“…it’s as if we live somewhere far away from Lebanon,” cried one of the residents of Karantina as he lamented about the lack of attention from those that are responsible for reforming the man’s living conditions. The morphology of Karantina experienced dramatic changes at its borders: the boundaries, over time, transformed from very fluid and permeable, to very dense infrastructural fabrics that prohibit easy ins and outs.
“Which investor would want to invest here?… activity used to be centralized here…” claimed another resident in the area during the Documenters & Visual Creators ethnographic studies. It was quite dystopian realizing the collective acknowledgement of both players and observers in the game. One of the boundaries of Karantina is the edge of the Beirut river, and Bourj Hammoud is across the river on the other side. The river is flanked by two towns that have zero pedestrian connection. The fissures caused by this urban morphology go very deep at several levels, but notably the ethnic, security, trade, and infrastructural levels.
Our photographic archive of urban informalities in the Karantina – Beirut River – Bourj Hammoud radius revealed an urgent need of the attention from public authority with the intention to reform a lot of the dangers that threaten public health and cause community dysfunction in both the physical and intangible. This study is important because it is one of very few that pay detailed attention to sidewalk and street-corner level inconveniences. In “Sidewalk as a Space for Disposal,” a web of violations, violators, and consequences rest on a 3 meter long sidewalk. The same proximity applies to Karantina as a whole. The same proximity is multiplied to the entire metropolitan city of Beirut. If we square this proximity, it applies to Lebanon. This photograph gives insights on the dimensions of corruption that the entire country is plagued with. It’s a 16 cm by 11 cm photograph that was taken at 33.899809, 35.533290. It is one out of a plethora of photographic reports that convey urban informalities and public authority negligence in just a limited geography around the Beirut river.
The photographic archive, in its first assessment, showed that almost 100% of the urban barriers invade spaces that are in the public realm, and nearly 50% of them occupy sidewalks. More than half of the reported barriers are immovable installations. They vary between legal and illegal, religious and political, temporary and permanent, sanitation and recreational… These ‘barriers’ are phenomena that residents have normalized and began to render as less important, completely disregarding the long term impact that community dysfunction in the physical has on both life decisions, mobility in the city, and mental health.
Community reform initiatives can be physical and tangible [civic] which create urban situations such as safe spaces, inclusive environments, public reading facilities, digital air in specified streets, access to green, etc. They can also be digital spaces where the engagement of both the average resident and members of public authority is of the essence: this can vary between platforms for communication between residents, forms for real-time data transfer, user maps for neighborhood-level details, search engines, etc. In contexts such as Karantina, both lines of intervention would resurrect its character of being a hotspot for commercial, residential, and industrial activity, amongst more.
In Catalunya, Spain, select municipalities use a technique of connecting an urban situation and/ or natural occurrence to a specific geographic location. ‘Municipal Civil Protection’ encourages participatory governance to advance the action towards state response and reform while including the residents and stakeholders. The Artists & Laborers working group at Studio Madane stumbled upon this case study during the testing process of a similar platform that is shared between the residents and the municipalities. This platform, ‘Ji[Daruna]’, is a map that contains photographic urban informality reports pinned to geographic locations. It is a way for residents to report photographic data, in real time, to a team of public authority members that will respond to the report. The response is to visit the revised report and reform it. ‘Ji[Daruna]’ is the name of the interactive reporting. On the residents’ side, a form is to be filled: photograph of informality, geographic location, and qualitative responses to a questionnaire about the characteristics of the report at hand. A quantitative comparative can be drawn out of the many reports that are submitted. The municipality, in turn, keeps a record of these numbers, and observes the updates on the map in order to assess.
‘Jidaruna’ is an Arabic term that means “our barrier” or “our wall” and ‘daruna’ means “our home.” This community reform is digital, participatory, and oriented towards reforming our living environments and collective healing. Urban governance comes into question in a landscape of absent authorities, and the prospect of resident reports in such abundance regains the citizens their authority and ownership in their community spaces. The absence of citizenship and co-participation is one of the many reasons that residents in Lebanon might continue to idolize political leaders instead of prioritizing the nation and collective good.
“In your opinion, would they let you work? If you succeed, you’ll affect their dominance… The residents of the area could change but they [the authorities] wouldn’t let them… They ask “who are you working for?…” said two residents in the Organized Entropy documentary by the Documents & Visual Creators working group. At the confrontation with such reality, one cannot but recollect the picture of the ‘web of violators, violations, and consequences’. While community reform at the level of the street-corner is inevitable, a different entry point to achieve this goal must be considered.