City Debates 2022: In-Crises Planning/Planning in Crisis

City Debates 2022 will explore how planning can be (re)conceived and practiced in contexts of dysfunctional states and compounded crises, featuring the work of the AUB/MSFEA Beirut Urban Lab (BUL).

Dates: March 18-19, 2022
Venue: Bathish Auditorium, West Hall, AUB


City Debates 2022 is open to the public, and will be live streamed on AUB channels:

To join the event in-person, and given places are limited due to health regulations, please register by emailing: [email protected].

Friday March 18, 2022

6:00-7:30pm, Keynote Panel 

The panel presents the rich professional experience in urban planning and design practice of Ms.  Ariella Masboungi, architect and urban planner, holder of the French Grand Prix de l’Urbanisme in 2016. She directed the "projet urbain" national program for the ministry in charge of Urbanism and worked across complex settings in Europe and beyond. She reflected on her practice in several books, including Le plaisir de l’urbanisme (2016) and La ville pas chiante (2021). 

Welcome and opening remarks
Mona Harb, BUL, American University of Beirut

Planning and Design Practices in European Cities, What Pathways for Tomorrow?
Ariella Masboungi, Architect and Urban Planner, Former Inspector General for sustainable development in the French ministry for sustainability
Discussant: Robert Saliba, American University of Beirut

Saturday March 19, 2022 

9:30-10:00am, Welcome

10:00-11:30am, Panel 1: A Framework for Urban Recovery 

Of Planning and Crises
Mona Fawaz, BUL, American University of Beirut

Towards a People-Centered and Heritage-Led Urban Recovery
Howayda Al-Harithy, BUL, American University of Beirut

Who Governs Planning in “Failed” States? 
Mona Harb, BUL, American University of Beirut

Mapping and Visualizing amidst Data Scarcity
Ahmad Gharbieh, BUL, American University of Beirut

Moderator: Joseph Bahout, IFI, American University of Beirut 
Discussant: Lina Abou Habib, Asfari Institute, American University of Beirut 

11:30am-12:00pm, Coffee break

12:15-2:00pm, Panel 2: Producing Knowledge Platforms 

On BUL’s Knowledge Platforms
Hayfaa Abou Ibrahim, Luna Dayekh, Antoine Kallab, Soha Mneimneh, Leyla El-Sayed Hussein, Isabela Serhan and Abir Zaatari, BUL, American University of Beirut

Moderator: Melanie Hauenstein, UNDP
Discussant: David Aouad, SArD and IESR, Lebanese American University 

2:00-3:30pm, Lunch Break 

3:30-5:00pm, Panel 3: Planning and Design Practice through “Micro-Urbanism” 

Recovering Public Spaces: Incremental Tactics, Integrated Design, Holistic Vision
Mariam Bazzi, Mahmoud Bou Kanaan, Abir Cheaitli, Ali Ghaddar, Lynn Hamdar, Dana Mazraani and Batoul Yassine, BUL, American University of Beirut

Moderator: Serge Yazigi, American University of Beirut 
Discussant: Christine Mady, Notre Dame University-Louaize  

5:30-6:00pm, Closing Commentary

Jad Tabet, Former President of the Order of Engineers and Architects 
Mona Fawaz, American University of Beirut 

Conference Framing and Rationale

Beirut’s current in-disaster recovery epitomizes a recurrent scenario in contemporary times, one in which decades of neoliberal governance have hollowed-out public agencies, particularly in developing countries, and left communities vulnerable to large-scale climate or man-made events. In Lebanon and many other contexts of the Global South, even the illusion of representative or people-centered public governance has waned, and public agencies are widely identified as partisan bodies representing private (propertied and financial) interests. The very premise of planning is shaken, since the profession has rested on the now debunked assumption of a common good embodied by a custodian—the nation state. How do cities recover in such contexts? To what extend can relief agencies, local and international, operate in the absence of such a custodian? Can active civic groups and mobilized citizens provide counterpoints? 

As Beirut Urban Lab’s co-directors were elaborating their research agendas, even prior to the establishment of the Lab in 2018, they were observing, documenting, and strategically intervening on the multiple wars, crises and disasters that mar Beirut and other Lebanese cities and regions—which formed a quasi-laboratory where the questions above, and other related ones, relevant to Beirut and numerous other contexts, can be explored. 

