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.
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.
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.