Last Seen: debating urban issues on the sidewalk
AN OPEN LETTER
Every city has its story and Beirut’s is one I love to hate and hate to love. But this time I am writing to say, I love Beirut and this is how I know to show my love.
THE ENERGY – THE IDEA OF CITIZENSHIP
Last Friday, it was impossible to miss the igniting energy as Beirut Madinati finally revealed its list of candidates. Cheering crowds, flushed faces, tears, smiles, speeches, writings, images, videos, comics, art, songs… wow!
WORDS AND WORLDS OF BEIRUT
With an exceptionally crucial election looming on May 8, there is an urgency to reach out and spread the vision, a transparent mission, and encourage public participation. This powerful public engagement has been an opportunity for Beirutis (voters and non-voters) to speak up, listen, learn, share and suggest – Beirut Madinati has created a dialogue to boost Beirut in ways we were almost beginning to think was impossible.
The future success of Beirut Madinati relies on tough questions about accountability, transparency, effectiveness, but most of all participation. I think it is safe to say that we are all in agreement that the ‘ten points’ addressed in the program (link below) cater to all our core concerns. But here, I want to highlight not what they are tackling but how they are doing it. Process is everything. The strength of this movement is in the conversations it has created between us all.
Looking ahead, new issues will soon take center stage, and new points on the program will be added. What interests me is not what those specific points today are, but knowing that a solid foundation for communication can be built and what was once a far-fetched dream intertwined with hopelessness is now a tangible forum for our voices to be heard.
THINGS HAPPEN WHERE PEOPLE MEET
If where we choose to live defines how we live, then choosing to live in Beirut should not be a compromise to the quality of our lives. Often, what makes us happiest about the places we live in is a sense of belonging to a community that has your best interests at heart- a community that works together.
It is about transforming how, where and who you meet in the city. This is a unique situation in Beirut where everyone is invited. When you are potentially affected by, or interested in, a decision, you now have a platform that is asking you to actively participate in the process.
For the first time I feel that I, myself, have an actual role in generating change – but if I stay home and don’t fight for my rights then I am the one to blame when my streets are infested with the sickening stench of garbage.
THE LANGUAGE OF SPACE CREATORS
It makes me so happy to see that five of the candidates are architects (insert happy dance) happier to know that fifty percent of the candidates are women (here, here!), but happiest to see that all the candidates come from a range of colorful backgrounds that have come together to have a conversation.
As architects we know that the success of a space is what its users make of it. For once the conversation isn’t limited to auditorium discussions amongst designers, architects and urban planners. Beirut Madinati assists the city in producing its public spaces by creating a platform that calls out for Beirut’s users to direct the decision makers. We all come with different proposals: instead of encountering all these parameters as opposition, the process becomes more of an adventure through dialogue. By putting our concerns on the table and getting unexpected responses, gradually something evolves and ideas emerge.
EXPLORING THE CHARMS OF BEIRUTIS
The importance of dialogue has already fueled so many “uninterested” Beirutis to becoming active members of change. Just three months ago over an afternoon cup of coffee with three of my friends I casually asked them who voted in Beirut: “We vote in Beirut, but we don’t bother to vote” they said unanimously. They explained to me how pointless they felt it was having no one promising to vote for, and that their vote wouldn’t matter anyway. It was then that I asked if they had heard anything about Beirut Madinati – the conversation began. An unexpected three months later, those same people are offering to not only vote, share the campaign, attend community events, but most importantly – are active participants and supporters to better Beirut.
As you’ll see from the campaign, day by day we grow, and this is because people are talking to each other. Whether it is about why they think Horsh Beirut should stay closed to the public to protect its ecology, how Beirut Madinati doesn’t stand a chance because “this country is built by people who blindly follow their political parties for purely selfish reasons”, or about a need to demolish heritage buildings because it is their legal right to exploit – we are talking, so let’s make the most of it.
BITS OF a better BEIRUT
However, despite the above positivity, I cannot deny that it’s going to take a lot more than this. It is a case of swings and roundabouts and we need everyone to hop on board. All I can say, definitively, is that I am happy to see this bit of Beirut.