the fire these times

51. The Case for People-centered Recovery Processes in Beirut

This is a conversation with Dr Mona Harb, Professor of Urban Studies and Politics at the Department of Architecture and Design at the American University of Beirut. She also works at Beirut Urban Lab which is:

“a collaborative and interdisciplinary research space. The Lab produces scholarship on urbanization by documenting and analyzing ongoing transformation processes in Lebanon and its region’s natural and built environments. It intervenes as an interlocutor and contributor to academic debates about historical and contemporary urbanization from its position in the Global South.”

Mona recently wrote reflections on the blast on Jadaliyya – Quick Thoughts: Mona Harb on the Aftermath of the Beirut Explosion – which led to this invitation on The Fire These Times. We use the blast as the anchor for our conversation. We spoke about the roles of dominant political figures/parties – especially Hariri Sr+Jr and Hezbollah in this case – in privatisation processes which have led to a highly disfigured city even before the August explosion. We spoke about the difficulties of trying to love Beirut and how it can often feel like it is too much to handle. In short, we spoke about our very modern experience affecting not just our country but places around the world.

Indeed, although Beirut and Lebanon-focused, this is a conversation that applies to multiple cities around the world that are facing the challenges of human-caused destruction (the blast, climate change, urban inequalities, and so on) while also navigating the limitations imposed by nation states under the still-dominant (despite everything) neoliberal framework.


The title of this episode was partly taken from “Initiatives in Response to the Beirut Blast” on the Beirut Urban Lab website in which they ask:

“How to ensure a people-centered holistic recovery process, in ways that are inclusive, gender-sensitive, and environmentally sustainable, in order to redress deep-rooted socio-spatial inequalities and reclaim the public domain?”.

The Beirut Urban Lab is also providing an up-to-date basemap of Municipal Beirut for all to download.

I highly recommend checking out their website!

Mentioned:

  • resilient:broken, my essay for Mangal Media
  • The quote by Mona Fawaz and Marwan Ghandour is:

    “Often associated with processes of healing, postwar re­construction projects may be less related to the pre­destruction phase than to the actual act of destruction. This, at least, is what the Lebanese case suggests. In this essay, we argue that the spatial erasure initiated by war destruction is consolidated during postwar reconstruction.”

    Link to the article.

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The Fire These Times is available on Apple Podcasts, Anchor, Breaker, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Radio Public, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Castro and RSS.

Music by Tarabeat. Photo taken from Beirut Urban Lab.

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