Placemaking to create a public space for dialogue with International Alert, Majdel Anjar, Bekaa, Lebanon

With this project we tailored a placemaking methodology as part of International Alert’s program ‘Creating Space for Peace: Supporting Local Peacebuilding and Local Citizen-State Relations’ in the town of Majdel Anjar in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon. International Alert has been working with young people in this town since April 2021 to establish opportunities for dialogue that can improve inter and intra-community, as well as citizen-state relations. This takes place in the form of a youth dialogue group in which topics such as non-violent communication and dealing with differences are discussed. This project is embedded in this agenda and applies the methodology of placemaking to build the capacities to reimagine and reinvent a public space in their town that can be used for dialogue around conflict mitigation. The culmination of this is the creation of a public space which the youth have researched and designed. The municipality of Majdel Anjar was engaged in all the phases of the project. The project created a bridge between the youth and the local authority as they worked together towards a shared goal. 

Phase 1: Participatory design and capacity building 

Working with the youth in Majdel Anjar, this project began with training sessions in which participants got familiar with the project and learned about placemaking, social research, participatory design, and public space. This involved reflecting on the role of public space in the town of Majdel Anjar, the type of public spaces that currently exist and the ways in which they contribute to community cohesion. Participants mapped out these spaces in order to explore them in closer details to help them select a suitable site for their intervention. The participants narrowed down the potential sites of intervention to four sites that were discussed with the municipality to ensure that the youth will get the support they need for the successful implementation of the intervention.

To select the site of the intervention, the youth visited the four potential sites and used tools which enabled them to think critically about public spaces and how their design could meet the community needs. This included tools such as ‘photovoice’ in which the youth used a camera to record in a video their thoughts and ideas about the potential sites while describing their experience of using the space; ‘participatory mapping’ tool which allowed the youth map key features of the site and its surrounding to create an understanding of the potentials in each site; then using the ‘race’ tool the youth evaluated collectively the public spaces they visited drawing from a set of criteria that were determined as a main consideration for site selection (accessibility, inclusivity, budget, etc). The youth ultimately selected their site of the intervention to be an unrehabilitated section of a public park in Majdel Anjar that is in close proximity to residential houses, the municipality building, a school for refugee children, a football field and surrounded by greenery. The site is located in the new town centre and attracts various users from all Majdel Anjar. The municipality was also very supportive of development projects that can enhance that area of their town. 

Phase 2: Translating ideas into design

The youth conducted field observations of the selected site of intervention to better understand the users and uses of the selected site. The findings of the observations were reflected upon in a training session with the youth where we moved towards design and its importance in addressing different users’ needs. We presented examples from around the world showcasing various public space designs that are of a similar scale, explaining how they addressed the needs of communities. The participants then worked in groups using ‘Let’s be architects’ tool to develop their design ideas. Each group presented their designs highlighting their desired impact on different users. The youth’s designs served as a base to come up with the design brief that was later translated into a preliminary design of the public space. The design brief defined the key target users of the project being: children, students of the nearby school, youth, adults, families and elderly. The design brief included the following guidelines: creating two zones for different types of activities: quiet and active; the quiet activities zone can also be used as a space for dialogue and meetings for the youth; the active zone includes children play items and gym items; improve accessibility to the park from the main road; and a shaded seating areas for everyone to enjoy. 

Phase 3: Design consultation and final design 

The preliminary design was first presented to the youth group in an online session during which they gave their feedback. After adjusting the design according to the feedback of the youth, they presented the design to the municipality and the community in a public design consultation. The mayor and municipal board members gave positive feedback on the design, suggested minor changes and shared their interest in expanding the project beyond this intervention. During the community consultation, people shared their feedback  and they were very excited to have this new public space in their town.

The final design was prepared based on the feedback received from the 3 consultations. It included a quiet central zone, consisting of a concrete amphitheatre that offered different seating options for individual or  group activities. Part of the amphitheatre includes tables that can be used for deskwork (writing, studying…etc) or for playing board games, the table is designed to accommodate wheelchair users. For shade, a steel shading structure covers a part of the amphitheatre, and new trees are planted to provide some shade. The active zone was developed along the existing oval path, this includes distance markings on the floor to encourage walking or running, two children play stations which include speaking pipes and climbing bars, and playful concrete stumps are scattered around. To improve accessibility to the public space and within its different zones, accessible paths are incorporated. We also added colourful mosaic tiles on the benches, the amphitheatre and floor as a visual attractive link around the site.  

Phase 4: Construction and activation 

As part of the construction phase of this project, we trained some of the youth group on site supervision. The youth conducted site supervisions together with our team to monitor the progress of work. Local workers were hired from the town and its surroundings, supporting their livelihood. During the construction phase, the municipality offered some support to the contractor on site, for instance they assigned one of their guards to ensure the security of the construction site after working hours.    

Once the public space construction was completed, we worked with the youth to activate the new public space. We planned together a community event that invited residents to inaugurate the use of this co-designed public space. During the event, the youth documented the ways in which people were using the space, and collected their feedback. The project was concluded with a reflection with the youth on the impact of this project on them and their wider community. 

Project ID

Year: 2021 – 2022
Location: Majdel Anjar, Bekaa, Lebanon
Status: Completed
Partners: International Alert
Funding: PHRD/Swiss Embassy in Beirut


What We Do

We empower communities through design