Involvementof residents in urban micro-projects in Lebanon: political challenges andpractical proposals.Casestudy: A participative and concerted project approach: The Sociocultural centrein Beirut.HucenSleiman. Being under the Frenchmandate for more than twenty years, and staying under the French influence untilthis date, Lebanon is a country that drew most of its political laws and urbanplanning regulations from France. The French laws “Solidarity and UrbanRenewal” (2000), the Voynet law on the environment (2000) as well as thelaw “Democracy of proximity” (2001), influenced the participatoryapproach in the Lebanese urban projects: systematic involvement, and as farupstream as possible, of residents and associations in the development ofprojects that concern their living environment.
These texts evoke not only theduty of “information” and “consultation” of the population,but are now referring to the need for “concertation” or even”participation”. At the same time, a number of local electedrepresentatives and planning and construction professionals are considering that it is no longer possible todesign projects without the involvement of the residents or users, suggestingthat the appropriation, the quality of management of the spaces created, andthe effective implementation of operations depend more and more on thisinvolvement.The question of the implication of the inhabitants in projects ofdevelopment or construction seems in fact today even more unavoidable that theterritories of intervention are not virgins anymore. They are alreadyinhabited, “lived”; it is therefore difficult to envisage”remaking the city on the city”, without taking into considerationthe social and spatial practices and representations that have marked and stillmark the identity of the places. Although the intention to involve residents inproject approaches is increasingly expressed in Lebanon as other Middle Eastcountries, it is often treated as an ancillary issue and has difficulty to betruly integrated in the operational procedures. Sceptical attitudes or evenresistance remain, and assert themselves for example in:-The idea shared by some elected representatives and inhabitants that theexercise of democracy can only be strictly representative: the former giving acrucial importance to the power of delegation granted to them by the vote. Thelatter believing that they do not have the skills to take the place of thelatter whom they have just designated to act and decide on their behalf;-A recurrent and persistent doubt among a large number of elected officials andtechnicians about what can really bring the involvement of residents or usersin project approaches: it is for many a loss time, money, even legitimacy;-A fear of having to respond to excessive desires or to be confronted with thefamous principle of NIMBY;-A tendency to discredit the truly democratic and open nature of participatoryapproaches, because of the “unrepresentative” nature of the groupsinvolved, a kind of alibi allowing to better justify the fact that one prefers,ultimately solicit no one.
The case studies and research-actions that Ihave carried out in recent years have confirmed the existence of theseobstacles while clarifying their nature. These works have also revealed others,more related to the decision-making methods and practices done by developmentand construction professionals.-While those most reluctant to associate residents with a project are afraid togive up some of their power, paradoxically, current operational approachesannounced as “concerted” or “participatory” often failbecause of structural weakness of project management, resulting morespecifically in a weak mobilization of the politics: in a reluctance of elected officials todeclare their true objectives and to make choices at certain key stages of aproject process. However, engaging a participatory approach requires a”strong project management”, that is to say, organized around a realpole of decision makers, well identified, able to arbitrate and report to theinhabitants at any time of the process.-The success of the operations is often placed by the elected officials, in thechoice of a providential master of work; as a result, the phases or missions ofdiagnosis and programming are often neglected both in time spent and in theinvestment they require in terms of assistance to project management. Nevertheless,it is at their level that the credibility of a concerted or participatoryapproach is already being played out.-The trust that many professionals have in their personal experience gives themthe feeling that working with residents and users will bring them nothing morethan what they already know, and discourages them from taking any participatorysteps.-There is often no real articulation between the approach taken with theinhabitants and the process of project which advances according to its ownlogic, the inhabitants do not know what become their remarks and proposals.
Public meetings sometimes organized or under the name of participationworkshops are more like places of communication or consultation. In fact, more generally, these reasonsseem, on the one hand, related to the difficulties encountered by many electedofficials to take and assume certain decisions and, on the other hand, tomethodological problems that project leaders often encounter, mandates clientsor technical services controlling the operations. The experience of the realizationof the sociocultural centre of Beirut which will be presented in the secondpart of this essay, highlights the conditions that were necessary for theimplementation of a participative project approach. It should not be consideredas a model to be repeated identically, but it demonstrates the feasibility ofthis type of initiative in Lebanon. This example also aims to providemethodological guidelines concerning the organization of such approaches forequipment projects that by their vocation can be considered as urbanmicro-projects. 1. Involvement ofthe people in development or construction projects: what are the challenges? Thelast recommendations expressed by the legislator in favour of a greaterinvolvement of the inhabitants in actions that concern their livingenvironment, intervene in Lebanon in a current political context marked by whatwe have got used to describe, as “political crisis”. Morespecifically, the most recent elections only confirmed the existence of agrowing and perceptible loss of confidence of the civil society and itsrepresentatives, characterized by rising rates of abstention and extremistvotes in elections, especially in socially disadvantaged neighbourhoods.
