Alternative Urban Imaginaries and the Reconstruction of Syrian Cities
The post-conflict reconstruction industry, anchored by international institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF and the United Nations, wields incredible power at the intersection of international national and urban politics. Indeed, the knowledges it produces have come to dominate thinking about how to rebuild cities in the wake of war and natural disaster. It’s policy preferences - the adoption of which is often the condition for reconstruction aid from the ‘international community’ – center on the imposition of unpopular “market friendly” economic reforms on traumatized populations. These include the liberalization of the property regime and the privatization of reconstruction, from urban planning and infrastructure provision to the commodification of heritage districts, architecture, and archaeological sites. Taken together, supporters claim, the liberalization of the post conflict environment will anchor and catalyze of post conflict urban renaissance, economic growth and so a peaceful future.
As the civil war in Syria progressed, the regime took up these ideas. It put in place a series of legal reforms that effectively privatize the reconstruction of Syrian cities and set priorities for urban redevelopment (and real estate markets generally), that cater to the local and regional elite and private corporations. The urban middle and lower classes, many of whom lived in the informal settlements that surrounded major cities and towns prior to the war, today find themselves the target of urban projects that will displace them in the name of aesthetic modernization, development, and market rationality. While provisions have been made to rehouse some of those displaced, the majority face a precarious future.
Much has been written how the regime has turned reconstruction to serve own interests, not least of which is the enrichment of a small circle of crony capitalist close to the ruling family. Less has been said, however, about its inevitable failure of neoliberalism to produce either the globally competitive urban environments or the promised economic prosperity, to say nothing of affording the average citizen dignified housing. Drawing upon 4 months of fieldwork with Syrians from Homs and Douma now living in Amman, this paper explores possible alternative approaches to reconstruction that derive from local understandings of state responsibility to citizens, and more importantly, of the place of property, home and community in citizens’ conceptions of dignified life.
Architecture & Urban Planning