7 December 2020

Research project to investigate inclusion in public spaces in Lebanon

Dr Clare Rishbeth has been awarded £200,000 from the Global Challenges Research Fund to investigate how public spaces in countries impacted by conflict can be made more inclusive to traditionally marginalised groups.

Two boys play football in Beirut
The project will investigate the impact of the destruction of the public realm on inclusion

Included Outside: interventions for a more inclusive public realm in conflict settings will work with NGOs and community groups based in Lebanon - a country with ongoing challenges related to long histories of sectarian divisions and refugee accommodation - to understand how histories of conflict shape residents’ experiences of being excluded from public space.

The 18-month long project, which will commence in April 2021, aims to understand the experiences of spending time outside for Palestinian and Syrian refugees, internally displaced Lebanese and female migrant workers.  

We want to know what does inclusion mean in practice in places still impacted by conflict dynamics. What exclusions need to be addressed?

Dr Clare Rishbeth

Department of Landscape Architecture

Clare said: for most people across the world, spending time in public spaces improves quality of life. Different types of open spaces - from formal parks to street corners - offer opportunities to informally socialise, exercise, gain respite from work or home pressures, feel part of a local neighbourhood and enjoy contact with nature.”

“However, these opportunities can be constrained in many ways, reflecting wider patterns of individual and community marginalisation. We want to know what does inclusion mean in practice in places still impacted by conflict dynamics. What exclusions need to be addressed?”

“We will focus on the experience of women and displaced people in Lebanon and aim to understand how historic destructions and severe under-investment in the public realm impacts their ability to enjoy being outdoors in local spaces.”

The project will engage with NGOs and professional groups whose ambitions include meaningful inclusion for migrants and refugees in public life – often through work on women’s safety, wellbeing and mental health – but who may not consider the use of public open space as relevant to these goals.

Clare said: “the priorities of the groups we will be working with reflect some of the root causes of exclusion from public space for some in Lebanon.”

“Firstly, a limited collective sense of belonging, shaped by displacements, poverty, political instability and sectarian territories. Secondly, female migrants and refuges often face an additional barrier to participation, with their time outside hindered by experiences of violence, perceptions of social un-acceptability, and lack of access to well-designed and safe public space.”

Students and staff from the Department of Landscape Architecture in Beirut in September 2019
Dr Clare Risbheth (second from right) with staff and students from the Department of Landscape Architecture on a research trip to Beirut in September 2019

By engaging with groups working with these issues, Clare and her research team aim to initiate change beyond the timeframe of the project. The researchers will support stakeholders in connecting their existing activities with improving access to local public open spaces.

By working locally, nationally and internationally, the project aims to offer scalable initiatives that link wellbeing and inclusion ambitions to public spaces and which can potentially be replicated in other Middle Eastern contexts. In 2022 they will faciliate a  MENA regional workshop with public space activists in Jordan and occupied Palestinian territories in order to test broader relevences of their findings.

The research team includes academics and activist-practitioners from both Lebanon and the UK, and consists of Dr Clare Rishbeth (University of Sheffield), Dr Christine Mady (Notre Dame University-Louaize), Dr Nayla Al-Alk (American University of Beirut), Dominika Blachnicka-Ciacek (Goldsmiths), Abir Saksouk (Public Works) and Lina Abou Habib (Collective for Research and Training-Action).

In September 2019, Clare led a staff-student research trip to Beirut, funded in part by the University of Sheffield’s Alumni fund. Connections made during this trip were instrumental in building the team for this bid.