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Observations on Beirut’s sectarian urban structure

Professor Scott Bollens from the University of California, Irvine talks about the findings of his recent research in Lebanon during two LAU lectures.

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Dr. Scott Bollens, professor of planning, policy and design at the University of California, Irvine, gives a lecture titled "Post-war Beirut Urban Development and the Practices of Urban Planning?" at LAU Byblos, October 18.

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Bollens gives a second lecture on "Divided Cities and Power-Sharing Arrangements" at LAU Beirut, October 22. (Photo: LAU student Vanessa Listl)

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The Byblos lecture was organized by the Urban Planning Institute and the Department of Architecture & Interior Design at LAU's School of Architecture and Design.

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The Beirut lecture was held as part of the guest speaker series in a course taught by Dr. Imad Salamey (right), LAU assistant professor of political science. (Photo: LAU student Vanessa Listl)

Click on any photo above to view all four images.

Maintaining sectarian balance in Lebanon is both required and problematic, says Dr. Scott Bollens, professor of planning, policy and design and Warmington Chair in Peace and International Cooperation at the University of California, Irvine, who spent the month of October in Beirut to examine the urban structure of the city through the framework of sectarianism.

Bollens, who has extensively studied the role of urban policy and city building amid nationalistic ethnic conflict and political transitions in various cities around the world, talked about the findings of his research in Beirut during two separate lectures at LAU’s campuses in October.

According to Bollens, the same elements that restrict democracy such as consociationalism (power-sharing based on confession), are also holding Lebanon together, albeit very loosely. Practical reforms to improve certain aspects of the country are not seen as viable, he says, since they would affect the sectarian balance.

The question of sectarian balance is but a single point among the 18 observations Bollens pinpointed and thoroughly examined after an extensive tour of Beirut and after meetings with 21 high-profile figures in Lebanon, including urban professionals, academics and members of NGOs.

The 18 observations were an attempt to answer two questions Bollens struggled with during his visit to Lebanon: how have urban policy and urban governance in Beirut influenced sectarian relations since the civil war; and how have sectarian relations influenced post-war urban development and the practices of urban planning in Beirut.

On October 22, Bollens was invited as a guest lecturer on the Beirut campus in the Lebanese Politics and Administration course taught by Dr. Imad Salamey, LAU assistant professor of political science, to talk about “Divided Cities and Power-Sharing Arrangements.”

He presented how power is shared in urban areas divided along ethnic or sectarian lines, in five cities besides Beirut — Belfast, Brussels, Jerusalem, Johannesburg and Sarajevo.

“I was quite intrigued by the various ways that many of these cities were divided — linguistically, religiously or racially — and the approaches taken to quell or propagate the status quo (redrawn borders, ethnic councils, confessional power-sharing),” says one of Salamey’s students.

The first lecture by the American scholar was given at LAU Byblos in an event organized by the Urban Planning Institute and the Department of Architecture & Interior Design at LAU’s School of Architecture and Design.


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