim Bacha (Figure 4) were
defined not because they belong to the same districts,
but rather because they are organized along two histori‐
cal commercial strips that have been in decay for the past
few years. El‐Khodr Street still has traces of the old rail‐
way tracks and denotates a strong socio‐economic cohe‐
sion along its edges through the commercial shops and
income level of its inhabitants. By highlighting this strip,
analyzing the typo‐morphology of its built fabric, and
classifying the urban elements that are integrate parts
of the city, this approach recognizes the existing urban
forms supplemented by existing or desired functions in
the neighborhood (Order of Engineers and Architects,
2021). However, a participatory mindset is painfully miss‐
ing from this approach, making those design methods
seem almost obsolete. Collaborative methods and a
deeper investigation of the real needs of the population,
highlighting the challenging and complex problems that
people are facing on daily basis, could lead to a rather
design‐infused approach (Myerson, 2016).
4.2. Community‐Driven Neighborhood Planning in the
Divided City of Beirut
Neighbourhood‐based planning is more reactive to local
influences since problems are small enough to effec‐
tively engage the residents and local stakeholders (Park
& Rogers, 2015). One of the main impediments to the
enactment of an alternative vision for the neighborhood
is the absence of effective planning tools in Lebanon’s
planning regulations. Beirut neighborhoods play many
different roles in the city and attract divergent and dis‐
parate communities. Prone to speculative developments
and a sense of exclusiveness, Beirut’s urbanization is
highly random and developer‐oriented, lacking an insti‐
tutional framework that would be adequate to develop
a neighborhood planning approach based on community
participation, carrying capacity, safety, and environmen‐
tal quality. A strategic intervention at the scale of the
neighborhood should be led by authorized local commu‐
nity organizations, known as qualifying bodies (neighbor
hood planning bodies), and requires the initiation of a
bottom‐up, inclusive, and people‐centered recovery pro‐
cess. Through the transformation of structures of social
life from top‐down to bottom‐up, the institutionalization
of the existing structures might facilitate accommodative
and transformative behavior, coexisting with uncivil prac‐
tices and institutions (Mady & Chettiparamb, 2016).
Five recommendations are proposed so that
community‐driven neighborhood planning leads to trans‐
formative change acknowledging the divided nature of
the society. It is worth noting that the article is not
focused on “how” these recommendations are unrav
eled but more on “what” they consist of in terms of meth‐
ods. Through inclusive neighborhood planning, broaden‐
ing the opportunities for individuals across neighbor‐
hoods, using performance‐based planning, linking the
most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and promoting and
protecting the collective public sphere, a shift to reverse
could be achieved, leading to a better understanding of
the social fabric, hence creating with the people rather
than for them (Myerson, 2016).
First, through land‐use regulations that facilitate the
building of new housing, engaging in equity planning
that addresses underlying root issues, neighborhoods
could become more inclusive, livable, equal, and afford‐
able. The BUD (Order of Engineers and Architects, 2021)
acknowledges that this point constitutes an important
factor in developing a dynamic overview that addresses
the history of all existing buildings since it represents
the culture of Lebanese society; in addition to the for
mulation of building regulation to reflect the history of
the society and its relationship to the public and pri‐
vate scales of the city, both have failed to acknowl‐
edge that prior to the blast the city council had always
been very politicized and represented almost all the
political parties of the city and thus very few decisions
were taken in the right direction and without consen‐
sus. Moreover, and for the past several decades, no
revision of the city’s urban master plan has been pro‐
posed despite the present sanitary and cultural emer
gencies the city is facing. In light of these setbacks, in
a city that has scaled down its governance to smaller
divisions, a proposal has been currently inapplicable
and already rejected by several politicians to avoid
any sectarian divisions (Mady & Chettiparamb, 2016).
One would argue that relying on the existing political
structure to implement such revisions could be almost
impossible, hence the shift to a smaller scale interven‐
tion, bottom‐up community approach that would dele‐
gate powers, even temporarily, to neighborhoods within
municipalities by betting on civil society engagement to
voice concerns and protect from the constant govern‐
ment vetoes. By de‐institutionalizing the process and dis‐
engaging from formal structures, transformative action
could be unleashed.
Second, in broadening opportunities for individu‐
als across neighborhoods lacking access to high‐quality
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 137
education and training, along with empowering
marginalized groups, community‐driven neighborhood
planning implies the recognition that anyone can make a
difference in their life as well as that of others. In Beirut,
the government does not and cannot allocate suffi‐
cient resources to efficiently support programs aim‐
ing at poverty reduction. In this context, civil society
organizations, including a wide range of organizations,
may take over this responsibility and promote and sup‐
port self‐help institutions, volunteer organizations, and
groups of interest to fight poverty. However, civil soci‐
ety cannot operate in a vacuum or in isolation; as a
result, there must be a network and a connection with
both government institutions, the private sector, and
international organizations. The BUD mentions in its
report that the socio‐economic challenges stemming
from the urban transformations of the city are mainly
based on the local community transformations, which
will eventually organize the needed services of the local
community in order to formulate a clear methodology
that helps structure the social needs. The BUD report
(Order of Engineers and Architects, 2021) includes a soci‐
ological study that has covered several individuals from
different groups and sectors in the region, enquiring
about people’s needs, their view of planned or observed
projects, their diagnosis of the most pressing issues, and
their future speculations. However, as mentioned previ‐
ously, the study has failed to acknowledge the current
divisions that these neighborhoods are going through
resulting in identity‐based breaches; it rather enhances
those breaches by focusing on the current state of these
neighborhoods. The proposed recommendations such
as considering social culture as a priority, establishing
business incubators, and securing education and health
have barely touched base with groups or NGOs working
on the ground. Rather than building a common database
that would become a foundation for future studies, it
has resulted in fractions of data disseminated amongst
groups making it very difficult for all involved parties to
assess the reality of the situation on the ground.