Thisphenomenon is now interpreted as a questioning of the traditional forms ofgovernment, as they have been expressed for thirty years, that is to say basedessentially on a “culture of delegation” and on a relative marginalizationof citizens in the elaboration of local choices. The researchers, sociologistsand political scientists, have shown how many citizens can no longer adhere toa form of democracy that only gives them the right to designate every five orsix years, representatives responsible for taking all decisions in their place.In fact, it is now a matter for the state and the local authorities, not onlyto “re-interest” the citizen in the exercise of Democracy, but therebyto better establish the legitimacy of the decisions taken.
In fact, thejurisdictional impasses in which the development, urban planning orconstruction projects are more and more frequently found, due to inadequate andtoo late public inquiry procedures, are also at the origin of the latestprovisions that encourage the residents to get involved as early as possible inthe projects. This concern to involve citizens in the development of decisionsthat affect their living environment is not specific to the areas of urbanplanning and development. “Public debates” on broad societal issues,sometimes with complex scientific and technical dimensions, have recentlyincreased in number, while attempts are sometimes made to adopt techniques thathave been proven in other countries, such as than “consensusconferences” or citizen juries.
This trend illustrates a willingness ofour leaders to otherwise organize their relations with civil society. Lebanon isnow faced with the problem of reconciling “representative democracy”and “participatory democracy”. These two modes of government are forsome antithetical, especially when the principle of democracy is associatedwith the only election procedure. Is it possible togrant more power to citizen-inhabitants while maintaining a political system inwhich they elect representatives to manage “the affairs of the City”?The answer to this question, in our opinion, requires a preliminaryclarification on the one hand the objects on which the involvement of theinhabitants is envisaged – this is a participation in the elaboration ofprojects or the decisions relating to them? – and on the other hand theexpected level of involvement. It is only by specifying these two dimensionsthat we can avoid any misunderstanding in the debates around this subject, andcertain disillusions in the actions undertaken. Thiswork seems even more necessary if the legislative texts advocate theinformation, the consultation, or the participation of the citizens, theyremain little precise on the sense which they give to these terms as well as ontheir modalities of application.
If we can think that this second aspect is nottheir responsibility and opens the possibility of developing methods adapted toeach context, the first point is in our opinion more problematic, because itgives rise to misunderstandings but also amalgamation or even abuse, whichoften discredit in fine the actions taken. Indeed, since these terms are oftenused interchangeably and without reference to well-defined procedures in advanceof the decision-making process, they become overused and may appear asdemagogic announcing effects. They are not long in causing suspicion ofresidents or community leaders, who fear of being manipulated, and may preferto stay away.
The different levelsof possible involvement of the inhabitants or users in the realization of aprojectSelf-management means that the inhabitants alonedecide on the definition of the project and the budgets allocated. Withco-decision or co-management, the inhabitants are involved in the decision. Theintroduction of “participatory budgets” (following the example ofPorto Alegre) allows participatory neighbourhood authorities to freely decideon the use of part of the public money: elected officials commit themselves toadvance to endorse these choices.The participation, often nowadays poorlydistinguished from the concertation, is the fact of allowing all theinhabitants-users who wish it to be involved at all the stages of theelaboration of a project. The idea is to leave the system open, and to ensurethat the reflections made by the user-user groups contribute directly totransforming the project. Participation implies concertation (that is, workingtime with groups of inhabitants, users), consultation and information.Depending on whether the inhabitants participate freely in the elaboration ofthe project with the operational bodies, or the political decision-makingbodies, participation can lead to co-production or co-decision respectively.Note that in an open device, the co-production remains in the field ofparticipation, in a more closed system; it is similar to a strong consultation.
