11 December 2018
The Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Columbia GSAPP) is pleased to announce the formation of the Post-Conflict Cities Lab, a groundbreaking research initiative focused on developing equitable, inclusive, and socially-cohesive post-conflict cities. Led by Hiba Bou Akar, Assistant Professor in Columbia GSAPP’s Urban Planning Program, the Lab will focus particularly on post-conflict urban planning and will engage in research on the ways in which planning practice in contested cities has been simultaneously a tool of pacification, conflict, and development.
The Post-Conflict Cities Lab’s inaugural project is funded by a $350,000 grant from the Ford Foundation that Professor Bou Akar received to study “Urban Research and Practice in Post Conflict Settings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Region,” particularly around questions of access to housing for low-income Lebanese and Syrian refugees in Beirut, Lebanon. Partnering with the American University of Beirut’s recently established Urban Lab at the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Public Works, a Beirut-based non-governmental organization, and with regional support from Columbia GSAPP’s Studio-X Amman, the project will bring together planning research and practice expertise from Beirut and the MENA region to address urban research and practice in post conflict settings. The project also aims to engage local residents and urban practitioners as active participants in advocating for and shaping inclusive post-war reconstruction planning practices and policies.
The Lab’s core mission is to provide an alternative to current post-conflict planning and reconstruction projects, which often increase exclusion of vulnerable populations and harden religious and segregation, causing new rounds of violence and sowing the seeds for future conflict. Bou Akar’s research work on these questions resulted in her recently published book, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut’s Frontier (Stanford University Press, 2018), which 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. Based on ethnographic and archival inquiries that build on ten years of research, planning, and design experience in Lebanon, the book focuses on the role of religious political organizations in shaping Beirut’s contested geographies and contributes to planning thought by studying planning practices within a framework of past and anticipated violence.
The Post-Conflict Cities Lab further galvanizes Columbia GSAPP’s position as a world-renowned hub for advancing research on cities and the built environment, dedicated to training future design and planning leaders who are committed to more equitable, sustainable, and resilient cities and societies. The school has a long history of working closely with disadvantaged communities to advocate for spatial justice and social change in support of peoples of diverse backgrounds, and GSAPP’s faculty has been key in guiding organizations and individuals to apply this knowledge in communities throughout the United States and globally.