The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedoms collaborates with Studio Madane on a project called ‘The Beirut River: Portrait and Injections’, with Madane’s aspiration to engage the youth in socio political reform and decision-making through research and practice. This project, in all its phases, combined researchers, architects, surveyors, social workers, geographers, journalists, filmers, operators, analysts, photographers, writers, and more for one common inquiry. Does reform, the promise of Lebanon’s ‘leaders,’ affect people’s political decision-making when it arrives from a political alternative?
Sustainable Communities, Innovation of Industry, Reduced Inequalities, and Partnerships for Development.
The current political class has not changed in Lebanon for the past 30 years [Dr Lina Khatib, Lebanon's Politics and Politicians] and, with that, the living conditions continue to deteriorate. Despite that, affiliations to the same leaders persist because of the many promises they continue to make. Can providing these people an effective and useful alternative alter their affiliations? Can direct reform, perhaps civic reform in their neighborhoods, affect their political decision-making?
The Karantina - Nahr Beirut - Bourj Hammoud radius is a socially, demographically, ethnically, economically, environmentally, and politically controversial area. It is a radius that picks up a fraction of the capital Beirut, and a fraction of its northern suburbs [local Christians, local Muslims, and non-locals [Harake, Nabaa Neighborhood Profile, Bourj Hammoud, Beirut]. This ground provides multidisciplinary research the richness that it requires.
This research question was responded to transversely via the efforts of four working groups: The Urbanists & Environmentalists, Citizen Volunteers, Artists & Laborers, and the Documenters and Visual Creators working groups. The findings were made through mappings, surveys, documented conversations, short films, and experiments with architecture. An English multimedia presentation and Arabic multimedia presentation condenses the efforts.
Photographic surveys conveyed the socio-political realities via the physicalities of the urban environment. How’re residents using barriers to define their living? What do these observations say about them? The authorities, unions of residents, business owners, and other stakeholders are potential collaborators in the lack of order in the cities. In a first assessment, it was shown that almost 100% of the photos convey barriers that invade public space, and nearly 50% occupy sidewalks. More than half are informal immovable installations. A resident revealed a thought shared by many locals in one of the audio albums: “...by attempting to fix anything, we pose a threat to the dominant [political] parties…” [“I Can't Imagine Change” (0:50 - 1:33)]. The recordings by the Documenters group testify the inability of locals to create change-making initiatives without threatening their position in society.
Karantina evolved from a hub of economic prosperity in the country to an isolated and highly militarized island that has no infrastructure to recover from any inconvenience, let alone the August 4th explosion. Bourj Hammoud is in the dark and witnessing unprecedented clashes between locals and immigrants, and between locals themselves of different ethnicities. Nahr Beirut continues to act as a wound in the middle, and the residents are ‘trapped’ because of their passion for their neighborhood of birth, but also suffocated. ‘Organized Entropies’ aims to convey the intersections of these realities.
The geolocated photographic reports can be monitored by municipalities and addressed on the spot. The platform developed by Studio Madane to do so is a scalable pilot that encourages participatory governance in society. This technique of connecting an urban situation to a geolocation is familiar to some municipalities in Catalunya, Spain. Municipal Civil Protection encourages participatory governance to advance the action towards reform while including the residents and stakeholders [La protecció civil municipal a SITMUN].
Before proposing a digital reform project that dwells on accountability and active citizenship, a physical reform proposal was developed. More than 50% of the urban informalities showed positive contributions such as achieving extra space, planting, walkability, and communal spaces. These were used as targets to the civic reform proposal. These drawings are some of the drawings that are to be submitted to a separate construction grant.
These proposals were shared with the locals to convey the level of seriousness of the project. Do these reform injections, whether digital or physical, when offered by a political alternative, affect the recipients political choices and decision making? There was a lot of reluctance when it came to rhetoric and imagination of change. Some claimed that reform would still not positively affect political decision-making because the affiliations are deeply rooted into belief systems. Can change only happen via cultural reset, a long term project?
There is a second face to the whole situation. It was filmed in ‘Lebanese Clientelism’ As much as people are suffocating from their reality, they have also managed to take advantage of the condition to benefit themselves in whichever way they can. While some are bartering expensive tires for military protection, others are profiting financially. This reality cements the crises because of lifelines tied to it, and is worthy of further investigation.