Karantina Participatory Spatial Intervention

The Karantina Participatory Spatial Intervention (PSI) is a CatalyticAction research project implemented as part of the GCRF funded project ‘Assessing Vulnerabilities for urban recovery solutions in Beirut Post-Explosion’. The research project is in collaboration with the Institute for Global Prosperity-RELIEF Centre and Development Planning Unit at University College London, and its physical output is a partnership with TDH Italy and UNICEF Lebanon. This project comes as a medium-term assessment, six months after the blast which enabled an understanding of the changing landscape of local vulnerabilities following immediate efforts mobilised on the ground. 

The project aims to understand and realise the ways in which the residents of Karantina neighbourhood can participate in the design and co-production of interventions that address their vulnerabilities and encourage an equitable urban recovery. The PSI aims to have a positive impact on the sustainable prosperity of Karantina by building capacity and generating knowledge amongst local researchers through a participatory-action research process. Part of this project involved the creation of a physical spatial intervention which responds to local vulnerabilities and seeks to catalyse a community-based recovery within Beirut. The Karantina PSI learns from the Bar Elias Participatory Spatial Intervention and El-Mina prosperity index research projects implemented by CatalyticAction, the RELIEF centre, IGP and DPU at UCL. 

The built output of this project was informed by research conducted by citizen scientists, as well as input from the wider community and project partners. The physical spatial intervention that emerged sought to address the lack of child friendly public spaces in the neighbourhood of Karantina after the Beirut Port Blast. It aimed to do this by creating a safe, accessible and playful public space which could be used by everyone in the neighbourhood. 

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. To find the right candidates we relied on the network we have been establishing in Karantina since 2016. We recruited four CSs from Karantina who worked with a team of two trained researchers from the Prosperity Index of El-Mina Project. The group was made up of Lebanese and refugee communities comprising 3 Syrians (2F, 1M) and 3 Lebanese people (2M, 1F). The selection process also ensured the group’s diversity in terms of age and educational background. 

The CSs attended the induction training that introduced them to the project’s aims, partners, timeline, the theories and concepts behind the research and research ethics. They also had the opportunity to learn and try out the research tools they’d be using, to prepare them for their role in the PSI. During the training, CSs also discussed the definition of public space and the related vulnerabilities that continue to exist in Karantina 6 months after the explosion. 

Participatory assessment                                                                                               

The second phase of the project focussed on studying the selected site for the spatial intervention, as well as its surrounding, to develop a clear understanding of the space they would be working on. The CSs conducted this research through participatory observation, semi-structured interviews and transect walks to investigate the space’s frequent users, how they used it, what time it was used, the challenges surrounding accessibility, the potential opportunities and the resident’s needs and aspirations towards the space. They highlighted several vulnerabilities surrounding these public spaces, including children playing between cars on unsafe roads and the military base taking over sidewalks.  

Through semi-structured interviews with the local community, the CSs added to their knowledge about the vulnerabilities of different social groups using public spaces. For example, they learned that toddlers and their caregivers do not use public spaces because they are not safe or accessible enough for young children. Many interviews also revealed the community’s need for more green spaces in Karantina. The CSs then discussed all they had learnt from the different data collection tools and reflected on this learning to inform the design of the space. 

Design Consultation

In response to the CSs research, a preliminary design was made for the site of intervention and shared in a design consultation with the community. Boards with the drawings were hung on site and CSs approached a variety of community members to tell them about the intended design and get their feedback. The consultations showed that people approved of the initial design: the choice of a colourful space, the green barrier on the side to Rmeil Street, and the idea of a mural with a meaningful message from the community. However, participants also made their own suggestions for the space including the importance of having a name for the site. The CSs collected  this feedback to implement in the final design. The consultation allowed us to gauge the different priorities of the community and what they sought from the space. 

Wider vulnerabilities 

To assess the wider vulnerabilities of Karantina, the CSs were also involved in two consultation workshops in which we developed problem trees that highlighted the main issues in the neighbourhood. This included assessing their root causes and the groups of people who are most affected by them. The conversations covered a wide range of problems including political despotism, military presence, rising social and economic tensions in the face of the Beirut explosion, and the flow of NGOs to the affected areas. The CSs also discussed how these problems were heightened by the economic crisis and the COVID-19 lockdown. The CSs then created solution trees in which they laid out a vision of “the ideal Karantina” and the steps that needed to be taken to get there. There were many solutions proposed, but there was a  focus on children, their education and their right to play in safe spaces within their communities. 

Monitoring the intervention

As the construction phase began, the CSs observed the progress of the construction phase, and noted the engagement from the community as the work progressed. Once the spatial intervention was complete, the Karantina CSs monitored and documented the use of the space, looking at how it was used both on an everyday basis and when there are planned activities, such as painting a mural together. With these learnings, and their understanding of the ongoing vulnerabilities that continue to impact the residents of Karantina, we will reflect on the impact of the Karantina PSI and on the use of co-design processes to inform future interventions. 

Project ID

Year: 2020-2021
Location: Karantina, Beirut, Lebanon
Status: Completed
Partners: Terre des Hommes Italia, UNICEF Lebanon
Funding: GCRF
Collaborators: Institute for Global Prosperity-RELIEF Centre, Development Planning Unit at UCL


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