Discussions of urban development in Beirut after the civil war (1975-1990) have primarily focused on large-scale reconstruction projects or the city’s informal peripheries. However, peripheries, like Sahra Choueifat, poor yet formal, planned yet contested, remain understudied. Located at the edge of the city, in 2008, these marginal and overlooked spaces suddenly found themselves to be densely populated and at the frontiers of a renewed sectarian conflict. This talk will trace the contested planning experiments that have transformed Beirut’s peripheries into frontiers of violence and militarization. In tracing this transformation, the talk will focus on the work of religious-political organizations – mainly the Shiite Hezbollah and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party – in the design and implementation of urban planning and zoning laws, the execution of infrastructure projects, and in the operations of land and housing markets as part of their territorial battles over land. At stake in these reconfigurations is the logic of wars that are “yet to come” and how planning practice is mobilized in anticipation of local and regional wars. These wars include the Lebanese sectarian wars, the Arab-Israeli conflict, transnational geographies of Islamic militarization, and those of the global “War on Terror.” Planning for the wars yet to come have had severe repercussions on everyday life, causing displacement, poverty, and cycles of violence in the city, foreclosing possibilities of urban politics outside the sectarian socio-political order.
About Hiba Bou Akar:
Hiba Bou Akar is an Assistant Professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP). Bou Akar’s research examines the geographies of planning and war; the question of urban security and violence, focusing on the role of religious-political organizations in the making of cities. Her forthcoming book, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontiers, examines how Beirut’s post-civil war peripheries have been transformed through multiple planning exercises into contested frontiers that are mired in new forms of conflict. Her first co-edited book, Narrating Beirut from its Borderlines, incorporated ethnographic and archival research with art installations, architecture, graphic design, and photography to explore Beirut’s segregated geographies. Bou Akar received her Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and Master in Urban Studies and Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the co-editor of Jadaliyya Cities, an online electronic journal addressing urban issues in the Middle East.