Aboasfour / Identifying Informal Settlements in Post-War Aleppo and Possible Applied Solutions

Identifying Informal Settlements in Post-War Aleppo and Possible Applied Solutions

Author: Yara Aboasfour, Universidade Lusófona do Porto and Universidade de Coimbra

Supervisor: Edite Rosa, Dra., Universidade Lusófona do Porto

Research stage: initial doctoral stage (1st Year)

Category: Extended abstract

1. Statement of Problem

A greater part of the urban built environment in Syria may be termed "informal," as not being the result of architects’ work in places not originally intended for construction, in violation of the law, infringing on state property and agricultural lands with the absence of planning, then it expanded ,spread and became a reality. 1

In the case of Aleppo, the slums have served as a separation wall between the different parts of the city. According to joint studies between Aleppo municipality and the GTZ* 2 prior to 2011, 45% of the city's three million inhabitants lived in different types of slums, which have been widespread since the 1980s mostly in the eastern half of the city and account for 35% of the city's area. These areas suffered not only from poor planning and construction, lack of public and green spaces but also from poor services such as sidewalks and paved roads, and the denial of public services (including drinking water, sewage networks,….) This poses a grave danger to citizens’ health and to the inhabitants of the neighboring neighborhoods.

Aerial photos showing the difference between the urban fabric in organized and unorganized areas in Aleppo

Figure 1: Aerial photos showing the difference between the urban fabric in organized and unorganized areas in Aleppo

Due to the special nature of the Syrian war that broke out in 2011, and because of the scorched-earth policy, residential buildings have become part of military fortifications, and neighborhoods and residential buildings have become direct military targets. According to the World Bank's estimates (2017)3, until the beginning of 2017, the number of damaged homes in Syria was approximately 1.7 million homes, which constitutes 27 percent of the total Syrian houses, while 20 percent of them were partially damaged. In Aleppo, the second largest city, about 424,000 houses were totally destroyed, which made it the most damaged city in Syria followed by Damascus. Most of this destruction was concentrated in the random housing areas, which formed an incubator environment for the conflict and a major battleground due to their appropriate characteristics at various levels (see Figure 2).

Damage analysis 5

Figure 2: Damage analysis 5

In the next few years, people are projected to return to the city at an estimated 12% population growth speed per year 4. Accommodating those who inhabited the City of Aleppo will require a careful balance of reconstruction planning and provision of temporary accommodation while the reconstruction effort is underway. Also, paying further attention to the development of slums and their integration with the rest of the city should remain the most important goal in the treatment of these areas, through the upgrading in general with the possibility of demolition and reconstruction in an appropriate urban format in some sites and appropriate standards.

The task of reviving the residential sector after the war is not easy and requires a sincere desire, a political will and a separate economy rooted from the economic motives of direct return 6. It requires the concerted local and international effort, both physical and engineering; to take advantage of all the support and that local and international facility accomplish this step. Reconstruction in conflict areas is often aimed at a quick profit neglecting the indigenous rights or the privacy of the city. Therefore, we may witness the same kind of problems that were before the conflict, such as inequality in the level of services and the spread of informal settlements in light of inadequate urban plans and mechanisms for implementation. Accordingly, it is necessary to conduct new research that could form a link between the different parts of Aleppo and that avoids previous organizational mistakes.

The geographical distribution of the Informal Settlements areas in Aleppo 2

Figure 3: The geographical distribution of the Informal Settlements areas in Aleppo 2

The study at hand is important to investigate equality in services and opportunities, and avoid reviving the same reality, that has created a rift between parts of the city, in the reconstruction process, as well as, to prevent more informal settlements from spreading further after the war. This thinking should all be based on national standards that are different from the previous work on reconstruction in the sense that their foci are not only restricted to the restoration of the demolished housing sector, but also to the social needs of the local communities including services, public spaces, markets, sustainable designs and infrastructure and other related issues.

2. Research Objectives

This thesis aims to draw on a wide range of examples from the last two decades to highlight the main issues and to provide examples of both good and bad practices. It offers guidance on how to plan and prepare for a housing reconstruction intervention; describes the various housing reconstruction approaches available and sets out the various models of implementation that tend to be used and aims to paint a broader strategic picture of the sector. It argues that housing reconstruction interventions should take into account local resources, needs, perceptions, expectations, potentials, and constraints, thereby, reintegrating the informal housing reconstruction into the wider recovery context.

3. Research Questions

The main research question addressed in the study is:

To what extant could the reality of Aleppo’s Informal Settlements be developed in the reconstruction phase process after the war?

The Specific Questions are:

  • What are the general guidelines and the architectural policies approach should be followed to upgrade or reorganize the Informal areas after the war?
  • What are the scales of architectural interventions could be applied in the different areas and in which level?
  • What are the strategies should be followed to prevent the emergence of new overcrowded illegal settlements after the war?

4. Expected results

  • Establishing an integrated methodology and general guidelines for the reconstruction of largely destroyed slums and determining the urban and architectural interventions needed to meet the challenge of post-war informal settlements in Aleppo of all their various levels of types, population and destruction. Also, to define the important planning and design requirements regarding development and its important measurements and dimensions as a response in order to reduce as much as possible the negative consequences and prevent the emergence of new illegal settlements after the war.
  • To select a representative number of informal areas in Aleppo based on different characteristics and different levels of population and damage that need to be developed or reorganized to apply the architectural and urban solutions and interventions of the thesis, therefore, to compare the different results.
  1. Clerc. Valérie (2015): » Informal settlements in the Syrian conflict: urban planning as a weapon «, Built Environment, Alexandrine Press, Arab cities after ‘the spring’, pp.34-51.
  2. GTZ (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit) is a German development agency headquartered in Bonn and Eschborn that provides services in the field of international development cooperation and international education work.
  3. GTZ (2009): »informal settlements in Aleppo, rapid profiles of all informal settlements in Aleppo« (Report)
  4. World Bank Group (2017): Syria Damage Assessment.
  5. Reliefweb (2019): Humanitarian Overview- Syrian Arab Republic.
  6. United Nation (2014): Syria Regional Response Plan: Strategic Overview.
  7. THE ALEPPO PROJECT, Hungary, Center European University Available at: (www.thealeppoproject.com).