In response to the Beirut port blast on the 4th of August 2020, we partnered with UNICEF Lebanon and Himaya to rehabilitate two neglected public parks in Beirut – Karm Al Arees Park and Kaskas Park. The rehabilitations focussed on transforming these parks into inclusive, accessible and child friendly spaces that could be used by the local community for everyday use, activities and gatherings. Working in close coordination with the Municipality of Beirut and Himaya NGO, the design for these parks was centred on making public spaces that could be used and enjoyed by everyone. We took a participatory approach to the rehabilitation of the parks, engaging with community members to understand what changes were most needed and desired. This involved consultations with the garden department of the municipality, informal interviews with residents and gaining insights from students from the American University of Beirut, who had previously run activities in Karm Al Arees park – they taught us a lot about what the park lacked and how they thought it could be improved. We also worked in close collaboration with our partner Himaya who are conducting a two year program with children in the parks led by trained young facilitators from the area who had clear ideas about what they thought the park needed.
Karm Al Arees Public Park
Karm El Arees public park is located in Basta, a vulnerable neighbourhood in Beirut. Before the rehabilitation the park was neglected. While there was space for children to play, teenagers to gather and areas to sit, the residents we spoke to felt that the park was unsafe for children, dirty and in need of repair. Divided into several levels, the park is naturally very green and the design we came up with sought to reflect this. To rehabilitate the play space for children, we removed the damaged plastic play structures and replaced them with four tower-like play structures. Connected by an accessible path, these towers are cladded with wood to preserve the natural feeling of the trees. Residents told us that kids loved to climb on the trees in the park, so to enable children to continue playing freely while also maintaining the trees, we designed the towers so that they could be climbed on. However, to ensure their inclusivity, the towers can also be entered at the bottom level where children can find opportunities for physical, sensory and social play. This includes play items such as speaking pipes, music rollers, spinning cubes and a nest swing. One of these towers has also been specifically designed as a quiet space, built around an existing tree, where children might want to come to feel safe and relaxed. There are also play items dotted around the park such as tree stumps for children to sit or jump off, as well as floor games integrated into the blocks of the path.
In addition to the play area, we built on the existing space in the park to create a new workshop area with two tables and benches that can be used for activities with the community or people who want to gather there, including wheelchair users.
To ensure full accessibility to the park we implemented two main ramps, one at the entrance gate, and one from the entrance level to the first level – where the new inclusive play area can be found. We also rehabilitated the bathrooms, adding a new accessible bathroom at the upper level. The lack of a functioning bathroom had clearly been an issue before, with guards telling us that the existing toilet never worked.
As part of this rehabilitation with Himaya, we also collaborated with the OtherDada to create two pocket forests in commemoration of the victims of the 2020 Beirut Blast and the Japanese botanist Dr Miyawaki, who died this year. The victims’ families helped to plan these miniature forests, which will benefit children by adding a component of nature therapy to the park, as well as improving the biodiversity of the area.
Kaskas Public Park
Kaskas park is located in the neighbourhood of Kaskas in Beirut. Prior to the rehabilitation of the park, the area was run down with old swings and a destroyed plastic play structure, and residents described it as neglected and unsafe. We wanted to improve the opportunities for inclusive play, maximise the space in the park by improving the seating area, and creating the possibility for more activities.
To minimise waste, we rehabilitated the existing steel swing structures by aligning, adapting and joining them together to create one big play structure. To make the play space more inclusive and fun we also added new elements including a nest swing, a slide and a place to climb. As in Karm Al Arees public park, the new structure also has sensory play items like speaking pipes, music rollers and educational games like spinning cubes with animals painted on them.
To create more opportunities for children to play freely, we paved most of the park to allow children to play more safely and to enable different organisations to conduct activities on the open floor space. This is complemented by a new workshop area with an amphitheatre and long tables and benches. These are decorated with a colourful mosaic using discarded tiles and put together by local artists.
To ensure that caregivers are able to watch their children carefully in Kaskas Park, we relocated some existing benches closer to the play area where they can look after their children while resting. Next to the benches is a sand pit for toddlers and tree stumps that they can use to jump and sit on.
We also did a bit of upkeep to existing elements including the bathrooms, as well implementing a new accessible bathroom in the opposite park (just across the road).