Started as part of “Practicing the Public” project (2014-2015) with the Social Justice and the City program at AUB-IFI
- “Practicing the Public” publication distributed with Assafir Newspaper on 12 October 2015, co-edited by Mona Fawaz, Ahmad Gharbeia, and Public Works Studio. You can download on this link.
One of the most enduring recreational activities among families living in Beirut are weekend and holiday outings when extended families (and friends) spend the day outside the city proper, somewhere close to nature, where they picnic, play, and visit in an outdoor setting, typically known as “sayaran". We decided to investigate how old city dwellers remember Beirut in the 1950s, by conducting twenty open-ended interviews with twenty elderly men and women who grew up in different neighborhoods of Beirut. In a way to privilege the practices and ephemeral aspects of these tanazuh sites, we asked our elderly informants to describe extensively what they did and where they went on their holidays, weekends, and eids in the 1950s. We produced a map that brings out the characteristics of the natural landscape, differentiating, between rocky coasts, sandy beaches and river-beds that create the coastal contour of Beirut. The configuration and characteristics of these landscapes were the basis upon which these sites were used as communal recreational spaces.
The investigation did not attempt to trace the history of public space in Beirut. Alternatively, intrigued by the activity of siran, we tried to understand the relationship Beirut dwellers had with the outdoors from a historical approach, in order to inform current debates on public space. By doing so, we unsettle the propertied understanding of public/private spaces by showing that whether sites were marked as “public” or “private” in land registries didn’t affect, for a very long time, the way they were used by city-dwellers.