Inclusive public spaces in Lebanon are scarce and often not considered a priority in the public works plans of local municipalities. An inclusive public space is somewhere that should be accessible by everyone, including women, children, the eldery and people with disabilities. Vulnerable groups, such as children with disabilities, greatly benefit from using these kinds of spaces as they provide an accessible place for them to play with their parents and friends.
In Lebanon, where social segregation and tension is prominent, inclusive public spaces can act as a physical place for equality. However, most public spaces do not offer safe or welcoming spaces for everyone. As a result, it is often difficult to incentivise vulnerable groups to use these spaces as they may face either physical or psychological barriers. In addition to this, there is also a widespread misconception that inclusive playgrounds are expensive. For instance, it is often thought that play items may need to be imported from abroad. This assumption keeps public bodies such as municipalities, schools and NGOs from investing, or even considering implementing such interventions.
The inclusive parks project aims to raise awareness about the importance of inclusive public spaces. It aims to do this by engaging local community members and different municipalities in the design of these innovative spaces. This practical approach intends to empower the local community by demonstrating that inclusive spaces can be created using local material, knowledge and skills – benefiting both the local economy and its citizens.
The interventions involved in this inclusive parks project all shared the same design objective of creating accessible spaces that allowed all children to come together and play. The spaces were also designed to allow children from different age groups to play simultaneously. Another important aspect identified by participants was the creation of a space for parents to relax while their children played. As a result many of these interventions incorporated shaded seating areas, which made the spaces more likely to be frequented by both children and their parents.
CatalyticAction’s process was adopted for the design and implementation of these spaces. Characterised by participatory design, activities were conducted with people from different nationalities, genders and age groups (children, youth and parents). We also conducted participatory activities with people with disabilities to gain an understanding of their specific needs and aspirations in relation to public spaces.
The locations for the inclusive parks were identified by our partner Terre des Hommes Italia (TDH) in close collaboration with local municipalities. These areas were Arsal, Hermel and Barja. Existing public parks were chosen as the ideal location for these interventions as the parks were already used by families and known within the local communities as spaces for community activity and leisure. This familiarity with the parks added value to the project as the implementation of inclusive spaces enhanced existing social dynamics.
Another site of intervention for this project was located in Qaraoun and identified by our partner Amel Association International (Amel) and the Qaraoun municipality. The intervention site they chose is part of a larger public space initiative led by the municipality. Located near a public school, outdoor football field and indoor basketball field, the municipality envisions that in the future it will be a hub for sports and community activities.
All four of these parks were funded by the United Nation Children’s Funds (UNICEF) under the action “Child protection support for the most vulnerable children of North Bekka and Mount Lebanon”. The parks in Arsal, Hermel and Baraja were implemented in partnership with Terre des Hommes Italia (TDH). The park in Qaraoun was implemented in partnership with Amel Association International (AMEL).
The design for this park focussed on two main elements:
Creating an inclusive playground
Making the public space accessible
The design concept for the playground centred around two spatial components: a ‘playful ramp’ and ‘playful stations’. The ‘playful ramp’ met two objectives: while it could be used as a play item by all children, it also provided a means of access for children with disabilities to enter the upper level of the existing public space. The ‘playful stations’ in the park offered different play experiences for children, allowing for active play, imaginative play and sensory play. The design for these stations was based on the landscape of Arsal, which is mostly characterised by buildings scattered across mountainous scenery. Mimicking the landscape around them, the ‘playful stations’ roofs were thus colourful and sloped, as if part of the scenery.
We also made use of the existing infrastructure by transforming the non-accessible bathrooms into toilets that could be used by everyone.
The design for the park in Hermel focused on maintaining the natural character of the space, while introducing places where everyone could play or relax. The site was divided into three main areas: a family area, a playground and a football court. To enable full accessibility to each of these areas, We added a new concrete path that led to all play facilities and spaces.
The family area in the park was used a lot by families for picnics. To enhance this social activity, the intervention provided permanent tables and chairs which emulated the park’s natural elements. We interspersed these tables with play facilities for toddlers so that parents could relax while watching their young children play.
Like the playground in Arsal, the Hermel playground included three stations for different kinds of play: active, imaginative and sensory. The football court was set up on existing space appropriate for children to play football. By working with a park that was already widely used by the community, this project aimed to enhance its uses and potential as a space for socialising.
Most of the playground components have been painted yellow to create a colourful contrast with the green of the grass, trees and plants.
The design in Barja focussed on creating a compact, accessible and dynamic play space. The project site is an existing public park that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea. To create an extension to this existing public place, the project transformed a section of the parking space adjacent to the public park. The sea view from the park greatly informed the design for this space. To maximise the view, the playground was built along an accessible ramp that leads to a raised platform from which you can see the sea.
Like in Arsal and Hermel, the games incorporated into the playground structure focused on enhancing active, imaginative and sensory play experiences. The position of the games were also designed to ensure that children with disabilities could play alongside their non-disabled peers. The playground structure has a distinctive shape and was built using steel and timber.
The design in Qaraoun sought to create an iconic structure that reflected the natural character of the area, an idea which emerged from the participatory design phase with the local community. The main park structure is inspired by the migrating birds that fly over the Qaraoun lake. This ‘bird-shaped’ playground aims to encourage imaginative play activities as well as creating a significant landmark in the town of Qaraoun.
Other functions and opportunities for play were placed around the main structure. This included seating areas and games for toddlers. With spaces for active, imaginative and sensory play, the playground has multiple opportunities for inclusive play experiences.
All parks have been built using local materials and labour.