Between January 13-18, 2020, the Urban Recovery Platform at the Beirut Urban Lab, the American University of Beirut, conducted a capacity building workshop funded by the Barakat Trust and the Ford Foundation. The workshop focused on post-conflict urban recovery and took the city of Aleppo in Syria as its site of inquiry facing protracted displacement, massive physical destruction, and limited humanitarian aid. It was directed by Howayda Al-Harithy and coordinated by Najmeh Viki.

In her opening statement on 13 January, Al-Harithy stressed the importance of viewing urban recovery as an ongoing process that starts before a conflict ends. She advocated for a bottom-up, people-driven, participatory, and holistic approach to urban recovery. This approach uses active citizenship as its entry point and relies on the power of the collective rather than the individual. Viki asserted the value of such capacity building workshops in expanding research to embrace innovation, pedagogy, and knowledge dissemination in the service of urban recovery in the Arab region.

The workshop involved a multidisciplinary group of fourteen participants from Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria, including seven from Aleppo, one from Homs, and one from Damascus. The participants utilized their diverse sets of expertise to explore the urban recovery of Aleppo—in architecture, urban design, planning, environmental studies, civil engineering, economic development, and politics and public policy. The long-term aim of this pilot workshop is to create a network of recoverers who are socially responsible engaged citizens and professionals.

Collectively, the participants profiled the city and articulated a vision of Aleppo as “a leading cultural and economic hub in the region” and “a just city of diverse open communities and resilient and engaged citizens who are empowered by their living heritage and progressive education”. Building on this vision, the participants drafted a strategic framework for the recovery of Aleppo.

This studio format of the workshop was supported by eight seminars delivered by a group of experts including: Jala Makhzoumi on the ecological approach to recovery; Eva Ziedan on the recovery of rural heritage in Syria; Mona Fawaz on the politics of the reconstruction by Waad in Haret Hreik; Robert Saliba on Solidere’s neoliberal approach to the reconstruction of the Beirut Central District; Habib Debs on the liaison douce project in Beirut; Ismael Sheikh Hassan on the participatory approach to the reconstruction of the Nahr El-Bared Palestinian camp; and Howayda Al-Harithy on heritage recovery.

Upon the closing of the workshop, the participants expressed their appreciation for the experience. One stated that “the workshop offered a generous package of theoretical and professional learning, as well as an extensive set of carefully selected readings and resources. I cherish this empowering experience particularly in the difficult circumstances that our country is facing”. Another commented that “the workshop shifted our perception of recovery from pure reconstruction to a wider multi-disciplinary approach that fosters long- and short-term strategic objectives”.