[This is a monthly roundup of news articles, and other materials related to urban issues in the region, and beyond. It does not reflect the views of the Cities Page Editors or of Jadaliyya. You may send recommendations for inclusion in the Cities Media Roundup to firstname.lastname@example.org, mentioning “Roundup” in the subject line. We also welcome your submissions to the Cities Page: please check here.]
Tehran is not just “LA with minarets”: Against cliches of Third World cities on the brink of disaster. Discarding orientalist clichés, Alex Shams highlights the positive urban transformations in Tehran such as community-led projects, innovative approaches to urban planning and public space, and a thriving art and culture scene. By doing so, the author attempts to show the complexity of Tehran’s urban life and modern history.
'A silent act of resistance': the hidden tattoo studios of Tehran. Renate van der Zee reports on the growing tattoo trend among urban Iranians. Underground tattoo studios are increasing despite the regular arrest, fines, and imprisonment of tattoo artists. For some, getting tattooed is seen as an act of resistance “to show that their body belongs to them, apart from the theocratic state and institutionalised religion.”
Beirut on Bike. “Suicidal or practicing for the Tour de France? Sara Stachelhaus is sharing her stories about the underprivileged cyclist minority on their everyday adventures through Beirut.”
The "Sheikha", the city and its problems (Tunisia). “Souad Abderrahim is the first freely elected female mayor of an Arab capital. Her opponents regard her as being in the pocket of the moderate Islamists. She herself prefers to stay out of politics.”
Meet The Young Lebanese Architect Reclaiming Public Space In Beirut. Ramzi Alieh, a young Lebanese architect, repurposes the bulky and burdensome structures and blocks that encumber Beirut’s public space. His public interventions have allowed people to rethink public space and how it can be used.
'We have no choice': A day in the life of Mosul's young scrap-metal merchants. Tom Westcott reports on the plight of child waste scavengers in the Iraqi city of Mosul. Poverty has forced these children to collect and sell pieces of metal from the ruins of the war-ravaged city.
Housing and Planning Issues
Competition aims to restart housing debate. “Public Works Studio,” a research and design studio on urban issues, launched a competition inviting students and professionals alike to offer solutions to Beirut’s chronic lack of affordable housing.
Beyond Securitization: Spatial Planning and Violent Extremism. “In this piece, Dr. Jihad Farah examines the effects of spatial planning on Beirut and how it affects the prevalence of and efforts to mitigate violent extremism.”
Prêts subventionnés au logement : les mécanismes de subvention réactivés en février [French]. The Governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank, Riad Salamé, announced that he was preparing to reactivate housing loan mechanisms by the end of January.
Egyptian president calls for unified colour scheme for buildings. Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, issued a decree requiring buildings across the country to follow a strict colour scheme in a bid to eliminate “visual deformity.” This decision comes in the midst of unpopular government austerity measures and cuts to essential subsidies.
Women and Precarious Employment: A spatial analysis of economic insecurity in Cairo’s neighborhoods. “Women face major disparities, compared with men, in the Egyptian labor market. In the Greater Cairo Region, jobs are less available for women and they tend to be of lower quality. These discrepancies are particularly apparent at the lowest administrative level, the neighborhood or shiyakha. While in some neighborhoods women have higher labor force participation rates than in others, across the board women work in temporary jobs at a higher rate than men.”
Fate of castles in the air in Turkey’s £151m ghost town. “Drone footage of an eerie abandoned urban development of mini castles in Turkey has shone a light on the troubles facing the country’s economy. Burj al-Babas, billed as a luxury housing development near Mudurnu, a village roughly halfway between Istanbul and Ankara, was left unfinished last year after its developers Sarot Property Group went bankrupt.”
The need for policies to restore the role of land in the making of a livable city. Writing for the Issam Fares Institute, Mona Fawaz and Dounia Salamé discuss the need for renewed policies in Lebanon concerning land to move away from the current situation where prohibitive costs render access to housing, work, and parks almost impossible.
War, Conflict, and Urban Protests
US-Gulf tensions mount over restrictions on Syria reconstruction. Giorgio Cafiero reports on the Gulf states’ desire to invest in the reconstruction of post-war Syria and become major players there and the caution with which they must proceed in the light of the US sanctions on Damascus.
Understanding State Incorporation of the Workers' Movement in Early Post-War Lebanon and its Backlash on Civil Society. This paper analyses the part played by the organized workers’ movement in the political and economic struggle for change in Lebanon during the first decade of the post-civil war period. It seeks to explain the trajectory of the workers’ movement, represented by the General Confederation of Workers in Lebanon (GCWL), and their successes and failures during the period in question. It investigates the structure and legal framework within which trade unions and leagues were created, as well as their past political affiliations or alliances.
Baghdad is reemerging from 15 blood-soaked years, but the city now barely functions. Nabih Bulos reports for the Los Angeles Times on how Baghdad, now on the cusp of reaching mega-city status, is barely functional. With crumbling infrastructure and rampant unemployment, the city has a long way to go to become operative again.
Israel approves construction of 'Disneyland' cable car in Jerusalem. In this article, MEE reports that Israel sanctioned a plan to construct a cable car that critics say would severely change the scenery of the historic Old City of Jerusalem and help develop a Jewish settlement in a Palestinian neighborhood.
