In response to the Beirut Blast on August 4th last year, and the damage it wreaked on neighbourhoods close to the port, we’re rehabilitating a public park that was badly impacted by the explosion. The park is located in the neighbourhood of Karantina, a low-income and multi-ethnic area in the Medawar district of Beirut. The rehabilitation project aims to provide children and their communities with a safe space where they can play and relax with their peers.
To ensure the park’s rehabilitation reflects the needs of Karantina’s residents, we conducted a series of participatory workshops with the children and adolescents in the area. We believe that their input in the design process is fundamental for creating a space that will actually be used by the community, and for which they will feel a sense of ownership. Our workshops aimed to provide children and adolescents with the opportunity to express their visions and aspirations for the space.
The engagement activities we used for the co-design of the Karantina playground were adapted to suit the needs of the different children participating. As one resident highlighted ‘every child is different and they like different things’. Our means of engagement therefore varied depending on the group of children we were working with. With younger children, we used storytelling as a way of stimulating their imagination around the playground space. For the older children, we used role play to encourage them to think critically and creatively about how the new park could look. Below are some of the ideas they come up with and the vital insights their voices provided for the design of the park.
Storytelling Workshop – Kan Ya Makan
With the younger children (aged 5-10) children were encouraged to draw how they might like their playground to look. To give them a starting point, we told them the story of Farfour, a bird who had found this playpark and wanted the children to design him and his friends some new play items. Using Kan Ya Makan (Once upon a time) to begin their designs, children narrated and drew their ideas for the new space. Clear themes stood out. Amongst conventional play items such as swings and slides, their drawings showed that they valued colour, inspiring shapes, greenery and water.
Children’s drawings also showed that they enjoyed playing amongst different levels! Their drawings contained tree houses, mountains and tall slides. Participant’s desire to be close to nature was also clear from their drawings. They drew flowers and fruit trees and spoke a lot about wanting grass instead of concrete. The sea, which can be seen from the playground, was also a prominent feature…one boy suggested we build a pool!
A Walk in The Park
With the older children, aged 11-18 years, we changed up the activity so it was more suitable for teenagers. It was clear from a group of girls who were fascinated by TikTok that drawing stories would not do the trick! So we gave them the role of architect. They had high vis-jackets, a 3D model drawing of the park and the authority to change what they wanted. They could explain these changes by altering the drawings and using coloured stickers to designate different zones of the park.
Some of the older children were very pragmatic with their suggestions: we should fix the swings, make a faster zip-line and use a better material for a new slide. They also suggested adjustments that could make the existing park better. What about a ‘water cooler’, ‘bike racks’, ‘functioning toilets’ and a ‘picnic area…to eat with the family and rest’?
But their suggestions also incorporated new features like more benches to do parkour, some artificial grass to play football and perhaps a bike track that goes around the rim of the park. Some of them also thought there could be a kiosk to buy affordable snacks.
There is also a room in the park which can be used for quieter activities. The older group of children gave us suggestions as to how they thought it could be used to meet the needs of them and other children. Some of the teenage girls thought that it could be used for an art exhibition, and the boys suggested that this could be about the recent explosion and telling the stories of those affected. Many of the children also expressed the desire for the space to be a place of serenity where they could come read, play quiet games and store their toys. Of course there were also those who had more elaborate ideas and wanted there to be an indoor swimming pool!
We also spoke to caregivers and residents in the neighbourhood who thought this space could be used to enrich the children’s development. Why not show educational documentaries one man told us, or get some computers where children can learn something new?
Of course with every participatory activity, there is also frustration and criticism and that is the idea – it gives the parks users a chance to express their grievances about the space. While this was expressed by children and adults, who drew attention to the play items that needed to be fixed, or their desire to bring back the old fountain where they could swim, caregivers also provided us with vital insight into problems surrounding the space.
One Syrian lady told us that ‘the park needs to be taken care of’. Someone needs to clean it, cut the grass, plant flowers and monitor how the space is being used. This sentiment was echoed by other residents who stated that the park needs a lot of ‘maintenance, cleaning and painting’. Clearly, the community felt that the space was valuable and needed to be looked after and invested in by the community.
These participatory workshops provided such important insights for the rehabilitation of Karantina Park, which we are now in the process of constructing. To find out more about the project you can read our project description here. Soon, we’ll be able to share how the children, adolescents and community of Karantina shaped the design of their new park!
Written by Aishath Green – Communications Coordinator at CatalyticAction