scs: future projects
Bourj Al Shamali Refugee Camp
Public Square & Community Garden Centre, Lebanon
Fall semester 2017
This project is part of Greening Bourj Al Shamali (http://bourjalshamali.org/), an initiative by the local committee of Bourj Al Shamali, a Palestinian
refugee camp in south Lebanon, to create the camp's first public green space along with a community garden. AHO’s Scarcity and Creativity Studio,
Oslo, has been invited to support the local community’s efforts and to explore the opportunity of working with them on this endeavor. The two
preliminary initiatives are: (i) the creation of a communal space with street furniture for the camp's first public green square/space; and (ii) a workshop
cabin for the camp's new community garden. For both these initiatives, AHO will be working with the local community, and AHO students will be joined
by a group of youth who have been trained in construction work by the vocational center in the camp (http://www.socialcare.org/portal/vocational-
Bourj Al Shamali was founded in 1948 as a temporary camp for Palestinian refugees coming mainly from the agricultural regions of Tiberias and
Hawla. Now, over half a century later and housing 22,000 people, it has taken on the air of an overcrowded, unplanned, permanent city, with five
times the original inhabitants occupying the original site run by the UN. The dogma of its temporariness remains unquestioned even among its
third- and fourth-generation residents, who dream still of returning to their villages and farms in Palestine, now Israel – for some just 35 kilometers
away from the camp where they reside. This insistence on the camp’s temporary nature, central to the status of a refugee, has for more than six
decades yielded a long and persistent refusal to create any urban amenities in the camp.
Though the inhabitants of Bourj Al Shamali regard themselves as an agricultural people - as evidenced by the many painted murals in the camp -
there are no public green spaces there, nor do they plant crops that might supply some of the camp’s food needs and thereby sustain their
traditional link to the land. Few plants are grown, even for pleasure, and the only green spaces are a few trees scattered in a sea of concrete. The
lush private fields where many camp residents work as seasonal workers all lie beyond the camp's perimeter. The feeling in Bourj Al Shamali has
long been that the planting of crops or trees, which literally involve the act of putting down roots, would seem to imply an acceptance of the
camp’s permanence. Yet the tragic consequence of this is that the camp has become an unrelievedly dense, increasingly unlivable urban
environment, while each successive generation of camp dwellers has had an ever weaker connection to the agricultural life that remains so
centrally enshrined in the community’s self-image. In a symbolic way, they are undermining their right of return: if they were ever to be restored to
the land they cherish, they would not know how to look after it. As a collateral consequence, diets are worsening and cases of malnutrition have
increased. To add a further level of complexity, large numbers of Palestinian refugees from Syria have now moved into Bourj Al Shamali. The arrival
of these twice-over refugees has resulted in a deterioration of the already overcrowded living conditions, and raised new questions in the camp
about different notions and identities of being a Palestinian refugee.
Cultivating the earth and using the land to provide food is central to the notion of “rootedness, [and to] ideas of home and belonging, of locality
and identity”; it also plays a crucial role in mitigating “the social and environmental dangers of change and modernization.”(1) With the creation of
a green public square/space and a community garden, this project aims to improve conditions in the camp, but also to confront and, hopefully,
reverse these destructive trends in a manner that remains sensitive to and respectful of the community’s own way of dreaming its future; one that,
in the process, raises wider questions of identity, temporality, extraterritoriality and our connection with the land.
The Green Public Square/Space
Bourj Al Shamali is a dense urban environment. The site chosen for the public square is that of an abandoned house with three beautiful trees in
the center of the camp. The local committee has contacted the family who owns the house, who now live in Europe, and they have kindly allowed
the committee to construct the square there. Young scouts in the camp recently volunteered to clean up the rubbish that was piling up there. The
local committee is now contemplating how best to transform the space so that it provides older people places to sit and kids places to play, with an
overall goal of strengthening the sense of community in the camp.
The Workshop Cabin in the Community Garden
At the edge of the camp there is a plot of land with 15 olive trees that has been donated to the local committee for the planned community garden.
A cabin currently standing on the plot is unsafe for use and will be replaced. The new proposed workshop cabin will be a space for meetings and
lessons on agriculture, gardening, and food-processing, and will contain a basic kitchen for the women's cooperative. As a community garden on
the border between the refugee camp and the surrounding Lebanese community, it also aims to be a space that invites members from both sides
(the local Lebanese do not have many green spaces either) and that can act as a bridge between the two communities.
For more information on the camp, please see:
Bourj Al Shamali Camp is located 3 kms. east of Tyre, Lebanon.