Beirut Community Streets: an exhibition at the 2023 Venice Architecture Biennale

In response to the Beirut Blast of 2020, the MIT City Form Lab and researchers from the Civil Engineering Department of the American University of Beirut explored walkability improvements in the blast- affect- ed neighborhoods. The research team assembled detailed data about Beirut’s built environment and land-use patterns, and used these data to develop a model of pedestrian activity in the city center for morning, lunch, and evening peak travel periods. We conducted pedestrian counts in Beirut to calibrate the model and ensure that the estimated volumes of foot-traffic correspond to the actual levels of foot-traffic on city streets during different times of the day. 

Using this model as a basis for explaining pedestrian activity in the city, we convened a stakeholder workshop with community groups, civil society leaders, academics, and professionals at the American University of Beirut in June 2022 to identify important challenges to walkability in the blast-affected neighborhoods, and to propose improvements and urban design interventions. A wide range of proposals from the workshop were then synthesized into six action- able scenarios by the research team. We used the pedestrian flow model to test how each of the suggested interventions would affect pedestrian accessibility to different daily destinations and restructure pedestrian flows on city streets, desirably increasing walking trips in the city. This helped the team identify the most effective strategies for improving walkability in the blast-affected neighborhoods with reason- ably cost-effective interventions.

The project demonstrates how a digital model of pedestrian flows can be used to inform design and pol- icy decisions to shape the built environment around pedestrian needs. While quantitative analysis of mobility flows has been commonplace for vehicular traffic models for decades—informing traffic regulations, development permitting, and infrastructure investments—analogous approaches to non-motorized mobility have not been commonly used so far. Beyond the six scenario proposals, the pedestrian activity model developed in this study can be used in Beirut to analyze the benefits and costs of different future urban design and infrastructure improvements to the pedestrian realm in the future.