Emergency Urbanism in Sabra, Beirut

in Public Anthropologist
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Since the mid-1980s, generations of displaced people have sought refuge in the ramshackle buildings that were once the Gaza-Ramallah Hospital, a multi-story hospital complex built by the Palestinian Liberation Organization (plo). Damaged during the civil war, today the buildings blend in with the run-down Sabra-Shatila neighbourhood in Beirut’s “misery belt.” This paper charts the buildings’ history and main characters: the lodgers, landlords, and gatekeepers who respectively lease, rent, and control the dilapidated buildings’ dark corridors, cramped flats, and garbage-strewn stairways. The multi-story buildings are examples of emergency urbanism whereby displaced people seek refuge in cities, and their story can be read as a vertical migration history of people escaping conflict, displacement, and destitution. Examining the buildings as archives of spatial and political histories provides a genealogy of displacement and emplacement that can inform the study of emergency urbanism and point to solutions in cities for refugees lacking access to affordable housing.

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    Gaza hospital (mustashfa gaza), c. 1980, undated picture courtesy of the plo

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    Gaza buildings (G 1–4), aerial view (Google map, overlaid by new floor plans) Image courtesy of Bjørnar Haveland

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    G1 building, 1st floor rehabilitation plan (document courtesy of the nrc)

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    Gaza 1, floor plan (1–6), with outline of new top floors (7–8). 3D image courtesy of Bjørnar Haveland

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