Photo: Sandra Rishani

Following resistance to a municipal plan to create a highway that would bulldoze a historic part of Beirut, architects and urban professionals are now reclaiming that space as one for public intervention and exploration. This Saturday, you can join architect and former AUB professor Sandra Rishani for a sort of “scavenger hunt” across the path of the proposed (now stalled) highway project.  Participants will visit three installations prepared by Rishani and her partner Nada Borgi from [hatch] architecture studio, under the title: “Popping Spaces: A Workshop On Playful Urban Internvetion”

Participants will be given an urban toolkit “to intervene on the spine (Boutros pathway) or within their own neighborhoods to highlight or raise an issue, reuse a ‘public’ space, occupy a ‘public’ space…”

This will also encompass “a case study on how with some reused and recycled items we can intervene in the public to raise awareness, campaign for a different future of space, highlight a loss, or create an actual usable space in the present. What is interesting for us about this site is that a very big part of it is expropriated by the government. So many of the empty plots and houses may in the present time be used by the public as it is owned by the public. A unique situation we think for squatting and starting to use this space as a linear pedestrian green park.”

The campaign to fight the $75 million Boutros Road project was one of the major activism case studies I discussed during a TEDx talk I gave in Beirut last year.

Basically activists and urban professionals were able to produce a multifaceted and multidisciplinary campaign to highlight how the overpriced project would lead to more problems than it proposed to solve on technical level, while also destroying one of the city’s biggest green spaces and most historic neighborhoods. In response, architects and urban professionals proposed a park project. However the municipality of Beirut rejected those suggestions with little consideration, and yet due to public pressure, the project has been stalled for the past two years.

I think it’s really interesting to see efforts to continue to pursue this project and engage citizens in the process of developing their city, a process which is too often dominated by non-transparent elite decision-makers and powerful real estate companies.

Rishani, who is the author of Beirut The Fantastic Blog, has produced some very thought-provoking interventions in past, including a fascinating tour of inaccessible city spaces I was able to attend a couple of years ago in collaboration with AUB, Carole Lévesque and Rana Haddad. See this previous post for details on that event known as “The Welcoming City Vertical Design Studio”. Judging by how great that was, I would highly recommend this upcoming event.

Click here to register for Saturday’s event and also check out the Facebook event page.  And for more on the Boutros road project, be sure to check out the impressive website, including research, maps, images as well as a petition produced by the civil coalition that opposed it.

Popping Spaces: event image
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