“Town Planning Workshops” may constitute co-production schemes, ifthe modalities for taking into account the work done are well clarified andeffective.The concertation consists in forming working groupswith the inhabitants-users. The latter are chosen for their”representativeness”, sometimes directly by the contractingauthority, according to more or less random processes. For a long time in Lebanon,the concertation remained institutional, politico-administrative and technical.An additional degree of openness is now achieved when inhabitants areassociated with reflection. However, often remains uncertain, the question oftaking into account their work throughout and in the development of a project.In an information and consultation system, the inhabitants are not directlyassociated with the realization of project: they are informed by various mediaof the progress of the project.
They are invited to give their opinion atpublic meetings or by the procedure of the public inquiry for example, withoutthe elected officials, the project owner is obliged to follow these opinions.Consultation is often organized when the project is well advanced. While the technical quality of the projectshas increased over the last twenty years, thanks in particular to animprovement in products and components as well as the development of thetechnical skills of professionals, the consideration of socio-spatial practicesof residents-users, problematics of use, and management of spaces to rehabilitateor build is far from being satisfactory.Infact, the enrichment or the modifications made to regulations and procedureshave had the effect of increasing the complexity of the legal and technicalaspects to be taken into consideration, and therefore a greater concentrationof technicians and owners of work on these dimensions.Inother words, while we have not ceased over the last forty years to produce alarge number of precise standards or recommendations, and to try to make theprogramming and design processes more rational, we can see that often aninadequacy of built-up areas to the practices of daily life of the inhabitantsor users, which can lead to a lack of appropriation and accelerateddeterioration of certain places.
The assessments ofequipment that we have been carrying out for several years, for localauthorities or large administrations, have allowed us to understand the natureand acuteness of the problems of use and management experienced by recentlybuilt buildings, Highly technical, and sometimes designed by renowned architects.The retrospective analysis of the operational processes relating to theequipment evaluated shows how much these problems are largely related to anoverly prescriptive and technical approach to programming processes, to a lowcapitalization of previous experiences concerning the uses and the actual modesof operation of the programs. buildings once commissioned, and in a general andtransversal way, to a limited involvement of the different actors, futureinhabitants, users and managers, during the different phases of the projects.The problems of use and appropriation that we have been able to identify, haveshown us how much they can translate into a social, economic and symbolic costthat is important for a community, even putting into question the quality ofthe service made.Makingthe assumption that the improvement of the quality of uses, and that theappropriation of the built spaces are closely related to the modes ofapprehension and organization of the project processes, we thus experiencesince the mid-1990s programmatic approaches based on concerted use assessments,and on ongoing involvement of future inhabitants or users. This type ofapproach is inspired by the methodological achievements of almost ten years ofresearch and experimentation conducted notably by the human sciences departmentof the Scientific and Technical Centre for Building, with the support of theformer Urban Plan, and Plan Construction et Architecture, in the field ofsocial housing and housing for the elderly. We have tried to extend, adapt andapply these principles to the realization of public facilities underconventional operating conditions.
2. A participativeand concerted project approach: the example of the creation of thesociocultural centre of Beirut. Therealization of the sociocultural centre of Beirut is one of the four approachesof programming of public equipment in which we engaged since three years as ateam of programming and assistance to the project management. It is today themost accomplished of the operations that we carried out, for reasons that areprimarily due to the consistency of the project management in its desire toensure that this project is the result of work “conducted with the inhabitants,for the inhabitants “. In addition to developing a “participative andcitizen” approach, the municipality had the ambition to optimize therelationship between quality of use, environmental quality and economy of theproject.Thepermanence of this ambition – despite a change of municipal team during theoperation – has resulted in a permanent respect for the rules of the gameproposed, discussed and fixed at the launch of the project. When themunicipality asked us, it had already made a local social and culturaldiagnosis. This diagnosis was elaborated according to participative modalitiesgiving place to a wide diffusion of information by means of the press andthrough the associations, to public meetings of exchanges with the electedofficials, to the organization of three groups thematic and a steering groupmade up of inhabitants and elected officials.
