Saida city, the third city in Lebanon, is located 45 kilometers south of the capital city of Beirut on the narrow coastal strip separating the mountain region from the sea and has a population of approximately 110,000 residents. Saida is a historical city where its natural rocky harbor is one of the oldest and most important harbors in the Levant. Its Old City is a living urban heritage site that is considered as the cultural heart of the South noting the diversity of people and religions, which is considered an asset to the city of Saida.

Despite these unique features of the city, Saida has been unable to cope with the growing and multidimensional urban problems due to its serious limitations on management resources. Saida is also in constant crisismanagement mode, as it has faced historically a lot of challenges. Yet, Saida boasts a vibrant civil society and a determined political will that empower the civil society in the city and scaffold the municipality’s authority and role in the development process, aiming at placing Saida on the map of the well-developed world. For this reason, Saida city has initiated to set its urban sustainable development strategy (hereinafter referred to as USUDS), based on the active participation of the community. Saida Municipality in partnership with Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development, has been implementing the USUDS based on the active participation of all stakeholders in the city to ensure the sense of ownership among them to commit to implement the strategy.

Several entities were created within the strategy to enhance the community participation at all levels of the project.

In addition to the technical team responsible of the project’s management and the local team of experts that is designing the strategy, a Steering Committee comprised of key stakeholders in the development of the city was established. This Committee was the decision making body that approved the experts’ reports by the end of each phase and oversees the flow of activities in the project. 

A consultative committee is also created of more than 200 members representing almost all stakeholders in order to meet twice per year and present to them the outcomes of the USUDS project. Such Committee enhanced the networking and public-private partnerships in development projects based on the discussions conducted in the meetings that were done.

In addition, by the end of the descriptive memory phase, six working groups were created according to the identified transversal issues and included more than 95 participants to validate the data collected by the experts, as well as to identify and confirm the general objectives and strategies set for the city.  

Several forms of meetings were conducted all through the USUDS such as the Steering Committee meetings; working groups meetings, public meetings, workshops with youth, focus groups with specific entities, as well as public campaign using social media and formal media to raise awareness on USUDS.  All this process of community participation has been the key for USUDS success in Saida despite all the challenges and obstacles that faced the project, especially that it has being implemented in a critical period of time on Saida and Lebanon.

Some administrative and financial issues have been an obstacle to initiate the work and conduct all the planned activities in the project. In addition, the general political instability in Lebanon and the political and security situation in Saida that escalated after the armed conflicts that erupted in the city during the Strategic Framework phase, have hindered the experts’ work and the community participation activities as it was so challenging to convince citizens in discussing the city’s future within a critical and gloomy present.

However, Saida Municipality and Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development were keen to overcome the challenges and use USUDS as a reconciliation tool among citizens to promote for strategic planning and dreaming of the city through setting the vision and mission.

Thus, Saida has been able to set its vision, mission, strategic framework including 26 strategic objectives, an action plan of 27 projects, and indicators system based a scientific base and deep diagnosis and analysis.

The Urban Sustainable Development Strategy is not a project but a process that has been introduced to the city in order to have a holistic development approach in all the development projects and priorities set in the city. Moreover, it shift the role of Saida Municipality to be a local authority playing a major role in the development process of the city; and thus, putting Saida on the map of modernization and development with the preservation of its historical identity. Such process has been adopted by Saida Municipality in all its work and has enhanced the transparency and accountability with the community through the effective participative approach used.

As USUDS is approaching to its end, Saida city is moving forward with its community participation in developing and implementing the proposed projects in the action plan and creating an institutionalized system in the Municipality to sustain this adopted process and approach. However, the inadequate human resources and capacities in Saida Municipality, remains a challenge that is being overcome through various means such as capacity building programs for staff, establishment of the development unit, and technical support from the community.

In addition, Saida in many ways is a victim of a national political and security crisis that has been hampering many of the ongoing development processes and social events and diminishing the rule of law and public order in the entire state. Thus, the sense of ownership among the community, political will, and determination of Saida Municipality and Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development in implementing and sustaining USUDS will be the guarantee of overcoming any obstacle that might hinder the city’s way towards sustainable urban development.