Revolt in the 'Square': Spatial Modelling of Urban Stability in Modern Cities New insights and approaches for preventing conflict and violence

Urban revolutions have been envisaged as a hybrid, unpredictable and somewhat incidental in the political arena. In some cases, political instability, mass protests, riots, revolt erupts as a reaction to a particular event, while in others it gathers momentum over a period of time and following a sequence of progression and acts of dissidence in the public space.

This project aims to explore, map and visualise patterns, modes, and state of development of urban unrest in Beirut Martyr Square during three major pretesting events (2006, 2011 & 2015) to develop a Spatial Model of Urban Stability (SMUS). Using five indicators of urban stability that involve socio-economic, political and spatial factors, a 10-point scale of urban unrest will be designed to trace and understand, through time and space, patterns of spatial unrest in Lebanon during this period.

The project will reconstruct historical events and narratives and use spatio-temporal analytics to relate the frequency of acts of dissidence to the social-political and economic condition of that time. This approach could later be applied to other cities/contexts facing situations of conflict and revolt. Analysis of causes of conflict and its damaging consequences on local communities and their cities are generally presented from a one-sided point of view which is governments and authorities in charge of maintaining order and law.

But in this work, we aim to bring and present another side of the narrative and other viewpoints of other players witnessing these incidents (NGOs, communities, Political analysts etc) in order to avoid biased analysis and move towards more reliable predictors of stability. The SMUS will enable analysts, decision-makers, planners and activist groups to trace and reflect on previous practices, the pattern of escalation, the time span of revolt or unrest through intelligible visual maps and supporting datasets.

The project will also enable policymakers to consider the economical and physical disturbing effects of such patterns and actions of unrest not only on the city's future development but on the local communities living facing a massive drop in providing minimal infrastructure services e.g. waste management problems. We plan to run interdisciplinary and interactive workshops in Beirut and Belfast to bring together a multidisciplinary team including the humanities and social sciences.

This project seeks to generate data that can enable governing authorities as well as non-governmental actors to engage in conflict prevention to prioritize a systematic approach to the collection of information on how urban spaces such as public Squares becomes sites of conflict from protest. The project will allow such information to inform policies and support community stakeholders to an understanding of what might be done to allow protest but prevent conflict in such important public spaces.

The project will explain indicators of unrest and the viability of statistical information derived from credible governmental/international agencies and independent NGOs in Beirut, along with spatial patterns of movements and occupation. This will enable unrest actions to be verified and analysed in line with changing political situations in the pilot case study city.

This project will be supported and facilitated through a series of workshops and focus groups, visual displays and a conference to effectively communicate the findings to policymakers and maximise the potential for impact, through advocacy for the adoption of implementable measures that increase opportunities for protest without conflict.


Our user groups, beneficiaries and stakeholders comprise the following:

1. Local Stakeholders (Social movements, NGOs and community-based organisations)

These groups, often heavily involved in the organisation and stewarding of protests will benefit from an enhanced understanding of the potential consequences of their activities and allowing develop strategies to avoid conflict. Engagement with spatial modelling will aid in developing creative learning material and tools for specialist training of social and human rights activists and local communities. Central to this project is the network of local partners whose research capacity will benefit from the project's main activities, inclusive of data gathering, analysis and dissemination of findings and outputs, in a creative manner. This would facilitate the transfer of knowledge and skills to local researchers, informants and actors, with much autonomous impact on the local professional and research cultures.

2. Policy Makers, National, regional and local government/authorities (planning councils, The FCO, think-tanks, etc.)

It is anticipated that the research will be of use to policy-makers in two ways: firstly, by situating the SMUS in relation to conflict responsiveness and reconciliation with a more focused approach to policy development beyond traditional 'soft diplomacy' and 'cultural understandings' of the planning and architecture and secondly, by integrating debates about the public space such as the Square within both domestic national and international security and defence policy approaches (strategic advisors from the Metropolitan Office, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and others). Furthermore, engagement with this project and its outputs will enhance the opportunities and pathways for data sharing, coordination and collaborative activities, it will also lead to increased dialogue between policymakers and 'protesters' and contribute to the avoidance of conflict.

3. Professionals & Practitioners (Architects, urban designers and planners, media outlets)

Due to the interwoven reciprocal implications of events, the cross-disciplinary integration of data would introduce a new knowledge- base and practices of data-integration and urban modelling to professionals and experts who advise governmental agencies and policymakers. This will include debates and discussions with main actors, architects, urban planners as well as strategic advisors from relevant authorities. It will also inform practices of urban designers, strategic analysts, geographers and city planners and encourage debates on policy issues. Furthermore, the spatial visualisations will provide a useful visual aid to local and national media outlets when reporting on relevant events.

4. International Donors (Aid agencies, conflict prevention and human rights organizations)

Conflict negatively impacts the conditions for effective aid and support from donor agencies and as noted in the case for support can lead to an amplification of pre-existing development needs. By creating the conditions that lead to an avoidance of conflict and enabling a deeper understanding of the specific issues driving protests this project will contribute to a more effective understating and implementation of the peace process in Lebanon.

5. Wider Society (Nationally and internationally)

The development of effective tools and appropriate policy responses to assist in the avoidance of conflict arising from protest will have an immediate and long-term benefit for Beirut and wider Lebanese society given the demonstrable impacts that conflict can have on societies and the economy. Application of this project's findings in other localities and contexts would be expected to lead to similar benefits elsewhere.

Project website