It confirmed the idea of??creating socio-cultural equipment, while specifying the “lifeproject” of this structure, that is to say, its future vocation for thecity. This project was organized around three major areas of developmentprefiguring the major areas of equipment, as well as the management principlesaround which the architectural concept would be defined. This initiative, whichaims at starting a participatory process right from the diagnosis phase, and atthe same time determining a life project before engaging in architecturalprogramming, is quite rare in public infrastructure operations. The programmingapproach that we proposed was part of the continuity of the process initiatedduring the diagnosis.Itwas based on the following principles:-Organizing the consultation mechanism according to iterative modalities andfrom the three bodies already in place but whose role was clarified:- A politico-administrative bodycomposed of a steering committee arbitration around programmatic proposals andthe issues raised by thematic groups. This project management was open to allrepresentatives of local institutional actors likely to be involved in thefinal validation of the project and in particular in its financing;- An operational body comprising: aproject management assistance centre made up of the programming team, theFederation of Social Centres (for assistance with the creation of a managementstructure); a project management centre with the team of architects appointedafter a competition;- An instance of citizenship anduses structured around three thematic groups composed of inhabitants, whethermembers or not of associations, future users or managers of the equipment. Twoof them worked on defining the activities to be developed in the equipment.
Thethird, led by the departmental federation of the social and socio-cultural centres,had for mission to define the modes of organizational functioning andmanagement of the future equipment: it was thus at the origin of the creationof an association composed of inhabitants, well before the construction of thebuilding;-Well dissociate working time around the program, decision-making or explanationof choices;- Ensure that ourprogramming team plays a role of facilitation and mediation between thedifferent working bodies: thematic groups of inhabitants and users, thesteering committee, then the project management team fourth instance designatedafter competition;- To allow at the launchingof the project, to all the inhabitants or users who wished it to take part inthe reflection; the candidates were divided into the thematic groups accordingto their request: the local associations played a relay role to encourageinhabitants and young people in particular to get involved in order to obtain adiversity of socio-demographic profiles among the participants;- To ensure that ourteam can transmit to the steering group, as closely as possible, the results ofthe work of the thematic groups that we animate, while in return, theinhabitants were informed of the way in which we presented their reflectionsand our proposals to the elected representatives and the result of thearbitration. By the very nature of this approach, which they had to validate assoon as the diagnosis was implemented, the political and institutional actorsconcerned were particularly empowered: the project could only move forward ifthey took the decisions they had to make when steering committee meetings.This approach wastherefore based both on the operating methods of our representative system andon the principles of “participatory democracy”, in the sense thatfrom the beginning of the project, each inhabitant was able to get involved ina body of reflection and where the work carried out with the consultationgroups inhabitants-representatives associative fed effectively the evolution ofthe project. In addition, the entire population was able to follow the progressof the project thanks to the various public meetings organized by themunicipality and the information disseminated by the local press.In theprogramming-design adjustment phase, it can be said that the device has evenbecome related to a form of co-production. The groups carried out criticalanalyzes on plans and then formulated reorganization intentions for certainareas of the project that were transmitted to the designers through arestricted steering group. The questions raised and the suggestions madeobviously stimulated the architects’ capacity for invention.
As a result, theproject evolved during the design phases, without ever calling into questionthe fundamental principles of the program. We were able to note how the workcarried out with the inhabitants and the associative representatives helped toidentify, during the development of the project, problems that often eluded theelected representatives, the technicians or the team of architects, and whichwere linked, for example, to the place of young people in the equipment or tothe relations of uses to be favored between the spaces of the project. The continuousinvolvement of these future users and users throughout the operation has beenpossible thanks to the gradual establishment of trust between the variousactors. A priori skeptical at the beginning of the project, and in particularwhen choosing the site they thought was already done by the municipality, theinhabitants have thereafter less and less, as they found that their reflectionsreally contributed to decision-making. This approach also involved the use ofmethods and techniques that allow each other to express themselves beyond merevalue judgments concerning aesthetics.
Among these methods, the evaluation ofuses practiced on plans or from visits of equipment, was of a great resort.CONCLUSION Through this example, it was necessary toinsist on the feasibility conditions of an approach involving the inhabitantsthroughout a project, on its difficulties of implementation, but also on thebenefits of all kinds it can bring, which elected officials and techniciansoften doubt. This type of operation, which concerns apublic facility with a major urban issue for a commune of 10,000 inhabitants,is particularly conducive to experimenting with new project and democracy processes.Listed within a project timeline that is a priori shorter than that of an urbanproject, it can have an immediate and highly perceptible positive impact on thelife of a neighbourhood or city, knowing how important it is to be able toappreciate quickly and concretely the consequences and the interest of theirimplication in a project.
They can also allow the establishment of workinghabits and a certain trust between local actors and the population in contextswhere the culture of consultation or participation is still limited, acquiredvaluable in the perspective of operations in longer and more complex futures.