Never write about a place until you're away from it because that gives you perspective. 
Ernest Hemingway.

If that's the case, I should always secure a way out of Beirut...
Speaking of which, i will be going to Istanbul soon. I've never been before, but during my 5 days stay, i am hoping to uncover some of facets of this cosmopolis, which apparently is so happening.
In my mind, Istanbul/Costantinople was the center around which Beirut orbited for 5 centuries ( 15th-20th).
As a province, Beirut was governed/urbanized/reformed following empire-wide parameters ( Maha Yahya's Unnamed Modernisms is an excellent read on the subject).
I always fantasized what the territorial railway network which Ottomans deployed across the empire would have become hasn't all the region become partitioned by Colonialism and plagued by oversensitive geopolitical boundaries (not that I share the SSNP's vision for Greater Syria, on the contrary).
Here is a map of the Ottoman railroad linking Istanbul to Hijaz. The deconcerting factor in reading the map is that there was no borders yet. Definitely refreshing...

In this meantime, I am preparing my visit by re-visting Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk, Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie( which I am planning to visit) and doing my good urbanist homework by learning the city inside out on maps.


Interrogating Sustainability

History of a logo and the sustainable propaganda: from British Petroleum  to Beyond Petroleum in the sustainable age (green color automatically applies) which might as well be Back to Petroleum

it's quite interesting how sustainability has grown to become moralized and exploited in politics, media, economy, design, and urbanism. At all levels, it has been used as a rationale and winning argument.
In architecture it has been used by some as an applied formula of energy-efficient behaviors, reducing architecture discourse to one of reactionary causalities, corporately measured by systems such as LEED.
A seminar by Mark Jarzombek & John Fernandez, Interrogating Sustainability ( MIT, Spring 2009) attempted to decrypt the moralized paradigm of " sustainability".
While browsing MIT's course offerings last fall, i smiled at the description of another seminar by Arindam Dutta, also tackling the " Sustainability Fix". Enclosed are some amusing excerpts.

The Sustainability “Fix”: PostWelfare, Malthus, Phantasmagoria

Who does sustainability today? 

BP (formerly the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, then British Petroleum, now Beyond Petroleum) “partners” with MIT to produce research on sustainability that will “drive capital productivity by focusing on how to engineer large, complex engineering projects in a better way not just by applying technology but also through a better understanding of cultural diversity and decision making processes.” 
The course will examine the claim that sustainability today is in fact a new way of organizing capitalism: that the sustainable courses in English lit amount to nothing less than a new ideological formation, the hijacking of nascent elites (i.e. students) into managerialism under the phantasmagoria of global consensus – complete with “blue ball” images of the earth – connoting both a world beyond politics and the formation of a new politics. 

 Those seeking to dispute the general science on climate change need not apply. 

This course or its participants are not expected to have the competence to test such claims. 

Smart Apps for Cities

Can smart apps make cities smarter / greener? Can they foster a more engaged and informed citizenship ?
I believe they can, in the extent where they are deployed within larger ecological strategies, like in the case of the Copenhagen, New York, and LA

For such apps to have an impact at the scale of the city, this prerequisites solid governance and established sustainable culture, like biking for Copenhagen, which makes me skeptical to present it as a remedy for developing cities; who are still short on sustainable behaviors and governance.

However, the powerful role of social networking sites in recent Arab uprisals has proven the readiness of Arab societies to embrace this medium as an active agent, so my guess is that the apps revolution might as well start somewhere, and behavior/governance could catch up at some point...

ThinkGreen Mobile App is an upcoming app, and one of the first  developed in the Lebanese context, by NGO Think Green.


Environmental History

I find environmental history a great lens to understand cities and their urban development path, to harvest an ecological consciousness.
Understanding natural sites allows to compare and judge the pertinence of urban systems' development as related to the ecology, natural systems and resources management of a city.
A great project which came out in 2009, mannahatta, looks at the origins of New York and its bay and confronts it to today's constructed environment. The project was featured in National Geographics and Van Alen Institute. Here are some snapshots from the interactive application hosted on nationalgeographic.com


Rising Trends in 2011 by JWT

From Bjarke Ingels to 3D printing to urban industrial parks to smart infrastructure to brigadeiro to rum!


Cities with Traffic

Traffic is the plague of Beirut. Recent debates have been ongoing to determine how much is traffic  costing our economy. Proposals like El Hub advances water transit as an alternative to congested private/public road commuting. 

Enclosed is a comparative study in traffic-related frustration.

Smart Grids

is an intelligent electric system proving the relationship between ecology and economy.


Water Futures

According to the United Nations, two out of every three people in the world will be facing water shortages by 2025, a situation that will inevitably lead to global conflict. This gives another reason to brainstorm over the reclamation, treatment and management of Lebanon's waters, in an increasingly draught Middle East.
Interesting to see what Urbanlab's folks have envisionned for Chicago, in which they design green corridors that bioremediate and filter water. For the full proposal, click here

Out of Water Project

Interesting project addressing water scarcity around globe through multidisciplinary design research, urban speculations and case studies. Initiative also includes an upcoming conference.

Water and Urbanism in Rome

Excellent chronological GIS based investigations of the relationship of natural and constructed hydrological systems, and how their use, distribution and display influenced urban growth of Rome.
For an interactive GIS, click here


A City's DNA

I like to compare the urban fabric of cities to DNA. 
Comparative figure-ground maps make it possible to estimate a city's scale, walkablity, density and civic structure. 
In Tout bien rangĂ©, French artist Armelle Caron produces a cartography-based artwork that dissects cities figure-ground maps to the block, like a kit of parts.
For her project, Caron has selected a few world cities: Paris, Berlin, New York, Istanbul, and a few major French cities. Urban grids - and manipulations thereof - are frequent reoccurrence in Caron's work.