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Maureen Abi Ghanem

Maureen Abi Ghanem is a Doctoral Student in Urban Planning at Columbia GSAPP. As an architect and urban designer trained in a post-conflict city, Beirut, Maureen’s current work focuses on how planning can promote equitable, inclusive and socially-cohesive environments in cities in the Global South. Maureen holds a Bachelor of Architecture from the American University of Beirut (AUB) and a Master’s in Urban Design through a joint program between AUB and the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Seftenberg (BTU) in Germany. Upon finishing her undergraduate degree and while pursuing her master’s, Maureen first worked with private architecture and real estate firms in the Middle East. In 2014, Maureen joined the Shelter Sector at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon after watching its cities morph in response to an unprecedented influx of displaced persons fleeing the neighboring Syrian war. She joined the team devising policies and overseeing projects to manage access to affordable housing by urban refugees and other vulnerable communities impacted by the displacement. Her work at UNHCR included overall project management in a humanitarian setting, negotiating guidelines and securing rent tenure to ensure refugees and marginalized groups acquire access to safe and affordable housing, overseeing the adaptive reuse of sub-standard buildings into livable housing units, programming emergency housing for evicted families, and coordinating infrastructural projects at the neighborhood and city scales aimed to mitigate social tensions. Since relocating to New York City in 2016, Maureen has remained in the non-for-profit world, consulting for organizations including UN-Habitat, the Center for Active Design (CfAD) and the Consortium for Sustainable Urbanization (CSU). She is currently writing her dissertation proposal at GSAPP.
Maureen’s research interest lies at the intersection of forced migration, urbanization and poverty. She focuses on investigating the socio-spatial impact of displacement and urban violence on cities in the Global South. Forced migration often produces entire new geographies of survival. In recent years, the majority of displaced persons have been opting out of camps and self-settling in cities where economic opportunities are the lifeline to their livelihood. Maureen is looking at the informal and socio-spatial responses of forced migrants in cities who are often portrayed as passive recipients of humanitarian aid, when they are – in fact – active political agents that are reshaping the cities that host them. This research is based across various neighborhoods in Beirut. By investigating the wide range of socio-spatial strategies that have emerged to address forced migration into cities, Maureen hopes to broaden the conceptual space at the intersection of urban studies and migration studies.