In its 15th consecutive year, City Debates explored the relationship between international aid, inclusive urban planning, and the reality of refugees in the region. Through three keynote speeches, five panels, and two roundtables over two days, the annual event examined this year how international aid promotes the mobility of urban policy ideas, and mobilizes a range of stakeholders, and technologies.
Looking at two sets of urban policies, regional planning and refugee policies, it highlighted the social and political opportunities that international aid may produce when conceived in relation to inclusive urban and local governance dynamics and when embedded in flexible institutional configurations that prioritize inhabitable environments suitable for a good life for all.
Organized by the AUB Masters in Urban Planning and Policy program and the Masters in Urban Design Program, City Debates was started in 2002 to bring together professionals, academics, and students from the region and beyond to examine contemporary issues related to the region’s urbanization.
In previous years, City Debates addressed issues such as contemporary urbanism in the Arab world; re-conceptualizing boundaries in urban design in the Arab world; rethinking informality in design tactics planning strategies; historical transformations and contemporary practices on property in planning; and urban change associated with gentrification.
This year, under the title “Urban Policy Mobilities and International Aid Lessons from Regional Planning and Refugee Policies” and with the yearly aim to seek an understanding of contemporary urbanization and usher creative strategies to respond to daunting challenges, City Debates 2016 brought together academics, professionals from local and international institutes, NGOs, and organizations. Three keynote speakers were invited to campus: Eugene McCann (Simon Fraser University) who discussed policy mobilities and crisis urbanism, Susan Parnell (Cape Town University) who reflected on urban and regional planning challenges in the context of international aid, and Jennifer Hyndman (York University) who discussed humanitarianism, militarization and displacement.
Policies for regional planning and refugees
“City Debates is here to inspire our students to become key actors in rebuilding and re-planning our cities in this part of the region and improve their livability,” said Dr. Mona Harb, Professor of Urban Studies and Politics. “This is an invaluable platform where we can produce knowledge that informs reflective practice and train future city planners. This helps us to work harder in making our cities better places.”
Five panels spanned over two days: On the first day, two panels were dedicated to regional planning policies, investigating regionalization and state rescaling in Morocco, Lebanon, and Tunisia and examining decentralization debates, contested territorialities, and urban conflicts in India, Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.
On the second day, three panels focused on refugee policies. The first focused on Lebanon’s approach to the refugee crisis, on Jordan’s economic policies towards Syrian refugees, and on lessons learned from African cities’ urban policies. The last two panels presented experiences of living in Cairo as a refugee through the case of Sudanese refugees and the Zaatari camp in Jordan as well as reflections on humanitarianism and ethics, and on urban planning, informality and refugee policies.
City Debates also held two roundtables investigating regional planning and refugee policies in Lebanon. The first presented analysis on three city-regions in Lebanon (Jounieh, Beirut and Saida) and focused on the need to rescale state authority at a regional level, through either municipal unions or qada’s, in an effort to better operationalize and implement the Schéma Directeur d’Aménagement du Territoire Libanais (SDATL), while avoiding the consolidation of sectarian territorialities.
The second roundtable involved a wide range of policy makers and practitioners operating on the ground with refugees and tackled the multiple efforts exerted to better coordinate efforts, and to promote a neighborhood-based approach to refugee policies.
City Debates was made possible with support from the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics (LSE), the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture at AUB, the AUB Issam Faris Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, the Institut Francais du Proche-Orient, and The Embassy of Canada.
The conference was opened by AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri who described it as a wonderful example of community engagement and positive action.
“We are positioning ourselves as a university as advocates for change and catalysts to improve not just architecture and urban planning but society itself” Dr Khuri said. “It is vital that we at AUB step up and be seen as leaders in dealing with the Syrian refugee crisis. This is fundamental to who we are and who we must be. We must also be change agents in our neighborhood … We have to do that in order to allow our students to be even better than we are at shaping the region and changing the world.”