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Tourist maps to capture place identity during disruptive events: The case of Beirut

Simak, Laura

Inst. Stadt- und Regionalplanung

Between October 2019 and August 2020, Beirut underwent an unprecedented sequence of events in its recent history, starting with massive anti‐government protests, followed by an economic and financial meltdown, coupled with the Covid‐19 pandemic, and ending with an explosion in the port that devastated large parts of the metropolis. As a city‐newcomer and urban design student from the Technische Universität Berlin, researching the theme of borders in fragmented cities for my master’s thesis, I was faced with a city‐in‐flux for 200 days, where mobility restrictions and safety measurements, as impacted by Covid‐19, led to the exclusion of field investigation as a primary source of information. Hedging against the limitations imposed, I developed and tested a methodology that involves analyzing tourist maps as an alternative reconnaissance tool for urban designers. On the example of the Beirut port blast area, namely Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, this study includes the decomposition of three tourist maps of Beirut in order to extract and verify their data and, furthermore, reconstruct the identity and image of the neighborhoods through this secondary resource. The analytical framework brings together the theories of place and space that exist in the different disciplines of spatial studies: social science’s The Production of Space by Lefebvre; urban geography’s Place and Placelessness by Relph; environmental psychology’s The Psychology of Place by Canter; and urban design’s Components of the Sense of Place by Punter and Montgomery. By exemplifying what it means to be a foreigner and a researcher exploring tourist maps in Beirut during this particular time, this article aims to encourage interdisciplinary approaches in urban studies and to critically reflect on atypical and underutilized tools for studying contemporary cities under extraordinary conditions of change.