On August 13, 2018, students from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, Columbia University (GSAPP) together with Professor Dr. Ziad Jamaleddine (also co-founder and partner of L.E.FT Architects based in Brooklyn and Beirut) completed a three week workshop in Saida.

The aim of the workshops was to study and assess the seafront of Saida’s historic district, to identify issues and potentials, to develop innovative design and policy solutions, including  a canopy for the strip of popular coffee shops facing Saida’s Sea Citadel. It was the opportunity for presenting results to the mayor Mohamad Al Saudi, parliamentary representative Bahia Hariri and the municipal council. The workshop was organized by Saida’s Observatory for Social Impact (SOSI) in partnership with Touch. SOSI is a local non-governmental, nonpartisan organization founded in 2017. The NGO’s foundation is a direct response to a recommendation made in the Urban Sustainable Development Strategy (USUDS) for Saida.

In the last decade, Saida’s local government has commissioned large master-plans attempting to strengthen the city’s tourism and logistics sectors. This set forth the workshop’s problematique :  How can we strategically intervene at the smallest scale to unlock/excel the current city’s potential, while at the same time building towards the implementation of the larger scale projects  and strategies in a sustainable manner?

Upon identifying the environmental and infrastructural difficulties that hinder Saida’s historic waterfront assets, students sought integrated design solutions that simultaneously address cross-cutting urban issues at multiple scales by building on current and future plans for the site, such as the upcoming Bahr El Eid project and the long-term large scale Saida-Barcelona Master Plan. A particularly interesting topic in the future could be mixed use of public spaces and their implications or partnerships between public entities, private companies and civil society.If the city as a whole, including its people and environment, is resilient and healthy, then its tourism and economy will thrive. Following the municipal feedback, SOSI is organizing two more presentations to build on their recommendations; one with the local stakeholders and civic society and one with professionals and experts from the American University of Beirut.

Findings showed that the design workshop is a suitable format that allows a dynamic and organic innovation process to generate ideas. Nevertheless, sustainable urban development is a complex endeavor that requires support of many organizations, departments, professions and people. The USUDS strategic plan is only a framework and a starting point. What is needed are mechanisms and structures that help to develop communal space for everyone. Environmental issues and preserving cultural heritage are intertwined with socio-economic concerns such as success of local businesses, the daily walk to school and a flourishing tourism for the city of Saida.

Considering the fragmentation and informal governance practices in Lebanon’s central and local governing bodies with planning prerogatives, SOSI’s approach is based on collaborations incorporating academic institutions, public entities, as well as private sector organizations. The aim is to produce innovative, local pilot projects under the umbrella of the Saida’s USUDS strategic plan and its overall goals to upgrade the socio-economic character of the historic district and preserve its cultural heritage. SOSI is planning a future workshop with the University of Stuttgart and Ain Shams University in Cairo funded by the DAAD to extend the workshop findings in the aspects of sustainability especially in terms of the operational and financial management.

More info HERE