Prepared by Mohammad al-Asad and Majd Musa in association with Robert Saliba, 2001
Support for the publication of this essay has been made possible by a grant from the Prince Claus Fund for Culture and Development. Additional support has been provided by Darat al-Funun - The Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation.
Robert Saliba (1) is an urban planner who has been involved in the practice and teaching of urban planning for the past twenty years, especially within the context of Beirut. Consequently, he has had the opportunity to observe firsthand the changes that are taking place in the models and practices of urban planning affecting Beirut. He therefore devoted this presentation to the emerging trends in urban planning that have appeared in Beirut, particularly in the period between 1990 and 2000, the decade that followed the 1975 - 1990 Lebanese civil war. This essay deals with the issues that Saliba discussed in his presentation as well as the questions and answers that followed it.
Saliba began by illustrating the framework that he will use to explain these emerging trends in urbanism. He emphasized the importance of using a criterion for classification that would allow one to more easily elucidate the complex process of planning. This includes the issue of "specificity," which demands a differentiation between two types of trends. The first is "general trends," which consist of imported models that can be found in many countries within the Middle East. For example, "participatory planning," which is a popular recent trend in planning, is a general planning trend that is being practiced in different governance systems in the region, such as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Of course such a trend is being modified according to the different local political and socioeconomic settings. The second type of planning trends consists of "particular trends," or those that are unique to a specific context such as that of Beirut. It is to this second trend that Saliba devoted his presentation. Saliba also provides another criterion for classification, which is the "spatial scale." Whenever one talks about an evolving trend in urbanism, one needs to clearly specify the level of planning that one is addressing. That may be the level of the neighborhood, municipality, metropolitan region, or nation.
Saliba discusses another important point within the framework of this presentation, which is the relationship between the new trends and the old practices of urban planning. To Saliba, emergent trends cannot be isolated from the historical perspective, and most new trends originate from past practices and models. This raises the need for a "chronological approach." Consequently, he emphasizes the importance of defining the periods in the history of Lebanon that were of significance to the development of urban planning, and also defining the models and practices of urban planning related to them. Saliba identifies those "originating models of planning" to include the three categories of "colonial planning, modern planning, and post-modern planning." Saliba then discusses the contemporary planning trends that have resulted from those models in Lebanon in the 1990s, and discusses the issues of "spatial scale" and "specificity" they address.