AESOP Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures


First meeting, Beirut, 9-11 November 2016

Defragmenting and Activating Public Spaces in Unstable Urban Settings


Organized and hosted by:

Faculty of Architecture, Art and Design at the Notre Dame University – Louaize


The organization process started after 5 April 2016 upon the notification by the AESOP TG PSUC about the meeting being held in Beirut in November 2016. The process entailed skype meetings and correspondence to set the call for abstracts, followed by a double-blind peer review to select the submissions that would be presented as papers during the meeting. This was followed by a close follow up with participants on the one hand, and coordination with actors for the case studies of the site visit on the other hand.

Three case studies in Beirut were chosen for their manifestation of different public space initiatives that dealt with the problematic presented in the thematic group’s meeting. While one site visit had to be cancelled for logistical reasons, the other two were conducted successfully during the second meeting day.

In preparation of the meeting, a brief on the site visit and compilation of the drafts of the presented papers were made available to participants.


SUMMARY. A three days meeting of the AESOP Thematic Group for Public Spaces and Urban Cultures (AESOP TG PSUC) was organized and hosted by the Faculty of Architecture, Art and Design at the Notre Dame University – Louaize in Beirut, Lebanon. This meeting launched the new thematic series: Unstable Geographies – Dislocated Publics which aims at addressing current issues related to public spaces common to cities globally, from an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspective, while engaging a variety of actors and stakeholders through four themes:

  • City, refugees, and migration
  • Fragmented social fabric – individualised patterns of consumption
  • The decline of national politics – Resurgence of the urban political
  • Change of perspective – worlding urban studies


The purpose of the Beirut meeting, organized in parallel to the City Street2 Conference was to unfold themes under the title of the series within the local and unstable context of Beirut. Based on the characteristics and issues in Beirut that are also pertinent to other cities in the global South as well as the global North, this TG meeting focused on the two sub-themes: City, Refugees and Migration, and Fragmented Social Fabric: Individualised Patterns of Consumption.

THE THEME_ DEFRAGMENTING AND ACTIVATING PUBLIC SPACES IN UNSTABLE URBAN SETTINGS. Similar to other countries hosting immigrants and refugees, Lebanon is undergoing various dynamics related to refugees, migration and social fragmentation, which lead to changes in urban spaces and everyday social life, thus turning it to fertile ground for collaborative ideas among public space scholars and practitioners from different backgrounds. Beirut has a prolonged history of conflict that affected its public spaces, and therefore serves as a laboratory to explore, unravel, and question the lives of its public spaces, and their evolution through time. Despite the various obstacles, pockets of public spaces that are either managed by the local authorities or invented by urbanites emerge within the city. These signal the co-presence of contrasts on many levels including the social, economic, spatial, functional, and political. Within these contrasts, various ‘publics’ navigate through the city’s urban spaces, and generate social interactions, activities, and relations over time, despite the broader conflicts that the city keeps witnessing.

The purpose of the investigation during this meeting was to determine the roles of various stakeholders in providing further opportunities for the sustained accommodation of differences, encounter, and exposure to ‘the other’, in an attempt to defragment public spaces within turbulent and unpredictable contexts.

THE MEETING. The meeting combined various formats of exchange including the keynote speeches of CS2, presentations from the contributions to a call for papers on the first day, a field visit on the second say and a workshop on the third day.  A concluding roundtable discussion on the third day consolidated the ideas, concerns and recommendations presented during the meeting, and set the basis for further practical and theoretical explorations. The meeting brought together around 40 participants researchers and students from various disciplines, practitioners, activists and NGOs whose interest focuses on public spaces.

DAY1_presentations. During the first day of the meeting, participants had the opportunity to present and reflect on 11 papers focusing on the two themes City, Refugees and Migration, and Fragmented Social Fabric: Individualised Patterns of Consumption. In addition, the three sites which the group planned to visit during the second day were presented and discussed.

DAY2_Site visits. During the second day of the meeting participants had the opportunity to visit two locations within administrative Beirut and its suburbs.

The first location was at a public space in the area of Naba’a which falls within the municipality of Bourj Hammoud, in the eastern part of the capital city. The project is initiated by UN-Habitat as part of their public space program and was realized through a participatory process, involving the local community. During the visit participants were accompanied by UN-Habitat representatives and had the opportunity to meet with people from the local community and discuss the initiative. The aim was to understand the community’s vision for the space, the participatory process and to reflect on people’s understanding of public space in a context of multiple, heterogeneous and often conflicting communities.

The second location was at Tariq El Jdideh, a residential and mixed use area located west of the `Beirut Pine forest, locally known as “Horsh Beirut”. Participants walked through local streets and paid attention to the landmarks including the municipal stadium in an attempt to understand the relation between the “Horsh” and its western edge, the potential of the municipal stadium to evolve as an inclusive public space and as a common ground accepting the surrounding communities and the refugees in the area.

DAY3_Workshop. During the third day, the workshop provided the opportunity for participants to reflect on the case studies visited during the second day, to discuss, exchange views and propose ideas with the purpose of sharing resources and producing knowledge on contemporary public space concerns.

Contacts. Formore information on the meeting, including abstracts of the lectures, description of the visited sites, the themes of the workshop, and the involved people please contact:

Christine Mady (Lebanon) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (local host)

Nadia Charalambous (Cyprus) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (AESOP TG representative)

Matej Niksic (Slovenia) This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (AESOP TG representative)