To think through the city from the lens of “play” provides us with a new way of seeing its spaces. Arguably, play is a form of knowledge about the spaces where the practice occurs through imaginative, often spontaneous actions linked to everyday encounters. Through this lens, outdoor-play practices are forms of spatial appropriation and reproduction; they introduce unpredictability and consequently new possibilities. We found 10 informal football playgrounds in Beirut and its vicinity. We documented their history and use, producing timelines charting land usage and appropriation.
Started as part of “Practicing the Public” project (2014-2015) with the Social Justice and the City program at AUB-IFI. Then developed in 2015-2016 as part of a research grant by the Asfari Institute at AUB.
- Asfari Institute at the American University of Beirut, April 2016
- “Soccer as a Global Phenomenon” conference at Harvard University, April 2016
Growing up in urban neighborhoods is largely shaped by the practice of appropriating empty spaces for play. Low-income dwellers of the Lebanese capital have long put their imagination to work by transforming derelict spaces into informal football fields where the community gathers to play and interact in what they’ve made public space. Over time however, the rapid densification and mass privatization of Beirut has made these communal spaces steadily disappear, threatening to make youth efforts of urban space appropriation a thing of the past.
Acquiring spaces for play thus becomes a daily exercise of resistance: youths commit numerous acts of transgression in an effort to safeguard leftover spaces by disrupting construction sites, jumping over fences onto private property, and writing on walls. These actions invite us to see urban spaces through the lens of playful practices, and calls out our very conception of the public domain.
We produced timelines and stories of these places through meticulous fieldwork and historical aerial photography of 10 makeshift football fields: Horsh al-Qateel, Ard Jalloul, Cola, Karantina, Jnah, Khandaq al-Ghameeq, Ras al-Nabeh, and the Mar Elias refugee camp. They narrate stories of mostly disenfranchised youths who, driven by a desire to play freely, are openly challenging institutions and the city’s urban planning through peaceful collective action.
Against the legal claims of the owners recognized by the state, we highlight an alternative way in which spaces of play are produced in the city, and advocate for the recognition of claims of past use as an important form of managing spaces in cities around the world today.