Third, by using performance‐based planning param‐
eters such as performance zoning, neighborhood sus‐
tainability assessment tools (Sharifi & Murayama, 2014),
flexible zoning, outcome‐oriented planning, and effect‐
based planning (Baker et al., 2006), the emphasis is put
on short‐term tactical interventions. A recent report by
Chetwyn (2018) defines three stages for the develop‐
ment of neighborhood plan roadmap using performance‐
based planning that will elaborate a planning policy for
a neighborhood area to guide future development: first,
designating the neighborhood area and the neighbor‐
hood forum while building an evidence base and engag‐
ing publicly; second, drafting the plan while meeting
the basic conditions (national policy, sustainable devel‐
opment, conformity with strategic policies, and other
obligations) and preparing pre‐submission consultations;
and third, bringing the plan into force by submitting it
to local planning authorities, publicizing it, examining
it independently, and assessing it for lessons learned.
Creating a neighborhood plan is about making efficient
use of land and may include a vision, goals, planning poli‐
cies, and suggestions for improving the area by adding
new facilities or designating key sites for specific types
of development. It should acknowledge social, economic,
and environmental issues such as housing, employment,
design, heritage, and transport or it may focus on just
one or two issues (Chetwyn, 2018).
Fourth, in striving to enhance people’s physical and
psychological assets and building on what individuals
and communities have to offer, it will be significant
to negotiate linking the most disadvantaged neighbor‐
hoods with places of opportunity through better trans‐
port connections between the locations of jobs and
residential locations using flexible and porous urban
forms. The researcher’s contribution within the BUD
dealt with the pillar of architectural urban transforma‐
tions and socio‐economic changes based on which ser‐
vice data could be used by the local community and
which must be studied to form a clear methodology
for developing the city’s structure. This condition is
reflected in this study through the reconnection of Mar
Mikhael area with Karantina through the reactivation of
two main roads that historically represent this relation‐
ship with the areas before the Charles El Helou high‐
way, namely Ibrahim Bacha Street and Al Khodor Street
(Figure 4). However, in that case, the concept of mobility
should have been introduced, by working with experts
in that discipline and co‐designing and prototyping new
means of transportation. In an effort to bring aware‐
ness to bottom‐up planning within the neighborhood
of Badawi, at the Eastern edge of Beirut city, one ven‐
ture is aiming to do so: Through the collaboration of
KU Leuven, the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts, and the
Institute of Environmental Studies and Research at the
Lebanese American University, an e‐bike and low‐tech
energy device do‐it‐yourself workshop will be launched.
The workshop, launched on the 11th of November 2021,
has kickstarted a larger and longer project in Lebanon
aimed at creating a sustainable citizen‐based network
or infrastructure. Apart from the practical work, there
were talks, lectures, guest teachers, and discussions on
how a participative society works and what are the obsta‐
cles and challenges for enabling micro‐scale governance
structures tackling the question of whether a bottom‐up
urbanism is possible in Beirut.
Fifth, for the seed of urban stability and co‐existence
to grow, the public sphere in both physical and insti‐
tutional forms should encompass and respond to all
competing identity groups in the city by promoting and
protecting the collective public sphere. Physically, plan‐
ners should revitalize and redevelop public spaces, his‐
toric areas, and other urban public assets as places of
interaction and neutrality that promote healthy inter
group and interpersonal life. Instead of focusing on the
inflammatory choice between segregation versus inte‐
gration of residential areas, concentration on improving
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 138
public spaces may offer another approach less diffi‐
cult to achieve for political reasons. As a result, there
is a push for mixed public spaces rather than mixed
neighborhoods. The goal is to enable increased cross‐
ethnic mingling in non‐hostile, non‐polarizing public
environments rather than trying to adopt the more
inflammatory approach of having different ethnicities co‐
habitat residentially (Bollens, 2012). However, this can
be better achieved by allowing for better communica‐
tion and negotiation based on a common understanding
of shared values through a consensus‐oriented process
(Mady & Chettiparamb, 2016) that could eventually mit‐
igate certain small divisions within a specific neighbor
hood leading to a rich and diverse set of micro‐practices
in the hope of achieving a better quality of life.