It is therefore important to conceptualize planning responses—including recovery—as an intervention amidst compounded crises, and not in its aftermath. Indeed, Beirut’s ongoing post-Port Blast’s “recovery” is occurring in the context of a financial and economic meltdown and a full political crisis—in addition to the pandemic. The scenario echoes other contexts: Izmir’s earthquake offers a good parallel in which the post-disaster recovery is occurring in the shadow of a rapid currency devaluation. Similarly, the aftermaths of both Mexico and Haiti’s earthquakes occurred in politically charged contexts during which public institutions were largely discredited. Thus, BUL is proposing an intellectual framework for recovery that integrates the immediate emergency response of relief within a larger view that accounts for the multiple forces that exacerbate the vulnerability of the communities at risk. BUL recognizes the necessity to step away from an undesirable past, not romanticize it, and to frame in-disaster recovery in relation to a history that is far from idyllic and where recovery requires the forging of alternative future possibilities. How is this achieved? BUL’s method rests on experimenting with deliberative modes of planning, those that inform (through the creation of knowledge platforms) and those that engage (through the planning interventions/projects), thus working with planning to forge collectivities around recognized shared interests. BUL’s interventions thus inform a direly needed theory of planning in practice.

About the Panels

City Debates will inaugurate on Friday March 18, in the evening, with a keynote presentation by Ariella Masboungi who will present her rich professional experience in urban planning and design practice in Europe and beyond. Ms. Masboungi is an architect-urbanist, holder of the French Grand Prix de l’urbanisme in 2016; she directed the “project urbain” in the ministry in charge of sustainable development. City Debates will unfold on Saturday March 19, with three panels.

Panel 1 “A Framework for Urban Recovery” will feature presentations by the Beirut Urban Lab’s four co-directors who will examine: (i) how planning can be (re)conceived and practiced in contexts of dysfunctional states and compounded crises (Mona Fawaz); (ii) how professionals can contribute to elaborating integrated recovery approaches and methods in such an environment (Howayda Al-Harithy); (iii) how institutional configurations assemble differently according to political-economy geometries impacting variably urban governance (Mona Harb); and (iv) how mapping and visualization tools can be mobilized productively to influence these processes (Ahmad Gharbieh).

Panel 2 “Producing Knowledge Platforms” will present the knowledge platforms BUL has been producing, in response to the ongoing urban crises the city has been experiencing for the past three decades, namely: (i) wars, conflicts and disasters that destroy cities, regions and towns, and territorialize the built environment;  (ii) the financialization of land that direly impacts affordable housing, urban heritage, public and open space, and the social value of land; (iii) dysfunctional urban governance led by a network of oligarchs, sectarian and corporate interests that hollow-out public institutions and capture rent from public resources for their own benefits. The panel will feature the base platform which established the Lab: the Beirut Built Environment Database (BBED), and the more recent Beirut Urban Observatory (BUO), which is producing a number of urban indicators and initiatives to monitor the process of post-blast recovery—in addition to other platforms. This is a group presentation featuring the work of several BUL researchers: Hayfaa Abou Ibrahim, Luna Dayekh, Antoine Kallab, Soha Mneimneh, Leyla El-Sayed Hussein, Isabela Serhan, and Abir Zaatari.

Panel 3 “Planning and Design Practice through 'Micro-Urbanism'” will focus on how BUL and other stakeholders have been practicing planning in the context of the Port Blast recovery, through small-scale projects initiatives, experimenting with a micro-urbanism approach. It will discuss the advocacy for the establishment of a Planning Unit in the Governorate of Beirut that would be tasked with elaborating collaboratively an integrated urban strategy for the neighborhoods affected by the blast, starting from the pilot project of al-Masar al-Akhdar which is a proposed green path on the trajectory of the frozen project of the Fouad Boutros highway. It will also present the citizen-science and city development strategy combined approach that led to BUL’s elaboration and implementation of an open space network in Karantina. This is also a group presentation featuring the work of several BUL researchers and affiliates: Mariam Bazzi, Mahmoud Bou Kanaan, Abir Cheaitli, Habib Debs, Ali Ghaddar, Lynn Hamdar, Dana Mazraani, and Batoul Yassine.