El Mina Participatory Spatial Intervention (Mina PSI) is a CatalyticAction research project in partnership with the RELIEF centre at the University College London. It is implemented in the city of El-Mina, located in Tripoli by the coast of Northern Lebanon. Mina PSI builds on the “Prosperity Index of El Mina” research conducted with the RELIEF centre and the “Design and Implementation Guide for Young Children and Caregivers in Deprived Urban Areas” research conducted with ARUP and Bernard van Leer foundation. Additionally, Mina PSI learns from the Bar Elias PSI implemented in Bar Elias in the Bekaa in 2018-2019 and the Karantina PSI implemented in Karantina, Beirut in 2020-2021. The built interventions component of this project was funded with the support of Otto per Mille of the Waldensian Church of Italy.
This project focused on an area in the Corniche that is closest to some of the most vulnerable neighbourhoods of El Mina: the social housing in Al-Masaken, and the informal settlement of Hay Al Tanak. While part of the Corniche was refurbished, this section that we selected to work on lacks vital infrastructure to address users’ needs. Mina PSI researched the use of the Corniche, and how it can be improved, to understand and realise the ways in which residents of El-Mina and regular users of the public space can participate in the design and co-production of inclusive and resilient infrastructure that addresses their vulnerabilities. Working with citizen scientists to conduct this research, this project seeks to demonstrate how local communities can contribute to developing innovative responses to the challenges they are faced with. Part of this project involves the creation of a physical spatial intervention ‘Mauj’. which responds to the challenges the project discovers. Through this process, the Mina PSI aims to have a positive impact on the sustainable prosperity of El-Mina by building capacity and generating knowledge amongst local researchers.
In addressing these objectives, we employed participatory research and participatory design methods in collaboration with a group of local citizen scientists. Indeed, the engagement of citizen scientists has been an integral part of the intervention phase as well as the analysis process.
Phase 1: Recruiting and training citizen scientists
The first phase of this project involved the recruitment of citizen scientists (CSs). These are members of the community who are trained to work as social scientists and conduct research that accurately reflects their communities’ needs. As this project focussed on enhancing the Corniche as a public space for the vulnerable communities around it, the citizen scientists recruited for this project all have a background in Architecture and civil engineering, enabling them to actively contribute to the design process. This project involved seven citizen scientists who were part of the broader Prosperity team of El Mina, the team was selected to reflect the diversity in terms of age, gender and nationality. The citizen scientists received further training about participatory design, space use observations and analysis.
Phase 2: Studying the site of intervention
The second phase of this project focussed on studying the selected site for the spatial intervention, as well as its surrounding, to develop a clear understanding of the space and how it is used. After an introduction in which citizen scientists were trained in key research methods including space use observation and semi-structured interviews, they began their fieldwork. Split into two groups, their research work investigated the areas of the Corniche facing the two vulnerable neighbourhoods. Each group focussed on five key research areas: the number and type of people moving across the Corniche; the pedestrian mode of movement count; the types of stationary activity taking place on the Corniche; understanding users’ perception of the corniche and how people get to the Corniche in the context of traffic flow. After conducting their research, citizen scientists regrouped to discuss their findings. These involved learning about the time of the day the Corniche is at its busiest and why, the fact that the elderly and people with special needs struggle to access the Corniche, and that specific interventions were needed for caregivers, who felt the space was unsafe for their children. The citizen scientists used their observations to develop the design brief that informed the next phase of the project – the design phase.
Phase 3: Translating ideas into design
Ater a design charrette workshop, the citizen scientists put forth their ideas for the physical spatial intervention. Their suggestions were underpinned by the resolution that it was best to focus on improving the space for the activities that already took place on it rather than introducing new uses. Their solutions involved building street furniture to create places for the users of the Corniche to gather and rest, and implementing a child friendly space where caregivers can go with their toddlers and children. The preliminary design was developed by the CatalyticAction design team based on the research findings with citizen scientists that aimed to highlight the qualities of the site that attracted users to that specific point of the Corniche, being quiet and providing an unobstructed view to the sea and sunset.
Phase 4: Design consultations and final design
The next phase involved a series of design consultations with citizen scientists and the municipality, as well as a public design consultation on the site of intervention. Citizen scientists and the municipality gave feedback on the preliminary design which was incorporated and presented back to the community in a public design consultation. The public stressed on the need for such interventions on the Corniche, and expressed their enthusiasm to see the final project implemented so they can use it. The feedback collected was then incorporated into the final design of the spatial intervention ‘Mauj’ (waves in English). This final design consists of three different stations spread across the Corniche. For more information on the design visit ‘Mauj’.
Phase 5: Construction, activation and monitoring
The final part of this project involved citizen scientists in supervising the construction work, monitoring the intervention during the construction phase and post-implementation. The monitoring during the construction phase aimed at documenting the progress of work and hearing from the users of the corniche about their expectations and feedback. Together with the citizen scientists we developed a plan for the activation of the space once construction is completed in collaboration with local stakeholders. The post implementation monitoring phase aimed at monitoring the impact of the intervention by documenting the users’ count, stationery activities and conducting interviews with users of the intervention. The activation plan started with the inauguration of the intervention where different local stakeholders were invited to engage in activities with the children and their families. With these learnings, citizen scientists reflected on the impact participatory spatial interventions can have for addressing vulnerabilities in El Mina and how they might be implemented to address future challenges in the city.