In-Crises Planning/Planning in Crisis
Insights from the Beirut Urban Lab

March 18-19

City Debates 2022 will explore how planning can be (re)conceived and practiced in contexts of dysfunctional states and compounded crises, featuring the work of the AUB/MSFEA Beirut Urban Lab (BUL).

Beirut’s current in-disaster recovery epitomizes a recurrent scenario in contemporary times, one in which decades of neoliberal governance have hollowed-out public agencies, particularly in developing countries, and left communities vulnerable to large-scale climate or man-made events. In Lebanon and many other contexts of the Global South, even the illusion of representative or people-centered public governance has waned, and public agencies are widely identified as partisan bodies representing private (propertied and financial) interests. The very premise of planning is shaken, since the profession has rested on the now debunked assumption of a common good embodied by a custodian—the nation state. How do cities recover in such contexts? To what extend can relief agencies, local and international, operate in the absence of such a custodian? Can active civic groups and mobilized citizens provide counterpoints?

It is therefore important to conceptualize planning responses—including recovery—as an intervention amidst compounded crises, and not in its aftermath. Indeed, Beirut’s ongoing post-Port Blast’s “recovery” is occurring in the context of a financial and economic meltdown and a full political crisis—in addition to the pandemic. The scenario echoes other contexts: Izmir’s earthquake offers a good parallel in which the post-disaster recovery is occurring in the shadow of a rapid currency devaluation. Similarly, the aftermaths of both Mexico and Haiti’s earthquakes occurred in politically charged contexts during which public institutions were largely discredited. Thus, BUL is proposing an intellectual framework for recovery that integrates the immediate emergency response of relief within a larger view that accounts for the multiple forces that exacerbate the vulnerability of the communities at risk. BUL recognizes the necessity to step away from an undesirable past, not romanticize it, and to frame in-disaster recovery in relation to a history that is far from idyllic and where recovery requires the forging of alternative future possibilities. How is this achieved? BUL’s method rests on experimenting with deliberative modes of planning, those that inform (through the creation of knowledge platforms) and those that engage (through the planning interventions/projects), thus working with planning to forge collectivities around recognized shared interests. BUL’s interventions thus inform a direly needed theory of planning in practice.