scs: current project
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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-training/16/).
The Setting: 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. Project Program: For the future community garden, a workshop cabin/room is needed (approximate size is 4 x 8 meters). The new proposed cabin/room will be a child-friendly multi-purpose space that allows for meetings and lessons on food, gardening, agriculture, food processing, the environment, and other subjects. It will contain a basic kitchen as well as a space for meetings and group activities. The workshop cabin/room needs to be locked up and when in use to be open to the garden with a sense of openness and airiness. From the workshop/cabin space, one should be able to have a good overview of the future community garden. Ideally it creates a space outside where people can sit in the shade and even cultivate grapes, while children play or others look after the garden. It possible, on the side of the workshop cabin/room, there should be a space to store gardening tools that can be accessed without opening the whole cabin/room. There is currently no plan for the whole garden, leaving flexibility for the location of the workshop cabin/room. The school with special needs will be built at the entrance on the southern side of the plot. The space for the community garden is close to the refugee camp (10 minutes walk) but not within it. Close by is the patch of land used as a football pitch by people of all ages from the camp. In Feburary 2017, a workshop was held at the main library in Bourj Al Shamali refugee camp, seeking feedback on what people wanted from a green space in the camp. Here are their ideas: A place full of green plants, vegetables, herbs and fruits A green space, with seats, where people can relax A safe space for kids to play A place where people can learn about wellness & nature A place that people can use for parties and to celebrate A place to learn about plants A place with benches where disabled and elderly can come to spend time and be in the open A place where open-air educational programmes can be organized A place where an open air cinema or concert could be organized A place that can inspire Bourj Al Shamali residents to think of environment & help resolve garbage problems in camp Other things people wanted: swings, fountains & swimming pool!!!
For more information on the camp, please see: https://placesjournal.org/article/camp-code/
Bourj Al Shamali Camp is located 3 kms. east of Tyre, Lebanon.
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Students:  Helene Denise, Marie Høgevold, Mette Kristoffersen, Miriam Kvaleberg, Emilie Mendiboure, Ola Mo, Stian Nærøy, Adèle Pariset, Andrea Rosengren, Ingeborg Svalheim, Xiaoxiao Zhang, Zheng Zhou, Oreste Kamanzi, Noah Stutchbury, Mikala Kjær, Illia Marynin Staff: Christian Hermansen Cordua, Solveig Sandness, Tone Selmer-Olsen, Håvard Breivik