Changes in the nature and governance of public spaces in the historic city centre : the case of Damascus
Haddad, Rema Goerge
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Public space is a component of our physical environment which has an important role in city life. This thesis is primarily about investigating public space and public realm in the historic city centre of Damascus in order to understand the potential for its improvement, and secondarily about recommending specific actions towards this. The research takes a qualitative approach focusing on public space as a ‘product’ which is the result of a process. In terms of the product, the nature, morphological and functional aspects of public spaces in Damascus are examined. The governance process is analysed at local level to define main actors, the rules they interact with and the rationalities they use to intervene in public space. This analysis includes locality-specific literature review and interviews with key informants. Such case study analysis is undertaken against the background of a survey of public space regeneration in selected cities around the Mediterranean. Public spaces in Damascus historically developed under strong endogenous social and cultural rules creating a hierarchy of ‘traditional’ spaces which supported public, parochial and private realms. In the contemporary period, these spaces have gone through modernisation in their governance process through introducing new actors and more formal rules, which have led to more ‘publicness’ and tension between tradition and modernisation. This has affected their nature as well as morphological and functional aspects. Analysis showed that strong centralised political and public sector control is found over the governance process through a top-down representative approach. Capacities, interests and perception of public spaces among actors, in addition to poor management, strict legislation and lack of qualified cadres, have all contributed to the continuing deteriorating situation of public spaces. Moreover, interventions for improvement occurred on a short-term basis and mainly to restore historical monuments and improve traffic. An integrated approach to upgrading open spaces is still needed on a long term basis, subject to the available financial resources, with wider governance arrangements and further collaboration and integration between different governmental bodies.