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Recapturing Beirut for the Benefit of Children and Teenagers Via School Infrastructure

Cynthia Azzam

Research Framework: While Beirut may be best known for its Pine Forest (recently reopened to the public), the city remains sorely lacking public spaces. The few available places have, for the most part, been left fallow, and the small recreational spaces dedicated to children are rare. Young couples are slowly leaving the city (especially with the increase in the price of real estate) and it seems as if the city hast no interest in providing for its children and teenagers. The main interest appears to be attracting young people to its trendy neighborhoods and drawing tourists to its reconstructed downtown.

Objectives: This article is not intended to dwell on societal flaws. Beirut’s origins can be traced back centuries, so we choose to not analyze « the city as the place where solutions are invented ». Instead, we chose to consider the use of schools (which are only occupied for a few hours during the day) as recreational areas that can be put to use in the afternoon and during summer vacation?

Methodology: Based on the results of a doctoral research on school architecture in Lebanon, we identified the expectations of users from urban spaces. In this paper, we opted for a mixed methodology using a qualitative approach (semi-structured interviews conducted with players in the educational sector) as well as a quantitative approach (multiple case models).

Results: The opinions of principals, parents and students, some begrudgingly, showed there was a desire to make room for the younger generation in the city of tomorrow. However, sharing school spaces with the city raises the question of infrastructure security, deterioration, maintenance and cleanliness.

Conclusions: Opening the city to children and teenagers will lead not only to physical changes in the city, but also to a change in the habits and mentalities of local residents and decisionmakers.

Contribution: This article seeks to rethink the urban school landscape from a different perspective—by giving young people spaces that are rightly theirs.