At the Edge of a City: Reinhabiting Public Space Toward the Recovery of Beirut’s Horsh Al-Sanawba

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With the recent tragedy in Beirut on our minds, we share the introduction of At the Edge of a City: Reinhabiting Public Space Toward the Recovery of Beirut’s Horsh Al-Sanawba, a book dedicated to Beirut’s public space through an examination of the closure of a public park, and why its presence is needed in a city still reeling from the violence of the civil war.

“[T]he public space of Beirut’s Park lies at the edge of modernity, politics, social convention, conflict, power, class, and confessionalism; the park itself is at the edge of history, memory, nature, and design; and, the location is actually at the geographic edge of city and suburb. Therein lies the book’s title, At the Edge of the City. But how can one account for transitioning – at least analytically – a public space from being at the edge of the city into becoming at the center of daily social practice? How can one suggest an alternative discourse to the constant treatment of public space as a dichotomy of total freedom and absolute control?

Public space acquires its key significance because it constitutes the institutional intersection and spatial interface between governing and governed, policy directives and institutional competence, state and citizen. In this regard, the subtitle of the book reflects an investigation of the meanings of a park and the dimensions of public space in Beirut. The undertaking involves a contemporary documentation, reading, and analysis of Horsh Al-Sanawbar; more specifically, how it transformed from a seventeenth century pine woods to a twentieth century park. But, the contemporary condition of Horsh Al-Sanawbar from woods to park and from open to closed space propelled an alternative discourse to promote, in return, its re-opening such that it sustains its raison d’être and the investment of rehabilitation.”

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