5. Conclusion
This article has explored neighborhood planning in
deeply divided cities/societies in Beirut. It has been sug‐
gested that while clear dividing lines have been officially
removed after the civil war, it is now a reality that the cli‐
mate of divide created by these boundaries is still heav
ily anchored in the mental maps of inhabitants. Whether
through psychological fractures, sectarian and racial tur‐
bulence, or political obstacles, profound insights into
the fear, separation, violence, and alienation run within
the city of Beirut. Under the circumstances, and more
specifically following the August 4th tragic blast, it has
been argued that some unique and non‐negligible func‐
tional, structural, socio‐economic, and physical conse‐
quences have emerged and that it would be more use‐
ful to shift planning from the traditional schemes and
reconstruction plans that have been proposed so far,
since the civil war, to a more neighborhood‐centered
sustainable approach. Since the blast, there has been
considerable interest in bottom‐up initiatives with plan‐
ning centered more towards civil society‐led initiatives.
While the question of how planners might work with
such initiatives is important, it has been argued that the
question of how devastated neighborhoods should get
organized, almost autonomously, to rebuild what was
lost and enhance their quality of life is equally impor‐
tant and must be reasonably answered. Building upon
the divided cities and neighborhood planning literature
and critically dissecting the action plan of the BUD as a
potentially innovative approach to city planning, five rec‐
ommendations have been suggested that may need to
be present individually or in combination in bottom‐up
initiatives attempting to bridge deep differences. These
recommendations involve inclusive neighborhood plan‐
ning, broadening the opportunities for individuals across
neighborhoods, using performance‐based planning, link‐
ing the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, and promot
ing and protecting the collective public sphere. It has
been argued that through the implementation of these
tools, a shift to reverse could be achieved, leading to a
better understanding of the social fabric, hence creating
with the people rather than for the people. The presence
of these five tools has been demonstrated in the case
study of the BUD showing how some of the aspects of
the report have responded effectively to the bottom‐up
approach for neighborhood planning by using strategies
that encompass the five ways identified earlier. However,
it has also identified its weaknesses as far as its lack
of collaboration with civil society and NGOs, the polit‐
ical agenda setbacks related to previous master plans,
the concepts of mobility, and the deep understanding of
the social and physical divide that exist within its realm.
While these initiatives are not, by themselves, the solu‐
tion to the conflicting divisions within the city and soci‐
ety, they can certainly contribute to an agenda that seeks
to cut‐across narrow sectarianism to confront, exchange,
and acknowledge a wider program. At the very least,
they provide conceptual and experiential resources use‐
ful in developing a flexible framework for the sustainable
development of the devastated neighborhoods allowing
field professionals such as architects, planners, urban
designers, and landscape architects to engage in the pro‐
cesses of social, economic, and physical reconstruction
shifting their focus from the city scale traditional plan‐
ning tools to local planning tools at a neighborhood scale.
Hence, this article has called for a revamping and under
taking of the sustainable city model in which intra‐urban
inequalities, divisions, and civic disinterest are the focal
point rather than the understanding of the specificities
of each neighborhood and its users, including the enact‐
ment of social differences, not only as an urban develop‐
ment strategy, but also as a human right.
Conflict of Interests
The author declares no conflict of interests.
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About the Author
David Aouad is assistant professor of practice at the Lebanese American University, Lebanon. He is
director of the Institute of Environmental Studies and Research and founding partner of DAJH
Architects. Aouad’s research agenda revolves mainly around topics of critical importance within the
public realm such as residual spaces, disconnected urban fragments, urban heat islands, rural regen‐
eration, urban crisis management, and divisions within the city. He is working on a series of intercon‐
nected research projects in Beirut on urban mobility, habitability, and the urban project. His writings
on non‐constructible parcels, urban heat islands, education, and sustainable planning have been pub‐
lished in Climate, Sustainability,Mobility and Design, and in many edited collections on architectural
societal challenges, sustainability, and climate.
Urban Planning, 2022, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 129–141 141
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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In this unique book Scott A. Bollens combines personal narrative with academic analysis in telling the story of inflammatory nationalistic and ethnic conflict in nine cities – Jerusalem, Beirut, Belfast, Johannesburg, Nicosia, Sarajevo, Mostar, Bilbao, and Barcelona. Reporting on seventeen years of research and over 240 interviews with political leaders, planners, architects, community representatives, and academics, he blends personal reflections, reportage from a wealth of original interviews, and the presentation of hard data in a multidimensional and interdisciplinary exploration of these urban environments of damage, trauma, healing, and repair.
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This text is a translation of : Verdeil, Eric. 2012. « La reconstruction entre politiques et cultures urbanistiques. Réflexions à partir de l’exemple de Beyrouth ». Majalat al-mi‘mar al ‘arabi (Journal of Arab Architecture), # 4-5: 175 89. It was first presented during the conference Waad: The uniqueness of experience. Workshop on the reconstruction of the Southern suburb of Beirut after the Israeli aggression in 2006, 12-13 June 2012. Since this translated version has not been revised by the author, might be sometimes unclear. Please refer to the French version as the reference version.