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Public spaces in Beirut: life, death, rebirth?

May 22, 2015 4:00 pm

Beirut still bears the scars of the 15-year-long civil war. Nowadays, after more than 20 years of reconstruction marked by the predominance of private initiatives, the urban development struggles to impose itself; and so do the possibilities and the shared public spaces projects.
Yet the ecological balance of the Lebanese capital and its involvement in the xxi century will depend closely on the need to develop a public space, from the topographical meaning to the political meaning of the term agora, that could arouse consensus, encourage meetings and mixing. It’s in this way, without spilling into the naive and abstract apology of a city without tensions, that we can hope to smooth out the discrepancies of an unregulated urbanization: segregation here, promiscuity elsewhere, pollution, tension, and violence.
Reconstruction and reconciliation were closely tied together in the afterwar leitmotivs. The fickleness of the latter finally rejoined the excessiveness of the first, at the expense of material locations, sites of exchanges, or civic ceremonies. Nowadays, the matter relies on Beirut’s ability, as an urban entity, to meet the requirements of a sustainable productive city in terms of culture, and in terms of economic and social initiatives.

The meetings of May

The meetings during May, organized by the IFL and the IFPO, seek the participation of different actors, analysts, or members of the civic society. a variety of points of views will be brought to light and will be debated by a large audience across Beirut’s emblematic sites, chosen as hub of exchanges that will revolve around a number of themes: the impact of the private sector on urban renewal; the role of the state on the current outline of the city; the presence of politics or conflict in urban practices; the shaping of public spaces by popular practice…
a public round table will launch the general discussion of these different themes. The corniche will then be discussed, symbol of public spaces and without a doubt a unique site of populations mixing in terms of ages, social backgrounds, and activities. Ramlet at-Bayda, the last public beach in Beirut being partly destined to welcome real estate development, will be tackled as well. The discussion will move on to the Bois des pins, currently rarely open to the public, and which is undergoing a project of landscape conversion.
The discussion will finish on Safi village, one of Solidere’s main achievements on the border of the city center. This broad overview will be concluded by a tour commented by speakers and by an artistic performance entrusted to a Lebanese creator on the theme of public space.
This program has been made in consultation with Youssef Tohmé, a Lebanese architect // YTAA – Youssef Tohme Architects and Associates – http://www.yousseftohme.com

4 pm: Saifi village, a place apart?
With Tony Chakar, architect, author; Habib Debs, architect, town planner; Nadia Von Malzahn, a researcher at the orient-Institut of Beirut; Amira Sohl, director of the urban planification department at Solidere
debate moderator: Caecilia Pieri, responsible of the urban observatory /IFPO

6 pm: the coast, from east to west
With Valérie Clerc, town planner, architect, institut de recherche pour le développement (ird); Marlène Ghorayeb, architect, historian, special school of architecture, Paris; Philippe Tabet, general director, har-properties; Sarah Yassine, town planner
Debate moderator: Vincent Geisser, sociologist et political scientist, cnrs researcher at the ifpo