Ravaged by war, Beirut’s historic sites are being reimagined. Several initiatives are allowing several threatened and damaged landmarks to be re-envisioned as collective cultural spaces.
In the shadow of the pyramids, Cairo community split over demolitions. The Middle-East Eye reports on the demolishing of two buildings and the detention of twenty-two people in the Nazlet al-Samman neighborhood in Cairo. This highlights the issues surrounding informal housing in the Egyptian capital with the community fearing the demolition of the whole neighborhood and meeting the same fate the al-Warraq and Maspero areas.
Égypte. Dans l’île d’Al-Warraq, la mobilisation exemplaire des habitants [French]. In early February, the inhabitants of al-Warraq Island mobilized to prevent the landing of construction equipment. They dispute the decision of the Egyptian government to create an "urban community," which would be the prelude to the expropriation against which the population has been mobilized for years. A court decision is expected by 23 March.
'Clear him out': Palestinian tenants struggle to rent in west Jerusalem. In this article by Miriam Berger for The Guardian–Cities, the author reports on the difficulty for Palestinian tenant to find a home in Jerusalem, as anti-discrimination laws do not cover private housing.
Syrian people suffer after Pyrrhic victory. Writing for the LSE–Conflict Research Program, Myriam Youssef reflects on daily life in the capital, the sufferings of ordinary people, and the growing anger which is gradually growing beyond the ability of the regime to contain.
Culture and Urban Heritage
Sketches of Alexandria: The crumbling heritage of Egypt's 'bride of the Med'. The Egyptian port city's historic buildings are being demolished at an alarming rate-but some want to preserve what they once were.
On Beirut, the Unsung Capital of Arabic Modernism. “Arabic Modernism was a literary movement of exiles and émigrés who planted their flag in West Beirut during the mid-’50s, when the Lebanese capital became a meeting ground for intellectuals from across the region.”
Press and urbanism in Cairo, 1924. As part of “La fabrique du Caire modern,” a pilot project about urban development, architecture, Euro-Mediterranean entanglements and global investment in Cairo in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this article investigates the relationship between the press and urbanism in twentieth-century Cairo.
Oman's stunning new House of Musical Arts opens with cultural fervour. “Nearly eight years after its establishment, The Royal Opera House Muscat is now celebrating yet another cultural milestone with the opening of the House of Musical Arts, a conspicuous new home for the arts in the Omani capital."
Lebanon's Oldest Train Driver is Still Alive. Here He Talks About How Travel Used to Be. In this article originally published in the Daily Star, the author reports on the story of Lebanon’s last locomotive operator after the country’s train travel completely stopped in 1992 as post-war reconstruction focused on developing roadways and buildings.
تحوّل أرض الكورة من مورد خصــب إلى مادة أوليــــة لشركات الإسمنت. This article and maps denote the land-use change in the Koura governorate and the coastal town of Chekka in North Lebanon.
Gaza's superbug epidemic: Bacteria without borders. An epidemic in the besieged coastal enclave, fuelled by Gaza's crippled healthcare sector, exposes the sickness of the Zionist enterprise.
Palestinian School And Sewage Projects Unfinished As U.S. Cuts Final Bit Of Aid. NPR reports that The White House has blocked an emergency effort to finish major US-funded school, water, and sewage projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Electricity: when Lebanese villages go green. This article explores whether solar power can help make up for power cuts in Lebanon’s rural areas and avoid depending on generators as two villages started using solar energy to produce electricity.
Lebanon’s Water Resources are Polluted. Who’s to Blame? What can be Done? In this opinion editorial Jad Farajallah, the Climate Change and Environment program director at the Issam Fares Institute of AUB, tries to untangle the complex situation of the Lebanese water sector. He stresses the need to enforce existing laws as the quickest and fastest way forward in tackling current environmental problems.
Les zabbâlîn, un objet surétudié ? [French]. Ragpickers in Cairo, or zabbalin in Arabic, have fascinated researchers and journalists for decades. These communities living from the collection of waste, their recycling, and the raising of pigs fed by organic remains, are indeed at the crossroads of many fundamental problems related to the Egyptian capital or environmental issues: indeed, they are often perceived by international organizations as a positive factor, as they are given a very high rate of recycling of collected materials. Their situation highlights the flaws of a state that has not been able to manage the issues associated with the issue of household waste, nor to fully integrate this stigmatized population. This issue of Egypt Arab World brings together reflections from different professional horizons (researchers, journalists, associations) on the various aspects related to the life and activity of zabbalin, while integrating a critical and reflective analysis of the “over-study” of which they are the object.
A tale of a Syrian city at war. Ammar Azzouz writes about the incredible levels of resilience shown by Homs’ local architects, urbanists and residents to rehabilitate their partially damaged homes and providing shelter to the internally displaced population.
حِرَف المعادن في حلب [Arabic].
Video Commentary: Disadvantages of Dominating The Egyptian Economy by Real Estate Sector. The real estate sector is the main dominant of the Egyptian economy. Dr. Ragui Assaad spoke to APS about the reasons behind this domination and its disadvantages. He proposed alternative solutions to avoid the disadvantages. APS interviewed Dr. Assaad to give more insight on this topic.
This media roundup has been compiled by Christophe Maroun with the help of Jadaliyya Cities Editors.