The issue of public spaces is increasingly at the core of civic movements and discourse of reform in Lebanon, coming to the fore most recently in the mass protests of October 2019. Yet, these most recent movements build on years of activism and contestation, seeking to reclaim rights to access and engage with public spaces in the face of encroachments, mainly by the private sector. Urban spaces, including the country’s two biggest cities – Beirut and Tripoli – have been largely privatised and the preserve of an elite few, and post-war development has been marred with criticism of corruption and exclusivity. This article explores the history of public spaces in Beirut and Tripoli and the successive civic movements, which have sought to realise rights to public space. The article argues that reclaiming public space is central to reform and re-building relationships across divides after years of conflict. First, the article describes the evolution of Lebanon’s two main urban centres. Second, it moves to discuss the role of the consociational system in the partition and regulation of public space. Then it describes the various civic movements related to public space and examines the opportunities created by the October 2019 movement. Penultimately it interrogates the limits imposed by COVID-19 and recent crises. Lastly, it explores how placemaking and public space can contribute to peacebuilding and concludes that public spaces are essential to citizen relationships and inclusive participation in public life and affairs.
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