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UTC on Beirut Post-Blast Reconstruction Discusses Heritage Planning

More than six months after the devastating Beirut Port explosion, an Urban Thinkers Campus was held on 17 March 2021 on the theme: “Beirut Post blast reconstruction: Climate Heritage planning to build back better”. As world leaders strategize on building back better from COVID, achieving the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Beirut is an exemplary case study to reflect on the complexity of recovery, resilience and urban sustainability. It is emblematic of a triple crisis: the devastation left by the blast, the COVID-19 crisis and the economic crisis that has amplified compounded by the first two. Lebanon is struggling with waves after waves of crisis.

ICOMOS organized the UTC in partnership with the American University of Beirut (AUB) Urban Planning, Policy and Design programme of the Department of Architecture and Design and Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), the Institut Français du Proche-Orient (IFPO), the Metropolitan and Territorial Planning Agencies global network (FNAU-MTPA) as well as the Institut Paris Region (IPR). The two round tables gathered local institutions (Mohafat of Beirut, Urban planning Directorate from the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation, Antiquities Directorate from the Ministry of Culture and Agriculture, Order of Engineers and Architects of Beirut, international organizations (UN-Habitat, UNESCO, UNDP, World Bank), experts (Institut Paris Region, Khattib we Alami, URBI), academicians (AUB, IFPO), and NGOs’ representatives (ICOMOS Lebanon, Climate Heritage Network, Gaia Heritage).

The Urban Thinkers Campus was intended to lay out some creative solutions, alternatives, and recommendations towards rebuilding the city while considering one of the most critical challenges yet to be faced: climate change. All recommendations are included in the final UTC report (READ) . They refer to urban planning, heritage and communities and lay out key avenues for national and international engagement.

Urban Planning and Climate Change

In order to build Beirut back better as a resilient and sustainable city, climate change concerns must be integrated within the urban reconstruction and development master plan. As hubs of innovations and power, cities must be at the heart of the transition towards climate resilience. Urban planning is, therefore, one of the key responses to curb climate change. Such adaptation would have a dual objective: adaptation and mitigation of climate change. The destruction of Beirut’s urban fabric must be an opportunity to integrate within the reconstruction energy-saving elements that could not be added beforehand to prepare the city for future challenges. The new urban master plan must consider every district of Beirut, particularly the port, the epicentre of the explosion, and integrate Beirut into a broader national, regional, and global context. Indeed, the reconstruction program must not only be of benefit to Beirut but the country as a whole.

Heritage and communities

Cultural heritage has a recognised crucial role to play in both the physical and social recovery process. In its physical reality, cultural heritage fits within environmental recommendations with an emphasis on the reuse of buildings, the conservation of already existing tangible elements, and circular economy. In its social aspects, cultural heritage reconnects people to their urban landscape and preserves the identity of the affected communities. This is even more relevant regarding Beirut as it is a crossroad of cultures, presenting numerous architectural and social heritages constitutive of the city’s identity and one of its main assets.

This UTC will be followed by others contributing to drawing an integrated framework for reconstruction and recovery to assist the Lebanese authorities in need of international support. On the 10th and 1st of April, another event was held by the order of Engineers and Architect of Beirut to discuss the enactment of those and their recommendations.

National and international engagement

The recovery process will require national and international support to compensate for the lack of internal government. Therefore, the international community has an essential role in contributing with its technical expertise and logistical support. However, the cooperation among institutions concerned with urban development should be strengthened in such a way as to ensure sustainability. Institutions also need to develop the political will to, and awareness of, tackle climate change and preserve cultural heritage. Importantly, advocacy will have to be done to promote a structural change in the legal framework to encourage the shift towards energy resilient building and urban planning and better preserve cultural heritage. Therefore, a new and strong government, strengthened and legitimate local authorities, will be required to implement the recommendations mentioned above. However, although small-scale and local actions are necessary and recommended, a national commitment accompanied by a strong political will are essential to driving the reconstruction and the whole country towards climate-resilient and cultural oriented policies.


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